QC court acquits army major in Jonas Burgos case

Lian Buan

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QC court acquits army major in Jonas Burgos case
(5th UPDATE) The eyewitness account pointing to army major Harry Baliaga Jr is deemed hearsay by the court since Jeffrey Cabintoy could not be found to take the witness stand during trial

MANILA, Philippines (5th UPDATE) – The Quezon City Regional Trial Court (QC RTC) on Thursday, October 12, acquitted army major Harry Baliaga Jr of arbitrary detention charges in relation to the disappearance of activist Jonas Burgos.

In the decision by Branch 216 Presiding Judge Alfonso Ruiz II read by the clerk of court, the prosecution was deemed to have failed to prove that Baliaga was the one who abducted and detained Burgos.

The testimony of eyewitness Jeffrey Cabintoy pointing to Baliaga was deemed hearsay by the court because Cabintoy, as well as other eyewitnesses, could no longer be found during the 4-year trial.

The prosecution instead presented the investigator from the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) who interviewed the eyewitnesses. QC RTC Branch 216 Judge Ruiz said the CHR official’s testimony based on the eyewitness account is considered hearsay.

“The reason for the exclusion of hearsay evidence is that the party against whom the hearsay testimony is presented is deprived of the right or opportunity to cross-examine the person to whom the statements are attributed,” Ruiz wrote in his decision.

‘Help me find my son’

Baliaga approached Burgos’ mother, Edita, after the decision was read. Baliaga said he didn’t say anything and just hugged her.

ENCOUNTER. Major Harry Baliaga approaches Jonas' Burgos mother, Edita, after his acquittal. Photo by Lian Buan/Rappler

Malungkot din tayo, but anyway, I’m saddened also that Mrs Burgos did not find justice, I’m praying also na makuha rin niya yung gusto niya. Gaya nga ng sinabi ko noon pa sana hindi mangyari na yung nanay ko naman ‘yung magdusa dahil sa injustice,” Baliaga said. He added he looks forward to being reinstated to active service.

(I’m sad, but anyway, I’m saddened also that Mrs Burgos did not find justice, I’m praying that she gets what she wants. As I have said then, I wouldn’t wish that my own mother suffers from injustice.)

Teary-eyed, Edita Burgos said they intend to elevate the case to higher courts, saying it’s just a delay.

“This is a bad day. I feel very bad but we will find Jonas,” Edita said.

Edita added: “To be candid, sabi ko baka naman puwede mo na akong tulungan hanapin siya ( I told him maybe you can help me find him.) If he’s not guilty, then maybe he can help me find my son. If he’s not guilty, I’m sure he knows. And I think as a father he should know what it should feel to lose a son and I challenge him to tell us where Jonas is.”


Burgos was last seen in April 2007 being dragged out of a Quezon City mall restaurant into a vehicle, never to be seen again.

It has been more than 10 years since Burgos’ abduction. Baliaga is the first and only person ordered arrested for Burgos’ disappearance, but he did not spend a day in jail after posting a P40,000-bail.

Baliaga allegedly led the group that abducted Burgos on April 28, 2007, at the Hapag Kainan restaurant inside Ever Gotesco Mall. Of all the military members sued for Burgos’ disappearance, only Baliaga was charged in court.

Baliaga’s trial at the QC RTC lasted 4 years. He had originally filed a motion for leave to file a demurrer of evidence, which the court rejected. When it was his turn to present evidence, he waived his right to present his.

On Thursday, Baliaga maintained that he has no knowledge of what happened to Jonas.

Baliaga said he will now focus on regaining field duties in the military.

“It’s just that [in the past years] doon lang ako sa headquarters, doon lang ako nag-duty unlike kung full duty status I could have served in other places like Mindanao or Visayas, field duty,” Baliaga said.

(It’s just that in the past years I was just stationed at the headquarters, I did my duty there unlike if I had full duty status I could have served in other places like Mindanao or the Visayas, field duty.)

Harry Baliaga

The eyewitnesses, a waitress and busboy Cabintoy of the Hapag Kainan restaurant, were the key people who boosted the case previously handled by the CHR. The CHR investigation was the basis for the criminal complaints filed by Edita Burgos in 2011.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) only went on to charge Baliaga before the QC RTC for arbitrary detention and dismissed complaints against now Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief General Eduardo Año – who was colonel at the time – and Lieutenant Colonel Melquiades Feliciano.

The DOJ also dismissed complaints of obstruction of justice against now National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr – the AFP chief at the time – and retired generals Romeo Tolentino, Alexander Yano, and Avelino Razon Jr.

Edre Olalia of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) – commissioned to be private prosecutors – said on Thursday they are still counting on the DOJ to resolve their motion for reconsideration that seeks to re-include the concerned military officers in the charges.

Edita acknowledged the difficulty of pursuing Año and Esperon, now both holding top positions in the Duterte administration, but she remained unfazed in her bid to find justice for her son. “It lessens the hope but it doesn’t mean it’s hopeless,” Edita said.

In 2013, the Court of Appeals (CA) ruled Baliaga responsible for Burgos’ disappearance. That year, the QC RTC started Baliaga’s trial.

“I find it funny from the layperson’s point of view that the decision made by the CA is different from that of the RTC but we respect the decision of the court,” Edita said.

Military’s involvement

An investigative report by Newsbreak written by Rappler managing editor Glenda Gloria identified key personalities in the Burgos case. Military documents identify Burgos as “Ka Ramon,” a communist leader in Bulacan who was supposedly trapped into meeting with a mole-turned-asset of the army’s 56th infantry battalion. 

Dick Abletes, 2nd Lieutenant at the time, was jailed by the army for colluding and leaking classified documents to rebels. While in detention, he was supposedly turned into an asset and tasked to meet with Burgos aka “Ka Ramon” on the day he disappeared. (READ: Jonas Burgos: Trapped in web of lives)

Cabintoy said that when restaurant staff tried to stop the men from taking Burgos, it was Baliaga who told them not to interfere because they were arresting a drug dealer.

Burgos, son of press freedom icon Joe Burgos, was abducted at the height of the military’s counter insurgency campaign under the Arroyo administration.

Then president Benigno Aquino III signed into law Republic Act 10353 or the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act in 2012. Olalia said they intend to file a different case involving the same persons for violation of the said law, because to revive arbitrary detention charges would violate the rule on double jeopardy.

In April, on the 10th anniversary of Burgos’ disappearance, leftist groups called on Año to “surface” Burgos. Año denied any involvement in the disappearance and denied knowing the activist.

Edita Burgos to this day hopes her son is still alive.

“We would not be looking for him if we know that he’s dead. He’s still alive,” Edita said, surrounded by friends who were crying with her in front of the QC Hall of Justice. – Rappler.com

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.