Burgos abduction witness tags Baliaga in court, Army officer chokes when grilled about April 28
MANILA, Philippines -- Lt. Harry Baliaga, the Army officer implicated in the abduction of activist-farmer Jonas Burgos five years ago, was tagged in court Thursday morning by a restaurant worker as among the seven people he saw dragging away Burgos, who remains missing.
And, when the Court of Appeals justices grilled him as he sat as the first defense witness, Baliaga’s testimony stalled, and he wept briefly when they asked him to account for his whereabouts on April 28, 2007, the day Burgos was seized at the Hapag Kainan restaurant at the Ever Gotesco Mall in Quezon City, sources told InterAksyon.com of the court’s executive session.
Earlier on Thursday morning, eatery worker Jeffrey Cabintoy had just entered the hearing room of the Courts of Appeals division that is hearing the writ of amparo petition in the Burgos case when he froze, and tugged at his Commission on Human Rights (CHR) escorts and whispered to them, “that is Baliaga,” pointing to a man seated beside the door, in a blue barong, sources said.
The defense had brought Baliaga to court as its first witness, and when the justices were informed that both Baliaga and Cabintoy were in the courtroom, they instructed Cabintoy to stand up and point to Baliaga. “Can you point him out to us?” the justices asked, and Cabintoy nodded, “opo.”
Then Cabintoy pointed to Baliaga, describing him as “the main in long sleeves.”
Later, the justices acceded to the Office of the Solicitor General’s request to hold an executive session, on the ground of “security risk” to Baliaga. Cabintoy was among those led out of the hearing room.
Sources said that when the justices started to grill Baliaga on the witness stand, the Army officer was at first composed, claiming he was on “administrative leave” in April and May 2007.
So they went day to day from April 20, and he gave details of his activities.
The justices were asking him to account for his daily activities and on April 22, he claimed he was in the province for a wedding. But when the justices asked him where he was on April 28, he stopped talking, choked and wept briefly. Someone gave him a bottle of water, sources told InterAksyon.com.
Late last year, Edita Burgos, mother of Jonas and widow of the world press freedom icon Jose G. Burgos Jr., had shared a “Dear Harry” open letter to Baliaga, asking him to “search your conscience” and make a clean breast of what really happened.