April 19, 2013 marks the 52nd birthday, of indigenous people’s activist James Balao. James is just one of at least 200 to have disappeared in the Philippines over the past decade. James has not been seen or heard from since he disappeared from his hometown on September 17, 2008 when he was taken by armed men, claiming to be law enforcers.
James is a part of the Igorot ethnic group, an indigenous minority from the Cordillera region in the northern Philippines. He is a founding member of the Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA), a grassroots organization advocating for the rights of indigenous people. The military has vilified the CPA as a communist organization, and labeled James a communist.
The CPA feels James may have disappeared as a result of the government’s anti-terrorism measures (Operation Plan Bantay Laya or Freedom Watch), which has unfairly targeted legitimate organizations that resulted to a series of extrajudicial killings, torture and disappearances throughout the country.
While he was studying at the University of the Philippines – Baguio, James wrote in and edited the student paper. After graduating, he researched and wrote about the land rights of minorities. A few months before he disappeared, James complained to his family that he was under surveillance by the government.
In the 4 1/2 years since his disappearance, James’ family has heard nothing from him, nor has the government informed them of his whereabouts. James’ family filed a writ of amparo, a Filipino legal remedy available when someone’s life, liberty or security is violated. A judgment was issued for the writ in 2009, which stated that authorities had to disclose James’ whereabouts.
Despite a reversal of the granting of said writ to James’ family according to a Supreme Court decision in 2011, Philippine authorities including the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Director General of the Philippine National Police were ordered to continue the investigations and take the necessary steps:
- To identify the persons described in the cartographic sketches submitted by Task Force Balao;
- To locate and search the vehicles bearing the plate numbers submitted by the petitioners and which James Balao had reported to be conducting surveillance on his person prior to his abduction on September 17, 2008, and investigate the registered owners or whoever the previous and present possessors/transferees thereof; and to pursue any other leads relevant to the abduction of James Balao.
To celebrate James’ birthday, the Balao family, CPA and Cordillera Human Rights Alliance are calling on friends and supporters to fold a paper crane to call for the surfacing of James Balao. According to tradition, the folding of one thousand paper cranes grants your wish.
Show your solidarity by posting a photo of your folded crane with a message that says “Amnesty International USA continues to demand from the Philippine government to expedite the investigation and immediately resolve the disappearance of James Balao. Justice and freedom for James Balao!” on your Facebook page and linking it here. You may also write a personal birthday message to James.
Take action by writing to Philippine authorities to express concern over James Balao’s disappearance and to demand his unconditional release. You may refer to this sample letter:
I am deeply concerned that the Philippine government has not produced any significant results in its investigation on the disappearance of Mr. James Balao.
James turns 52 this year. He has been disappeared since 2008. His parents both passed away in 2011 after their endless search and without the benefit of knowing what happened to their first-born son.
I understand that each day that James remains missing is a sorrowful experience for his family, friends and community.
I trust that you will do everything in your power to continue the investigation, find James and bring him back – and bring forth justice – to his family.
(Your full name)
(Complete postal address or email address)
His Excellency Benigno Aquino III
Office of the President of the Philippines
JP Laurel Street,
San Miguel Manila 1005,
Salutation: Your Excellency
Post on his official facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/presidentnoy
Director General Alan La Madrid Purisima
Chief, Philippine National Police (PNP)
PNP National Headquarters
Camp General Crame, Quezon City, Metro Manila 1100
Salutation: Director General
Fax: +63 2724 8763
Lt. Gen. Emmanuel T. Bautista
Chief of Staff, Armed Forces of the Philippines
Camp General Emilio Aguinaldo
Quezon City National Capital Region 1110
Ms. Leila de Lima
Secretary Department of Justice (DOJ)
DOJ Bldg., Padre Faura
Fax: +63 2 521 1614
Human Rights Commission
Ms. Loretta Ann Rosales
Commission on Human Rights
SAAC Bldg., Commonwealth Avenue
U.P. Complex, Diliman, Quezon City
Fax: +63 2 929 0102
Nerve Macaspac, Amnesty International USA Country Specialist for the Philippines, contributed to this post.