Show Your Solidarity: Fold a Crane for the Birthday of Disappeared Activist James Balao

Newly-elected members of the Phillipine

Join Amnesty International USA and call on the Philippine government to expedite the investigation and resolve the disappearance of activist James Balao (Photo Credit: Ted Aljibe/AFP/Getty Images).

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.


Freed Filipino Prisoner of Conscience: “I Am in High Spirits”

Emman and Ericson Acosta

Emman and Ericson Acosta

In February 2013, 40-year old poet and Amnesty International activist Ericson Acosta has more reason to celebrate other than his freedom from his unjust detention. A few days after the Philippine Justice Department decided to drop the trumped-up charges against him, Ericson witnessed the awarding of a silver medal to his only son, 10-year old Emmanuel, who won in a division-wide Math competition in Pasig City, Metro Manila.

Arrested by military troops in February 2011, Acosta was interrogated for 44 hours on 2 hours sleep and threatened with death. He was then charged with being a member of the once banned Communist Party and later, with the illegal possession of explosives. In August 2011, Amnesty International called for the release of Acosta as a Prisoner of Conscience. In his statement after being released, Acosta thanked his supporters, including Amnesty International, and called for the release of the rest of political prisoners in the Philippines.


Remember the Disappeared in the Philippines

By Leila Chacko, Country Specialist for the Philippines

August 30th marks the International Day of the Disappeared.   This would be an appropriate time for the Philippine government to answer questions regarding disappeared citizens, including indigenous people’s activist James Balao.  He is one of at least 200 to have disappeared in the Philippines over the last decade.

Balao disappeared from his home on September 17, 2008 when he was taken by armed men, claiming to be police. He has not been seen or heard from since.

Balao is a part of the Igorot ethnic group, an indigenous minority from the Cordillera region. He is a founding member of the Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA), a grassroots organization advocating for indigenous people’s rights. The military has called the CPA a communist organization, and called Balao a communist. The CPA feels Balao may have disappeared as a result of the government’s anti-terrorism measures (Operation Plan Bantay Laya), which has unfairly targeted legitimate organizations.


Filipino Farmer Tells of Enforced Disappearance Nightmare

Raymond Manalo is one of the very few living victims of enforced disappearance.

He was abducted from his family home by armed men in February 2006 along with his brother Reynaldo. During 18 months in secret detention, he was subjected to repeated torture by his military jailers until the brothers made a daring escape.

They have since been reunited with their family but their struggle goes on. No one has been punished for the abuses suffered by the brothers, who were accused of being members of Communist armed group the New People’s Army (NPA), despite them having denied any such affiliation.

After being taken by the security forces, they were held in a cell in a military camp with 12 other abductees, where they were starved and regularly tortured with “searing hot tin cans”, “smacked with wood”, and “beat while pouring water into my [their] nose”.

After surviving the ordeal, Raymond was introduced to a man known as “The Butcher” – then a military commander, who has been prominent in the fight against Communists insurgents. The commander allowed Raymond to go with military escorts and see his parents.  He ordered Raymond to ensure that his family would not tell anyone about his detention, bring their case to court, or to speak to human rights organizations.

In the weeks that followed, Raymond was offered the possibility of becoming a soldier, as his captors were apparently impressed by his hardiness.  The brothers were moved to an officer’s farm in Pangasinan province, northern Philippines.  There they tilled the land as unpaid workers for the officer. Raymond went along with the plan, while all along waiting for his moment to escape.

“One day, our chance came. Our ‘guards’ were all completely drunk and while they slept, my brother and I fled by the side of the farm where there were no houses and made it to the highway.”

In the three years since Raymond’s escape, that justice has been elusive. His attempts to file a criminal case against soldiers who subjected him to abuses have been delayed or dismissed by the courts, while he lives in constant fear that he could be abducted again.

“I am free, but I am not really free. The soldiers can take me again any time, all they need to do is take off their uniforms and do it anonymously”