Army officer acquitted of abducting activist Jonas Burgos

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Jonas Burgos (L) and Maj. Harry Baliaga Jr.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 12) — An Army major was acquitted Thursday in the decade-old abduction case against an activist and "desaparecido" Jonas Burgos.

Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 216 dismissed arbitrary detention charges against Major Harry Baliaga Jr.

In the decision issued by Judge Alfonso Ruiz, the court ruled that the prosecution failed to prove Baliaga's involvement in the abduction of Burgos from a mall in Quezon City on April 28, 2007.

"The prosecution failed to prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt," the decision read.

It said the only circumstantial evidence presented by the prosecution was the discovery that the vehicle used in the abduction was impounded at the 56th Infantry Battalion camp in Norzagaray, Bulacan, where Baliaga was previously stationed.

"Even if admitted, however, this circumstantial evidence standing alone will not reach the quantum of proof required to overcome the constitutional presumption of innocence," the decision read. It said in any criminal prosecution, the identity of the offender must be established. 

Baliaga approached Burgos' mother Edita after the hearing. They shook hands.

But Edita Burgos said she will not stop seeking justice for her son.

"Tuloy pa rin kami, ha (We will continue)," she said.

In a chance interview with reporters after the hearing, Edita Burgos turned emotional when asked about the court's decision.

"This is a bad day, I feel so bad, but we will find Jonas," she said.

Baliaga, meanwhile, said he felt vindicated.

"I'm happy because for a very long time nakamit ko rin yung justice na hinihingi ko (I got the justice I've been longing for)," he said.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines is hoping the court's latest decision will finally give closure to the case.

"We hope that this verdict of the court will put to rest the issues that surround case that hounded the parties since 2007," the AFP said in a statement.

But human rights group Karapatan said the acquittal of "all the big fishes" in Burgos' case is an injustice, and called for an indignation rally for Friday.

"After ten years since Jonas's abduction, the criminal justice system has failed again in delivering even a small piece of justice for the Burgos family," Karapatan Secretary-General Tinay Palabay said in a statement. 

Burgos case, 10 years on 

Burgos, a farmer-acitivist, was 37 years old when he was kidnapped by alleged military agents. He is now 47, still missing but his family believes he is still alive. He hails from San Miguel, Bulacan, the son of late martial law activist and press freedom fighter Jose Burgos.

Burgos is considered the country's most famous "desaparecido."

The Commission and Human Rights, Court of Appeals, and even the Supreme Court all ruled that Burgos' case is an enforced disappearance and held Baliaga and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) accountable for the crime.

Baliaga was the only accused in the criminal case after the Department of Justice (DOJ) in 2013 dropped charges against other high-ranking military and police officers.

Edita Burgos filed the arbitrary detention case before the DOJ in June 2011. The DOJ only recommended charges against Baliaga, letting off the hook Lt. Col. Melquiades Feliciano and Col. Eduardo Año, chief of the Army Intelligence Service Group at that time, who is now AFP Chief.

A separate complaint for obstruction of justice was filed against other military officers, including AFP Chief Hermogenes Esperon, who is now National Security Adviser. This was also dismissed.

CNN Philippines' Camille Abadicio contributed to this report.