My Surface James Balao article is now online
While I was in the Philippines last year I took part in an international human rights mission to highlight the case of activist James Balao who was a victim of an 'enforced disappearance' on September 17 2008. James has now been missing for over a year, and Philippine government security forces are widely believed to be responsible for his abduction.
I wrote an article on the Balao case for Kapatiran - the magazine of the Philippine Solidarity Network of Aotearoa, which has just been published online here. I also wrote a short legal update on the case. As part of the international mission our search for information on James' whereabouts took us to the regional police station of the Philippine National Police, a camp of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the Philippine Commission on Human Rights, as well as meeting with Bagiuo city councilors and members of James' family.
James Balao is a key member of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) from its foundation in 1984. The CPA has been very active on campaigns opposing Government policies, particularly around mining and logging, opposing militarisation and organising community protests.
Fillipno Human Rights group Karapatan estimate 202 people were victims of enforced or 'involuntary' disappearance between March 2001 and March 2009. Over 1000 people were victims of extrajudicial killings or arbitary executions over the same period. Karapatan lays the blame at the state security forces of the government of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and their so called 'anti-terrorism' policy Oplan Bantay Laya.
In May 2009 Philip Alston, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings criticised the Arroyo regime for failing to put in place substantive reforms as he had recommended two years ago, and said any actions the government had taken so far were largely symbolic.
"While current levels are significantly lower than before, they still remain a cause for great alarm, and reflect the failure to make the recommended structural reforms," Alston said. "Moreover, forced disappearances and illegal detentions remain all too common, as does the bringing of trumped-up charges against Filipino activists and human rights abuse victims," he said.