Surface James Balao, disaparecido

Opinion & Analysis Philippines Oct 1, 2008 at 11:03 am

Appeal for support from a Canadian in the Philippines

I am asking all of you to read this message and to help in any way that you can. For the last week and a half my office has been in the midst of an urgent campaign. Ten days ago, on September 17th, a member of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) (my host organization) was forcibly disappeared. These have been the hardest 10 days of my internship and a very difficult time in my office.

James Balao left his house around 7am on September 17th and no one has been able to contact him since. James was a dedicated, full time people’s advocate and indigenous human rights advocate. In the last 4 months James and his family have been reporting heavy surveillance on both of their family residences and on their persons during daily activites. It is believed that his assertion and defense of the rights of the poorest segments of Filipino society has made him a target of the state’s counter insurgency operations. Oplan Bantay Laya, the counter insurgency policy of the government of the Philippines, tags legal peoples organizations and advocates as supporters or members of the armed communist rebel group to legitimize state harassment and violence, intended in reality to silence democratic government opposition. The disappearance of James Balao is the 199th enforced disappearance in the country since the policy was initiated in 2001.

I work for the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance, the human rights branch of the CPA, and as such we have taken on the lead in the campaign to find James. Many people in my office have worked with James, and the stress on his former co-workers and friends has been the heaviest. We initially met with his family, searched military and police camps in our region and filed complaints with regional, national and international human rights bodies. Our campaign is now focused on publicly calling for the state security forces to surface James; through press conferences, newspaper ads, demonstrations and a signature campaign. We are hopeful that James will be surfaced alive if enough immediate pressure is exerted on the Philippine government and state security forces.

As an intern new to the stark reality of human rights work, I am struggling to hold myself together as days go by without any information as to the whereabouts or fate of James. I have no reference for understanding this situation or for participating in its resolution. I am focusing on being present and hope that the work I can do helps ease the stress of those leading this campaign. Nothing I learned in school or by growing up in Canada could have prepared me to process the emotions I am feeling right now. In my office we are wading daily through frustration, hopelessness and anger deeper than any I have ever experienced. Looking into the tired, desperate eyes of his family, I realize now how difficult my chosen career is going to be. But seeing the impunity with which James has been disappeared, and knowing that his fate will either be torture and imprisonment or death, my dedication to working in human rights has been solidified. So has my belief that all people must make a stand against governments, like the Philippines, committing state terrorism against people who advocate for social justice.

We are urgently calling for support for the SURFACE JAMES BALAO! campaign. We specifically seek your support signing our online petition (http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/CPAjamesbalao/) which we will later forward to the Philippine government and its agencies. We also ask you to read our attached URGENT ALERT and send Letters of Concern to the Philippine government and its agencies. The addresses are provided in the URGENT ALERT. The more international attention that is garnered by this case, the more likely it is that the government of the Philippines will listen to the call to surface James coming from its own citizens. International attention to the enforced disappearance of James Balao may also disuade this same human rights violation from being committed against other people’s advocates. In addition to this support, statements or letters of solidarity to the Balao Family, CPA and CHRA are very welcome, and are very helpful.

This case is urgent and your immediate assistance is needed if James Balao is going to be surfaced alive. Thank you for your time and for your support in the SURFACE JAMES BALAO! campaign.

In solidarity,
Nicole Smith
September 26, 2008