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.
While he was studying at the University of the Philippines, Balao 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, Balao complained to his family that he was under surveillance by the government.
In the nearly 3 years since his disappearance, Balao’s family has heard nothing from him, nor has the government informed them of his whereabouts. Balao’s family filed a writ of amparo, a Filipino legal remedy available when someone’s life, liberty or security is violated. A judge agreed to the writ. Despite this, the state has yet to say what has happened to Balao.
Take action by writing to Philippine authorities to express concern over James Balao’s disappearance and to demand his unconditional release.
Leila Chacko is Country Specialist for the Philippines, Japan and Pacific Islands. For five years she lived in New Zealand, working for a non-profit organization advocating for immigrant women’s rights. She has a JD from American University and a LLM in International Law and Politics from the University of Canterbury. Her LLM dissertation investigated the correlation between the legalization of prostitution and human trafficking.