by Joel Roja/Asianjournal.com
MANILA – Former Philippine Army chief Lt. Gen. Romeo Tolentino on Monday denied that neither he nor any of his men were involved in the disappearance of Jonas Burgos, political activist and son of press freedom fighter Jose Burgos, almost a year ago.
Tolentino, now working as an undersecretary at the National Security Council, was summoned to testify in the ongoing hearing on the petition for writ of amparo filed by Jonas mother, Edita Burgos, to shed light on his knowledge about the names “Ramon,” and “Mina” who cropped up during the military’s initial investigation on Jonas’ case.
The former Army chief admitted mentioning the names of Ramon and Mina in an interview conducted by Newsbreak magazine in connection with Jona’s disappearance.
He recounted that when he ordered his men to go around in Bulacan province to check on the background of Jonas, the people they interviewed, who refused to be identified, told them to check instead who Ka Ramon and Ka Mina where.
But, Tolentino said they failed to gather more information that would link Jonas to Ka Ramon and Ka Mina as the people were afraid to talk.
“We made an informal investigation a long, long time ago and that is the only thing that we had. The people are afraid of giving information about Ka Ramon and Ka Mina. It was a blank wall after that,” Tolentino said.
Tolentino said that until after his retirement last August, he has not learned about the true identity of “Ka Ramon” and his relation to Jonas.
Tolentino said he could not recall whether he gave orders shortly before his retirement to investigate whether Ramon and Jonas were one and the same person.
Although he sympathized with the mother and other relatives of Jonas, Tolentino said he could not do anything but to order his men to cooperate with the agencies investigating Jonas case.
He also denied that the Army would resort to abducting people just to neutralize the operation of the New People’s Army (NPA).
“It is not the business of the army to abduct people. Even my car was implicated (in Jonas abduction), maybe those giving the information are doing it in bad faith,” Tolentino added.
Mrs. Burgos’ lawyer Ricardo Fernandez said Tolentino’s is just trying to cover-up for the alleged involvement of his men belonging to 56th Infantry Battalion in the abduction and disappearance of Jonas.
Fernandez noted that Tolentino’s claim that he does not know who Ka Ramon is contradicts Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon that Ka Ramon and Jonas is one and the same person.
The CA’s next hearing on the case is set on May where another army officer Col. Eduardo Año is expected to testify.
Earlier, the CA Former Seventh Division ruled that the testimonies of Tolentino and Año are vital in the resolution of the Burgos case in light of the testimony of Capt. George Ventayen at the hearing held on April 7, 2008 in Baguio City.
Ventayen, the prosecutor in the case of 2Lt. Dick Abletes, testified in executive session on April 7, 2008 in Baguio City on the charges against the latter and his evidence in prosecuting the case.
He admitted that Lt. Abletes has been charged with three violations of the Articles of War for passing off classified information to two members of CPP-NPA.
The prosecution claimed that Tolentino and Año’s testimonies are needed considering that Ventayen has admitted that one of the two members of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) who received the working order of battle from Abletes was identified as certain “Liza,” which is the alias of one of three witnesses of the police in the Jonas case.
Mrs. Burgos said that Liza is in fact Melissa Reyes, who was also reported missing on April 28, 2007 at the same time Jonas was reportedly abducted.
Año is the head of the Intelligence Service Group of the Philippine Army mentioned in the Newsbreak article who admitted that Abletes was caught on March 26, 2007 giving classified documents to a member of the CPP-NPA.