Here is the latest press release from the Cordillera Peoples Alliance on the search for James Balao:

Continuing the search for James Balao, the Balao family with the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) and the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA) traveled to the National Capital Region (NCR) to conduct a search in the military and police camps here. This, after receiving reliable information that James Moy Balao is still alive and is detained in a facility of state security forces.Karapatan, Hustisya, Kalipunan ng mga Katutubong Mamamayan sa Pilipinas (KAMP) and Desaparecidos assisted them in the search. They were met by Commission on Human Rights (CHR) National Chairperson Leila de Lima, who just came from an international conference on national human rights institutions in Nairobi, Kenya.

In the meeting with her, Chair de Lima shared the conference concerns to the case of James Balao.De Lima reported that at the Nairobi conference, the heads of 72 national human rights institutions discussed the inability of many national government human rights institutions to perform surprise, unannounced inspections of police and military detention facilities. Chairperson De Lima told representatives of the above stated people's organizations and the Balao family that this inability is even more worrying in a country like the Philippines where cases of enforced disappearances are rampant.

The Balao family has been looking for James, an indigenous activist from the Cordillera since his disappearance on September 17, 2008. On October 6, investigators from the office of the Commission on Human Rights ­ Cordillera Administrative Region, accompanying the Balao family, were refused entry into the Military Intelligence Group (MIG) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines based in Camp Allen, Baguio City. This division is strongly suspected of having been involved in the enforced disappearance of James Balao.De Lima reassured the Balao family that she and her international counterparts had put forth a Nairobi Declaration on National Human Rights Institutions which strongly reiterates that the mandate of these bodies allows them to visit and inspect camps and even safehouses and high risk detention centers. She also informed the Balao family and the organizations who joined the search that she would be sending letters today to the AFP and PNP to remind them of the CHR's mandate and its right to perform these inspections.

The Chairperson assigned six members of her staff led by Atty. Alcantara to search PNP and AFP camps in the National Capital Region today and tomorrow with the Balao family and the supporting peoples' organizations. She instructed her staff not to accept “nominal and cosmetic searches,” but to insist on fulfilling their mandate and searching the full camp grounds for James Moy Balao.Yet despite the communication to the AFP and PNP by Chairperson de Lima, the CHR team, Karapatan, Desaparecidos, Hustisya, CPA and CHRA that assisted Winston Balao got only as far as the receiving office of the ISAFP and the gates of the AFP Detention Center at Camp Aguinaldo. At the ISAFP receiving office, the officer-in-charge who identified himself as “Master Fox” refused to receive and recognize the CHR mission order. He referred the group to the AFP Custodial Center, where the group was denied entry by Commanding Officer, Col. Bienvenido Casis, saying that there is no directive from the AFP Chief of Staff, Gen. Alexander Yano. The same treatment has been experienced by the Balao family and human rights organizations since day one. “We continue to demand for the release of James from the hands of state security forces. We urge the AFP and PNP to honor the CHR mission order and that we be given unimpeded access to the camps for us to conduct a thorough search. We also demand transparency of records and full cooperation of authorities in the camps to be searched,” Beverly Longid, Chairperson of the CPA said.

“We thank and welcome the continued support of Chairperson de Lima in our search for James. We also commend her affirmation of the CHR mandate and commitment to the said Nairobi Declaration. As we continue the search at Fort Bonifacio , Camp Crame and NICA tomorrow, we will dauntlessly pursue our mission to find James Balao.”#


The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), the International Association of People’s Lawyers (IAPL), Pro-Labor Legal Assistance Center (PLACE), SENTRA and the Public Interest Legal Center (PILC) condemn the abduction and illegal arrest of Atty. Remigio “Ming” Saladero, Jr, a member of the NUPL, the chief legal counsel of Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) and Board Chairperson of the Pro-Labor Legal Assistant Center (PLACE). Atty. Saladero is a human rights lawyer who was one of those who argued before the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of Pres. Gloria Arroyo’s calibrated preemptive response policy. He is also a member of the media as a columnist of Pinoy Weekly. He is a respected labor lawyer handling nearly 700 labor cases before various tribunals.

A group of armed men claiming to be members of the PNP barged into the office of Atty. Ming on October 23 showing a 2006 warrant of arrest for multiple murder and multiple frustrated murder cases in the Regional Trial Court in Calapan City, Oriental Mindoro.

The attack against Atty. Saladero is a violation of his right to due process considering that he was never informed about the complaint and was not able to defend himself before a warrant of arrest was issued. It is also an attack against the legal profession since Atty. Saladero was harassed for the exercise of his profession. It is a blow the right to counsel and access to justice by many workers and human rights victims whose cases Atty. Saladero is handling.

The case filed against Atty. Saladero is part of the Arroyo government’s attempt to cow human rights advocates critical of the policies of Pres. Arroyo. Atty. Saladero have been subjected to various attacks in the past mostly from military for his being the lawyer of suspected members of the New Peoples’ Army in Rizal. He was also one of the respondents in the case for Conspiracy to Commit Rebellion, Arson and Destruction of Property filed by the military and Globe Telecoms against 27 leaders and activists from Southern Tagalog Region in connection with bombing of Globe Cellsite in Lemery Batangas on August 2, 2008. These trumped-up charges have no basis in fact. Atty. Saladero is not a member of the New People’s Army and is not a fugitive. He has been openly litigating in courts and has never been involved in any case of arson to blow up Globe cellsites.

PLACE said the illegal arrest of Atty. Saladero and his possible prolonged detention will adversely affect the operation of PLACE. “Atty. Saladero handles most of the 700 cases of PLACE. Not only that, his other cases mostly human rights and pro bono will be also affected” said Atty. Noel Neri, member of NUPL and colleague of Atty. Saladero in PLACE.

Members of the legal profession, particularly human rights lawyers, will not take this recent attack sitting down. The raiding team members are criminally liable for qualified theft when they confiscated the desktop computer, laptop and cellphone of Atty. Saladero when they executed the supposed warrant of arrest. We will file criminal and administrative cases against public officials who facilitated the illegal arrest and harassment case against Atty. Saladero and false witnesses who committed perjury in their affidavits. The Supreme Court has chastised the Department of Justice for “prostituting” their office to harass political opponents of Pres. Arroyo. We will make sure that those responsible for the travesty of Atty. Saladero’s right to due process will be held liable for their participation in the scheme to harass a human rights lawyer who sacrificed so much for the interest of human rights. We ask the Integrated Bar of the Philippines to immediately call for the release of Atty. Saladero and condemn this attack on the legal profession.

Reference: Atty. Neri Javier Colmenares - 09178350459
Secretary – General, NUPL


I feel a bit guilty that October 12 came and went without my remembering that it was the 11th death anniversary of John Denver, one of the greatest musicians of all time. My only excuse is that I have been preoccupied with a lot of concerns (The unelected President has a way of keeping us busy.) over which he, were he alive, would be greatly disturbed. I have also been despondent over the fate of someone - a lawyer very, very special to me who was beaten by cancer and is slowly dying.

John Denver is (Yep, I speak of him in the present tense. He will never be gone.) one of my strongest influences. He helped construct the highway I would deliberately travel when I was old enough to know right from wrong, the very same highway I am treading as a human being, as a woman, as a lawyer. Since I was a young, I have been listening to and singing his songs denouncing the expenditure of money on guns instead of food for the poor, amplifying the voices of children in war-torn areas, seeking the empowerment of women, giving a voice to the unheard, and, yes, to Annie's Song, too. (I made it a point to buy all his albums.) Like James Balao, he chose to tread the road less traveled but the right one nonetheless.

In a published article last year, I wrote: "I never met John Denver. But we could actually have. The virtues he kept searching are the same ones I pine for. His music heavily influenced my life. This world is still as turbulent as he left it. Poverty is massive. Imperialism is still the norm for the First World. But there are people who, because of John Denver's music, are standing firm in the name of the peace, justice, love and equality to which he dedicated his career. This gives us hope that all is not lost. His life was short. But his influence outlives him." I also published a poem in his memory which was posted here.The poem was shared to Denver's family by Hank Bruce, author of the book Peace Beyond All Fear: A Tribute To John Denver's Vision on the commemoration of the musician's 10th death anniversary in Denver, USA last year. It is an understatement to say I love this man Denver. I honor him as well. So, I really felt remorseful that his 11th death anniversary last October 12 escaped my memory. It was a good thing that while I was driving this afternoon, I was listening to an FM radio station and suddenly, it played his "Leaving On A Jetplane." Then, my oversight hit me.

At the height of the protests against the Vietnam War in 1971, John Denver gave a very haunting rendition of the anti-war song, "The Strangest Dream" recorded on video which I posted here. It is my wish that we listen to it intently and share Denver's dream for peace in this world of injustice. And let us remember that peace is not the absence of war but the presence of justice. It is also the presence of food on the table in a country like ours where there is so much wealth.


The search for James Balao continues with more vigor and determination.

When I was a 12 year-old high school student in the 1980's, he told me and some other young boys and girls in a leadership training, "If you are not a part of the solution, then you are a part of the problem." He said he did not know who said it first, but that he was impressing it upon us. It became one of my oft-quoted quotations (In fact, it is quoted somewhere in this blog.) and I recite it every now and then to my students. James remained true to the calling to be part of the solution, dedicating the best years of his life to serving the masses.

Conrado de Quiros,
my favorite Philippine Daily Inquirer Columnist has a take on the disappearance of James Balao. I am reproducing his
article here.

On Friday, James Balao will have been gone for a month.

On Sept. 17 last month, James left his home in Fairview, Baguio City, at 7 a.m. He was wearing a black jacket, brown pants, hiking boots, eyeglasses and a visor. He was carrying a yellow and blue backpack and a traveling bag. He was on his way to his family’s residence in Trinidad Valley. He hasn’t been seen since.

Eyewitnesses would later say he was kidnapped in Tomay, La Trinidad. He was standing on the roadside, when a van pulled up in front of him and several men jumped out and cornered him. They handcuffed him and pushed him inside the van. One man turned to the crowd of onlookers and shouted, “’Wag kayong makialam, drug pusher ’to, dadalhin namin sa Camp Dangwa.” [Don’t interfere, this is a drug pusher, we’re taking him to Camp Dangwa.]

James Balao, born 1961 and the eldest of four children, is one of the founding members of the Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA), established in 1984 during the pit of martial law. A graduate of the University of the Philippines (UP) in Baguio, he has devoted a lifetime to studying and fighting for the rights of the indigenous folk of the Cordillera, particularly rights pertaining to ancestral domain. In 1986 he was on the staff of Pons Benagen and helped write the draft of the articles on indigenous folk in the Constitution. At the time of his abduction, he was president of the Oclupan Clan Association, and one of his tasks was to look into the registration of clan properties.

UP Baguio says of him: “We are proud of James Balao. He … best realizes the wisdom of UPB’s focus on Cordillera studies, which the university, struggling to find its footing within the UP System and its relevance to the region in the early 1980s, decided to take. James’ decision to forego opportunities to distinguish himself and establish a brilliant career in various academic and professional areas for which his many talents and gifts amply prepared him in favor of a selfless and socially responsible commitment to regional development and social wellbeing, is a grand affirmation of UPB’s institutional vision. [He has made] academic work and public service programs responsive and sensitive to Cordillera concerns.”

This is the person who was abducted last month. UP Baguio names operatives of the Intelligence Security Unit (ISU) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines as the perpetrators. Since his abduction, I’ve had several friends call, email, and text me vouching for the complete integrity and high-mindedness of this man. Like Jonas Burgos, he is an epic loss to society, or since “society” is an abstraction, he is an epic loss to all of us who dream of a better world to leave to our children. If he is a drug pusher, it is only in that he pushes the kind of drugs doctors use, including potent, experimental ones to revive a country in extremis. I join James’ kin and friends in hoping he is still alive, despite being held in some hellhole by his captors.

It’s time we said “Enough!” Enough of the killings, enough of the abductions, enough of the disappearances, enough of the harassment, enough of the surveillance, enough of the sowing of fear, enough of the terrorism, enough of the culture of mayhem, enough of the reign of impunity!

At the very least that is so because we are the only country left in this part of the world that’s still fighting a war against communism. At a time when the communists are no longer poised to overrun the country, at a time when the communist ideology no longer sounds a siren’s call to the youth on campuses, at a time communists all over the world have come to terms with parliamentary, rather than armed, struggle. Indeed, at a time when the very government of this country is desperate to hock, pawn and sell the national patrimony to the only communist power left in this world, which is China. You can’t get any more hysterically hypocritical than that.

It’s a cynical war waged by cynical persons to keep their cynical selves in power. It has no other purpose than that. It exists to hide the real threat to this country, which is dictatorship, and to unleash the forces needed to prop it up, which are fear and violence. It’s a cynical war that’s claiming a cynical toll on the innocent.

But more than the innocent, it’s taking its toll on the country’s best and brightest. Jonas Burgos is one of them. James Balao is another. They are people who have been given abundant abilities and endowments. Burgos has the illustrious name of his father to carry and Balao the glorious traditions of his tribe to do so. They could have become “successful” professionals, with enough trophies and testimonials to proclaim the fact. Instead, they chose to serve the people—how powerfully that phrase continues to resonate among those who have internalized it!—conscripting their talents and energies for the benefit of their communities. With only the laughter in the eyes of the children and the gratitude in the faces of their parents to proclaim their successes.

If that is what it means to be a communist, then let us all become communists. If that is what it means to be an enemy of the people, then let us all become enemies of the people.

But what insanity that Norberto Gonzales, the creep who once tried to hire an American company to lobby the US Congress to change the Philippine Constitution, should have the power to decree who is an enemy of the Filipino people and who is a friend to them. What insanity that Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the illegitimate president who wants to enter into illegitimate deals with China to kill off the Philippines, should have the power to decree who lives and who dies.

On Friday, James Balao, pride of UP Baguio, pride of the Cordillera, and pride of the Filipino nation, will have been gone for a month.


As a 12-year old high school student in the 1980's, I was sent to a leadership training sponsored by the Cordillera Schools Group. Among the training facilitators was James Balao. My mentor, Ms Zosima Yamoyam, told me about the young facilitators - intelligent young people who finished college and chose to serve the people instead of finding lucrative employment. I was so impressed with the work they were doing, as told me by Mrs. Yamoyam. I wanted to be like James and the other young facilitators (Lita Jane Killip and Jill Carino). Ms Yamoyam, through all my years in high school, guided me and did everything to mold me in their form.

James Balao continued to serve the masses. He courageously used his education for social transformation. He did not let up even when he knew that he was under enemy surveillance.

On September 17, 2008, James Balao disappeared. Up to this time, he has not been found.

I opened my mail yesterday morning and read the latest update from the Cordillera Peoples Alliance on Balao's disappearance. The CPA published in its website a letter from his father, Mr. Arthur Balao. In the letter, he is appealing to his son's captors to release James immediately that he may continue his mission of serving the masses, and take care of his bedridden mother afflicted with Alzheimer's disease. The letter broke my heart into several tiny pieces that I was moved to write the poem "Open Door."

OPEN DOOR (for James Balao)

I keep looking toward an open door

One night I saw your vivid silhouette
I gingerly reached for it as it crystallized
into a figment of my constant imagination
Must you know about the muffled cries
That punctuate the serenity of night
Or the darkness of promise set against
The backdrop of daylight?
Your sick mother sits in her wheelchair
Oblivious to your disappearance
She keeps asking you to scratch her back

Sometimes, hope looms large
In the prayers of the multitude-
The peasants, students, lawyers,
Teachers, workers, friends
Searching every corner for you
But the torrent of angry typhoons
Dissolves hope so tenuous in its tears

Yesterday, the sun was shining bright
Your friends came. We brewed rice wine
In your grandfather’s prized Ming jar
Our ancestors drank tapuy to celebrate
The old rice is very red, almost violet-
the ones from Kalinga you always liked
We looked at your old photos, writings
Remembered your words, your passions
Your love for truth, justice, equity, honor

Alas, I woke up this morning
To the sound of strong rain hammering on the roof
Droplets of rain are wetting our creaking floor
From the hole you did not patch last month
You missed that or planned to patch it later?
I sit by the window hoping the rain peters out
And sunshine crawls its way inside your room
The radio just announced that six miners
Trapped inside tunnels gave up the ghost
But ten conquered death, shaming the typhoon

A lot of work still needs to be done
My son, the door you left without a word is open
It will remain open until you return.

Elton Jun Veloria, a senior Mass Comm student of St. Louis University translated "Open Door" into Tagalog, a language I am not proficient at in the literary sense. It took him less than 15 minutes to work, punching the keys of my laptop on my antique table. Here is the translation:

Isang Pintuang Bukas

(Alay kay James Balao)

Ako’y laging nakatitig sa isang bukas na pintuan

Isang gabing mapanglaw naaninag ko ang hugis ng ‘yong anino

Maingat ko ‘tong inabot habang ito’y tuluyang umukit sa kawalan,

Ng aking nilikhang patuloy-tuloy na imahinasyon

Kailangan mong malaman ang piniping iyak

Na gumambala sa katahimikan ng gabi,

O di kaya’y ng dilim ng pangakong binitiwan

Laban sa paligid ng liwanag ng araw

Nakaupong naghihintay, ang ‘yong inang binalot ng karamdaman,

Walang muwang sa iyong pagkawala

Hiling nyang kamutin mo ang kanyang likod

Minsan, pag-asa’y mistulang naaaninag nang buong linaw

Sa panalangin ng marami-

Mga magsasaka, mag-aaral, manananggol,

Mga guro, manggagawa, kaibigan

Hinahalughog lahat ng sulok para sa’yo

Ngunit ang poot ng rumaragasang unos

Ang siyang lumulusaw ng pag-asa sa maselang yaring luha

Kahapon lamang, ang Haring Araw ay masidhing sumisikat

Ang ‘yong mga kaibiga’y dumating. Aming hinanda ang tapuy

Sa mamahaling banga ng ‘yong lolo

Mga ninuno nati’y uminom ng tapuy at nagdiwang

Ang lumang kanin ay mapula, muntikang magkulay lila

Yaong galling sa Kalinga, ang .yung laging ninanais

Minasdan namin ang mga litrato mo at inakdang likha

At nagunita ang ‘yong mga salita at mga pagnanais

Ang pag-ibig mo sa katotohanan, hustisya,

pagkakapantay pantay at karangalan

Ako’y biglang nagising kaninang umaga

Sa tinig ng malakas ng ulang bumabayo sa bubong

Ang mga patak ng ulan ay bumasa sa kumakaluskos na sahig

Mula sa butas na iyong tinapalan sa lumipas na buwan

Ikaw ba’y pumalya o binalak mo itong gawin sa susunod na pagkakataon?

Ito ba ay sa may bintana kalakip ang pag-asang titila ang ulan

At ang sinag ng araw ay gagapang sa loob ng ‘yong silid?

Isiniwalat sa radio na anim na minero ang nakulong sa lagusan

at sinuko ang multo

Ngunit sampu ang sumakop sa kamatayan at pinahiya ang bagyo

Marami pang dapat gawin hinggil sa paghihikahos ng masa

Aking anak, ang pintuang iniwan mo nang walang anumang salita ay bukas

Ito’y mananatiling bukas hanggang sa ika’y magbalik


On December 1, 2006, fellow HR lawyer Manja Bayang and I met with two women whose husbands were victims of enforced disappearance. One of them talked with pain about the uncertainties felt by the disappeared's families. That night, I could not sleep thinking of how a desaparecido must be feeling during his/her last moments.

At a few minutes past 2:00 A.M. of 2 December 2006, I woke up and wrote my poem, "A Desaparecido's Farewell." Manja and I were meeting the women that day and I wanted to give them a copy each.

We who have no immediate family members who were made to disappear can only imagine how it is to wait, to speculate, to hope, to have the hopes dashed, to hope again, to continue waiting, to keep looking toward an open door. But even the family members can only imagine how it is to be a desaparecido: to be concerned that your loved ones are frantic with worry, to be facing the imminent possibility of death, to regret not having said a word of love to a dear spouse or a child, to remorse over not having said goodbye.

I remembered the desaparecidos recently with the disappearance of activist James Balao, native of the Cordillera. It has been more than two weeks since he was last seen. We are all hopeful that he will be released unharmed.

There is a petition to surface him. I urge every freedom-loving human being to sign it.

Here is the poem " A Desaparecido's Farewell:"

My love, please do not wait up for me tonight
Or tomorrow – forgive me, I will not arrive
I am lying peaceful in an unmarked grave
In a tepid, dark place; please, my love, be brave.
Do not grieve: I have done all I needed to
Save for one weighty thing: oh, it haunts me so.

To my heart, they plunged a lance to halt my breath;
But ten more of me will emerge from my death.
Like glass chandelier launched by a livid sky
Into a thousand splinters, I will multiply.
My corroded flesh joined the barren, parched earth;
Droves of life-sustaining shrubs await their birth.

My blood is fertile peat for the grassroots’ war
For liberty from hunger, to freedom’s door.
My life is not my flesh; it’s the robust force;
It gives intense light to Revolution’s torch!
Its smolder unswerving--the masses wield it high!
While the steadfast grassroots stand, how could I die?

Promise no tears ‘cause my death is not death: it’s life.
Please celebrate my death; do not mourn, my dear wife.
From my grave - here, I hunger - beside you I stand;
I need to embrace you and caress your warm hand.
Please forgive me: there’s just one thing I failed to do---
Oh, my love, why did I not say goodbye to you?