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PHILIPPINES: Where is human rights defender James Balao?

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It has been two weeks since James Balao, a member of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA), an independent federation of indigenous peoples' organisations, was last seen by friends and family.On 17 September 2008, Balao failed to arrive at his family's home in La Trinidad. According to the CPA Chairperson, Beverly Longid, Balao had reported since June 2008 that he was being followed by different vehicles at various instances.

Recently, Balao had been working on a project which highlighted the State's attempt to enforce the national land law system through and on the pretext of development projects.
However this project did not get approved by the national policy, which then attempted to occupy and expel the indigenous people from their ancestral lands.

The CPA believes that the Intelligence Service Unit of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) is behind the enforced disappearance of Balao.
The CPA has based this allegation on the Armed Forces of the Philippines' (AFP) report alleging that Balao is the head of the "education bureau" of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

The Bagui Police Office (BCPO), have stated there have been no reports of his arrest since his unexplained disappearance.
Since the Philippine legal system has not included indigenous concepts and customary laws concerning the rights of persons and peoples to land and territory, the Cordillera Peoples have been vulnerable to dispossession and eviction from areas which they and their predecessors have occupied for generations.

Moreover, since the Arroyo government implemented its Operation Plan Bantay Laya in 2001, members and leaders of legal and legitimate people's organizations, such as the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA), have been targeted for neutralization by agents of the state and unjustly labeled as communist fronts and terrorist organisations.
Innocent lives have already been claimed as a result of this State policy of political and extrajudicial killings.

Balao is the second case of enforced disappearance of a CPA member or officer, since Ama Daniel Ngayaan was abducted in 1987.