‘Where’s My Father?’

At around 2 a.m. of April 22, the soldiers with their arms drawn barged into the homes of the Paranis and the Velascos. Elena was able to follow her husband and the soldier-abductors until they reached the army detachment at the elementary school in Barangay Hamorawon, a 30-minute ride from Barangay Sinantan.

Helen, on the other hand, passed out when the soldiers dragged her husband into a multicab and brought him to the same detachment.

That was the last time the two women saw their husbands.

In a separate interview with Bulatlat, Helen and Elena, 38, said their husbands were also tagged by the military as NPA members. “May nagturo daw na NPA yung mga asawa namin” (Somebody reportedly fingered at our husbands as NPA members), the two told Bulatlat.

Denying angrily the military allegations, Helen said her husband is a farmer. Elena’s husband is a construction worker. In fact, Elena said, they had lived in Manila for almost eight years and only went back to Samar in June last year for the town fiesta.

Alarming

Meanwhile, the cases of disappearances have reached alarming proportions in Samar. The human rights group Katungod-SB (Alliance for the Advancement of Peoples’ Rights-Eastern Visayas) has documented at least 20 cases of forced disappearances since February.

The desaparecidos include Oscar Cabacang, Anakpawis party-list group provincial coordinator; Amy Cabarles and a certain Ejercito, both employees of the Samar Provincial Supply Office (SPSO) in Catbalogan; and Roberto Babas, 43, barangay captain of Biri.

Extra-judicial killings

Katungod-SB has also documented 22 cases of extra-judicial killings covering the period Feb. 10 to May 12. The report noted that six of these cases involved officers of party-list groups Bayan Muna (people first) and Anakpawis (toiling masses). The killings of lawyer Felidito Dacut and Rev. Edison Lapuz, a prominent member of the United Church of Christ of the Philippines, also drew public outrage.

The Katungod-SB report said “the rest (of the victims) were farmers killed in their communities and were later alleged as being members of the NPA.”

Likewise, there have been 36 victims of strafing, bombing and indiscriminate firing; 13 victims of torture; 16 victims of physical assault and arbitrary arrest; and 17 individuals arbitrarily detained.

Meanwhile, the report added, 979 individuals have been victims of forcible evacuation affecting 21 communities in the towns of Calbiga, Tarangan, Motiong, Jiabong, Catbalogan and Paranas.

Opposition

In a sworn statement given to the House inquiry, Alex Lagunzad, Katungod-SB secretary general, put on record the organization’s opposition to Palparan’s impending promotion and his continued deployment in Eastern Visayas. The general’s promotion and stay in the region, he said, would send signals that the state’s military and police forces can commit atrocities with impunity.

Some legislators have also voiced their opposition to the general’s promotion from brigadier general to major general, vowing to throw the controversial army officer out of the region and block his confirmation at the CA.

It was a privilege speech given by Rep. Figueroa on the alarming human rights situation in the province that prompted the House to begin an inquiry into the matter.

Meanwhile, another Samar congressman, Reynaldo Uy (1st District) submitted to the CA his strong opposition to the Palparan’s promotion. (Palparan had been promoted by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo from colonel while assigned in Oriental Mindoro to brigadier and then to major general – all in of two years.)

In a sworn statement, Uy called Palparan a “notorious and remorseless human rights violator.”

With the rate human rights violations are perpetrated in Samar, the congressman added, Palparan could surpass his record in his two-year stint as brigade commander of the 204th Infantry Brigade of the PA (IBPA) in Oriental Mindoro.

Uy assailed the CA for confirming Palparan’s past promotion despite accusations hurled against him when he was still in Mindoro. “The promotion of Palparan would send the wrong message that human rights violations are rewarded with promotion,” Uy said.

The two Samar representatives also said they themselves have received death threats for trying to expose the military’s abuses in the province. Figueroa specifically said he had received reliable information he and three other high officials from Samar are marked for liquidation by military elements for their alleged leanings with the NPA. They have denied the military allegations.

Palparan’s defense

But Palparan, facing the House committee on national defense, seemed not worried at all being in the hot seat. Clad in his moss green army officer uniform and black jacket, Palparan came to Congress all the way from Samar with a script for the inquiry.

He began by attacking Bayan Muna for “launching a smear campaign against his person” and “demonizing” him even before his deployment to the 8th ID in Eastern Visayas. “This was done obviously to block my assignment to the region,” he said.

When a congressman asked about his alleged human rights violations, Palparan said he was into counter-insurgency campaign which, he added, entails “great sacrifices foremost from the soldiers and to many affected people especially those involved in the insurgency.”

Such sacrifices, the general said, persist because the communist insurgency in Samar is at a more advance stage than anywhere in the country. He estimated that 50-60 percent of the people in the region are either involved or influenced by the NPA. Those influenced, he said surprisingly, included soldiers from the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

The top army officer said NPA guerrillas can “roam freely” in the communities even in the presence of soldiers. To date, he said, there are 17 soldiers who have been reassigned elsewhere on suspicions of colluding with the NPA. One soldier was discharged while another is under investigation, he told the House committee.

Joining the committee hearing, Rep. Prospero Pichay chided Palparan for his unfounded statement and irresponsible accusations about soldiers’ connivance with the NPA.

“If you want to win the war, first you have to win the hearts of the people in Samar,” Pichay told the general. “Now, probably you are making the wrong approach.” Bulatlat

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