Palparan’s Path: Trail of Blood, Child Victims

When he exits the military service this Sept. 11, Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan, Jr. leaves behind a long list of victims of human rights violations in the areas where he was assigned. Based on his declarations in various media interviews, he will perhaps even give a hearty laugh should his record be described as a trail of blood. But his record speaks for itself.


Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan, Jr., commanding officer of the Philippine Army’s 7th Infantry Division based in Ft. Ramon Magsaysay, Laur, Nueva Ecija, turns 56 this Sept. 11 – reaching the mandatory age of retirement from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

But Palparan, tagged as “butcher” by activist groups and rights watchdogs for unsolved extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances perpetrated in his many areas of assignment, was immediately appointed by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to the National Security Council (NSC), as deputy for anti-insurgency operations. At the NSC, Palparan joins its head, National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales who, together with Macapagal-Arroyo, has defended the general’s anti-insurgency operations.

Directly attached to the office of the president, the NSC provides intelligence and national security policy recommendation to the chief executive. Gonzales is believed to be part of the militarist clique in the Cabinet Oversight Committee on Internal Security (COC-IS) which endorsed the armed forces’ internal security operations plan against the underground armed Left and legal activists and organizations.

With Palparan’s continuing active role in counter-insurgency this time directly under Macapagal-Arroyo, it is now fitting to take stock of his career as a military officer.

Based on a news item from the Philippine Information Agency (PIA) and research by Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights), Palparan joined the AFP in 1974, a year after finishing BS Business Administration at the University of the East (UE).

He would go into graduate studies while in the military, taking up Master in Management at the Philippine Christian University (PCU) and Master in National Security Administration at the National Defense College of the Philippines (NDCP).

In 1977 he underwent schooling at the Philippine Army’s Infantry Basic Training Command. Twelve years later, he took an Infantry Advanced Course at the U.S. Army Infantry School. In 1994 he took the Command and General Staff Course at the AFP Command and Staff College, and two years later he took a Joint Service Staff Course in Australia.

Long list of victims

When he exits the military service this Sept. 11 – which is also the fifth commemoration of the 9/11 bombings in the U.S. – he leaves behind a long list of alleged victims of human rights violations in the areas where he was assigned. Based on his declarations in various media interviews, he will perhaps even give a hearty laugh should his record be described as a trail of blood. But his record speaks for itself.

A close scrutiny of his record shows that many of the more prominent victims of human rights violations in the areas where he was assigned are aging men, women, children, and youths barely out of adolescence. Palparan would partially acknowledge this, as he did in an interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s Fe Zamora, published last July 2, where he was quoted as saying that women and children become natural victims in armed conflicts “because they don’t know where to run, how to hide.”

His first assignment was as a second lieutenant with the 24th Infantry Battalion stationed in Indanan, Sulu, at the height of the revolutionary armed struggle waged by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). He claims to have achieved victory against the MNLF at least in Patikul, Sulu.

He himself however admits that children from the Tausug tribe – whence hail most of the MNLF fighters – were among the victims of his men while he was stationed in Sulu. There, he said, soldiers saw Tausug children as “future enemies, so the thinking was to finish them off while they were still young” – a mode of thinking reminiscent of an American general, Gen. Jacob Smith, during the Philippine-American War who ordered the killing of everyone capable of bearing arms – including 10-year-old boys – in Samar.

In the early 1980s, the 24th Infantry Battalion was transferred to Central Luzon, this time to fight communist revolutionaries. By 1989 he would assume the post of battalion commander, which he held until 1991.

A fact sheet released by Karapatan in 2004 shows Sta. Cruz, Zambales to have particularly suffered the brunt of operations by the 24th Infantry Battalion in 1991. In September that year, while soldiers were stationed by a chapel there, about 100 townsfolk were arrested, interrogated, and forced to sign “affidavits of surrender.” From Oct. 13-18, 10 families were forced to evacuate as a result of shelling operations. Three days later, more than 1,000 residents of the same town were forced to attend a “peace rally,” in which Palparan claimed that they were “rebel surrenderees.”

Torture of tribal elder

Karapatan’s tally lists at least seven extra-judicial killings, one incident each of massacre and assault, two grenade bombings, five harassment cases, and five cases of illegal arrest and detention in Central Luzon during Palparan’s first assignment there. He was also implicated in the abduction and torture of peasant organizers and other activists during his first stint there, Karapatan records show.

After Central Luzon, Palparan was assigned to the Cordillera region. One of the most prominent cases of human rights violations in the said region during his stint there was the torture of Marcelo Fakila, a leader of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) in Mountain Province and a village elder in Sagada.

Based on combined data from the CPA and Karapatan, in 1992 alone there were six cases of illegal arrest, five harassment cases, one case of disappearance, one summary execution, one case of wounding, and two cases of evacuations– all in Mountain Province during Palparan’s assignment in the region.

After his Cordillera stint, Palparan was given a quick succession of assignments, including the command of Task Force Banahaw – which holds jurisdiction over Rizal and Laguna provinces south of Manila. One of the most prominent victims of human rights violations during Palparan’s stint in Task Force Banahaw was a five-year-old child killed in Laguna in 2001. Karapatan-Laguna listed seven killings of civilians in the province in 2001 alone.

Shocking cases

In May 2001, Palparan was deployed to head the 204th Infantry Battalion, which holds jurisdiction over Oriental Mindoro. It is in Oriental Mindoro, under Palparan’s command, that some of the most shocking cases of human rights violations under the Macapagal-Arroyo administration were perpetrated.

On April 8, 2002, Expedito Albarillo, 48, a Bayan Muna (People First) coordinator in San Teodoro was dragged by some 10 soldiers from his hut, with his hands tied behind his back. Clinging to him and begging the soldiers for mercy was wife Manuela, 45, also a Bayan Muna coordinator in the same town. Shots rang out some 200 meters away, and relatives who rushed to the scene found the couple lying on their faces, bathed in their own blood. Expedito’s left eye was drooping from its socket.

On May 20 that same year, the Apolinar family – Ruben, 54, a retired policeman; his wife, Rodriga, 54, a teacher; and their adopted child Niña Angela, 8 – were gunned down also by soldiers. Ruben and Rodriga were Bayan Muna leaders in San Teodoro.

Eight days after, it was the turn of activist Edilberto Napoles, Jr., 26, to be killed. He was gunned down near the Bayan Muna office in Calapan City.

The cases of the Albarillo couple, the Apolinar family, and Napoles were among those that prompted a fact-finding mission into human rights violations in Oriental Mindoro in April 2003.

Among the leaders of the said mission were Eden Marcellana, secretary-general of Karapatan-Southern Tagalog; and peasant leader Eddie Gumanoy. They themselves would end up losing their lives in the hands of soldiers from the 204th Infantry Battalion. The photos of the two that were used for Terror in Mindoro – a book on the Mindoro killings published by Justice for Eden and Eddie, Justice for All in cooperation with the Ecumenical Consortium for a Just Peace – showed their bodies bearing marks of torture.

The killings of Marcellana and Gumanoy stirred public outrage enough to get Palparan relieved from the 204th Infantry Battalion and transferred to Rizal. His Oriental Mindoro record, based on Karapatan data, totaled 326 human rights violations involving 1,219 individual victims.

In the very week of Palparan’s transfer to Rizal, based on an article by Bulatlat’s Aubrey Makilan, the chief of a barangay (village) security force in Antipolo City was killed. Before that he was repeatedly questioned by the military on his alleged connections with the New People’s Army (NPA).

Iraq mission

In February 2004, Palparan was assigned to head an AFP contingent sent on a “humanitarian” mission to Iraq. He returned seven months later, was given a Medal of Valor, and appointed chief of staff of the Philippine Army.

In February 2005 he was called back into the field as commanding officer of the 8th Infantry Division, which covers Eastern Visayas. The most prominent victims of human rights violations in the region during Palparan’s stint there are lawyer Felidito Dacut, youth organizer Marvin Montabon, and Rev. Edison Lapuz.

Dacut, 51, a leader of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) and Bayan Muna in Eastern Visayas, was on his way home aboard a jeepney when killed March 14, 2005. As the jeepney cruised along Arellano Street in Tacloban City, Leyte, two men aboard a motorcycle drove near the victim, and one fired a shot behind him. The bullet pierced through his heart and instantly killed him.

Earlier that day, soldiers had gone to Montabon’s home in Tarangnan, Samar and shot him before burning the house. The young man was burned inside the house.

Lapuz, Eastern Visayas conference minister of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) and chairman of Katungod-Sinirangang Bisayas, the Eastern Visayas chapter of Karapatan, had just come from the burial of his father when he was killed May 12, 2005. He was then busy organizing a mining conference for church people in the region.

Palparan’s record in Eastern Visayas shows a total of 570 human rights violations involving 7,561 individuals, 1,773 families, 110 communities and ten organizations all in a span of six months – based on Karapatan data.

In September last year, Palparan was assigned to head the 7th Infantry Division – thus bringing him back to Central Luzon more than 20 years after he was first deployed there.

Aging men, women, children, and youths as victims

Among the more prominent victims of human rights violations in Central Luzon under Palparan’s command are Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan, both students of the University of the Philippines (UP); and peasant organizer Manuel Merino – who were abducted by soldiers on June 26 in Hagonoy, Bulacan and are still missing.

Empeño, a graduating BA Sociology student, was in Hagonoy doing research on a peasant community for her thesis.

It was dawn and she and Cadapan, a youth organizer in the same town, were asleep when soldiers barged into the hut they were staying in. The fact that Cadapan was then five months pregnant did not protect her from a punch in the stomach. Both were blindfolded; in Empeño’s case, her eyes were covered with a shirt that had been forcibly removed from her.

The soldiers then proceeded to Merino’s hut a few steps away and took him as well.

A Sept. 3 report by the Philippine Daily Inquirer cited Karapatan data pointing to 136 cases of human rights violations in Central Luzon under Palparan’s command from September 2005 to August 2006. Of these, there were 71 summary executions, five massacres, 14 frustrated killings, and 46 enforced disappearances.

From the various interviews that Palparan has given to the media all these years, he has come across as one who is wont to boast of his accomplishments. He claimed victory against the Moro “rebels” in Patikul, Sulu and he has been claiming victory after victory against the communist “rebels” after that.

Whenever he exits from an assignment, however, he leaves behind a list of victims of human rights violations – civilians at that, and many of the more prominent ones being aging men, women, children, and youths barely out of adolescence.

Thus is the trail that Palparan leaves behind when he retires this Sept. 11. He exits from the military in the very good graces of the Arroyo administration, which conferred awards on him – first the Medal of Valor in 2004 and then the Distinguished Service Star Award earlier this year – and heaps lavish praises on him, as Macapagal-Arroyo did during her State of the Nation Address (SoNA) last July, and has now even given him a new job. (

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