The Arroyo administration appears to consider recently-retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan, Jr. an asset. But he may turn out to be a liability for the Philippine government at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva, which has been in session to hear complaints of human rights violations filed by several cause-oriented groups against the Arroyo administration.
BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
The Arroyo administration appears to consider recently-retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan, Jr. an asset, as is shown by its having considered him for a position as deputy for anti-insurgency campaign at the National Security Council (NSC) and President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s own expressed intention of eventually appointing him to a post still related to the counter-“insurgency” drive. But he may turn out to be a liability for the Philippine government at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva, which has been in session to hear complaints of human rights violations filed by several cause-oriented groups against the Arroyo administration.
The complaints focus on high-profile cases of extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances. Data filed by Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights), represented by its secretary-general Marie Hilao-Enriquez, at the UNHRC, show a total of 755 extra-judicial killings and 184 enforced disappearances since 2001, when Arroyo was catapulted to power through a popular uprising.
The figures do not include other human rights violations allegedly perpetrated by state forces including torture, forcible evacuations, food blockades, illegal arrests and others.
Based on figures from Karapatan-Central Luzon, 109 of the extra-judicial killings and 62 of the disappearances occurred in the said region. Of these, Karapatan-Central Luzon records further show, 71 extra-judicial killings and 46 enforced disappearances took place from September 2005 to August 2006 – all during Palparan’s stint as commanding officer of the Philippine Army’s 7th Infantry Division, which is based at Ft. Ramon Magsaysay in Laur, Nueva Ecija.
Several of these cases were tackled in an urgent alert submitted Sept. 26 to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva.
“We wish to stress that these unabated political killings and abductions have escalated after Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan was appointed by the Arroyo government as commanding officer of the 7th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army in the region in September 2005,” reads part of the urgent alert, which was signed by Karapatan-Central Luzon chairperson Sr. Cecile Ruiz and Mothers and Relatives Against Tyranny (Martyr) secretary-general Jocelyn Javier.
Palparan has been tagged as notorious for human rights violations allegedly committed by soldiers under his command since the late 1980s. He particularly earned the ire of human rights groups and local government leaders for atrocities reportedly committed against civilians in Oriental Mindoro and Eastern Visayas, where he was also assigned under the Arroyo administration.
These were also cited by Ruiz and Javier in the urgent alert. “Prior to his transfer, General Palparan had been blamed for hundreds of summary killings and involuntary disappearances of political activists, human rights advocates, lawyers, public officials, church workers and other unarmed civilians during his stints in Mindoro, Laguna, Eastern Visayas and other regions where he was assigned,” Ruiz and Javier stated.
The urgent alert also cited the Palparan-led “saturation drive” in the provinces of Nueva Ecija, Bulacan and Aurora, in which thousands of residents were forced to secure cedulas (community tax certificates) to prove they were not members of the New People’s Army (NPA).
“Those who failed to show this document were subjected to intense interrogation, torture or humiliating and degrading treatment by the military,” Ruiz and Javier stated. “This included one who was made to walk home in his underwear and another who was forced to eat her expired cedula. A barangay kagawad (village councilman) in Nueva Ecija was tortured while undergoing custodial investigation by the military, causing him a nervous breakdown which culminated in his committing suicide. Moreover, homes of local members of urban poor organization Kadamay or Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (National Alliance of Urban Poor Organizations) were painted (with) Xs by the military as part of their witch-hunting operations and harassment.”
Palparan’s stint as commanding officer of the 7th Infantry Division is marked, among others, by the disappearance of 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 went to Merino’s hut a few steps away and took him as well.
At the UNHRC session, the Arroyo administration has come under fire on the issue of enforced disappearances. The Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, chaired by Stephen Toope, had named the Philippines as one of several countries with “outstanding cases” of disappearance.
“While in the past disappearances could be blamed primarily on military dictatorships, mostly in Latin America, today (these are) also perpetrated in more complex situations of internal conflict, such as Colombia, Nepal, the Russian Federation, Iraq, and the Sudan, the group said in its report. “In other countries, such as Algeria and the Philippines, political repression of opponents resulted in hundreds of cases of disappearance.”
Murder, deportation or forced transfer of population, imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law, torture; persecution against any identifiable group or collectivity on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender, or other grounds that are universally recognized as impermissible under international law; enforced disappearance of persons; and other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health are classified as crimes against humanity under international human rights instruments.
In high regard
All throughout, the Arroyo administration has held and continues to hold Palparan in high regard. He was given a Medal of Valor in 2004 and a Distinguished Service Star in 2005.
In her State of the Nation Address (SoNA) last July, Arroyo praised Palparan for his work in the counter-“insurgency” campaign.
“Sa mga lalawigang sakop ng 7th Division, nakikibaka sa kalaban si Jovito Palparan” (In those provinces under the supervision of the 7th [Infantry] Division, [Major General] Jovito Palparan is battling the enemy), Arroyo said in her SoNA. “Hindi siya aatras hanggang makawala sa gabi ng kilabot ang mga pamayanan at makaahon sa bukang-liwayway ng hustisya at kalayaan” (He will not back down until the communities emerge from the night and rise toward the dawn of justice and freedom.)
A few days before Palparan’s retirement from the military service on Sept. 11, Presidential Chief of Staff Mike Defensor announced that he was to be appointed as deputy for anti-insurgency campaign at the National Security Council (NSC). It was Lt. Gen. Pedro Cabuay, commanding officer of the military’s Southern Luzon, who ended up getting the position, however.
But Arroyo has expressed intention of eventually appointing Palparan to a post still related to the counter-“insurgency” drive.
The 47-member UNHRC, formed through a UN General Assembly resolution on March 5, is mandated to ensure the compliance of UN member states with international human rights instruments. It may recommend appropriate actions to the UN General Assembly based on complaints filed by individual victims or non-government organizations.
Among other actions, the UNHRC could vote to suspend the membership of the Philippines in the body for gross and systematic human rights violations. Bulatlat