Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan: Fates Intertwined by a Desire to Serve the Masses


MANILA – In a perfect world, Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan never would have met. The atrocity that befell them, a most horrendous fate, never would have happened. And they never would have stood now as a testament to the rot that is eating away at the core of this country.

Three years ago, on June 26, the two students from the University of the Philippines were abducted by suspected military men in Hagonoy, Bulacan, a province north of Manila. Their disappearance took place at a time when Central Luzon was being riven by a fierce conflict between the government and the communist New People’s Army.

Prosecuting this war on the government side was then Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan, who had brought to Bulacan and its nearby provinces the same anti-communist zeal – some say madness — that he had wrought on Oriental Mindoro, his previous assignment. The target of his campaign were not just the armed communists but anybody who was suspected of having even a hint of sympathy to the guerrillas. It is a policy replicated in other parts of the country, one that has resulted in the death, torture and disappearance of thousands of Filipinos, mostly activists.

Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño remain missing. (Photo by Ronalyn V. Olea / bulatlat.com)

According to testimonies of witnesses, it was Palparan’s men that abducted, tortured and raped Sherlyn and Karen. They killed a farmer, Manuel Merino, who was abducted along with the two women.

Raymond Manalo, a farmer also from Bulacan, had testified in court and before the United Nations Human Rights Council that he and his brother, Reynaldo, had been abducted in February 2006 and tortured by Palparan’s men in a military camp. There, he saw Merino being burned alive by soldiers. In that same camp, Manalo said, he came to know Sherlyn and Karen and had heard their cries as they were being shackled, tortured and raped by soldiers.

Sherlyn and Karen remain missing. The murderers of Merino are still scot-free. Manalo has yet to see behind bars any one of those who tortured him and his brother for 18 months. Palparan, the fair-haired boy of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in her campaign to wipe out the communists by next year, is now a congressman.

In a perfect world, this never would have happened.

Karen Empeño: Young Radical

Karen was born an activist.

Her father, Oscar, had been a leader of the union at a branch of the Bank of the Philippine Islands in Zambales. When the workers held a strike, Karen went with her father to the picketline. She was only two years old at the time.

Oscar Empeño, seen here at a picket in front of the NICA building on June 26, continues the search for his daughter. (Photo by Ronalyn V. Olea / bulatlat.com)

“She was holding a placard while her father was carrying her,” Connie, Karen’s mother, recalled. At home, Oscar would play progressive songs on the karaoke and Karen would memorize them.

Connie said they had noticed Karen’s intelligence early in her childhood. In kindergarten, she already knew how to read, flipping through the pages of Malaya and the Philippine Daily Inquirer at a very young age.

It was Oscar who taught Karen how to read. In their modest home, they had plenty of books. While Connie was off teaching at the local school, Oscar, who worked the night shift at a BPI branch in Zambales, taught the Empeño children at home, reading to them tales about heroes and revolutionaries who, despite the odds, vanquished repression.

“Her father had the greatest influence on her studies and on her activism,” Connie said.

Karen is the third in a family of five children and it is Karen’s gift to lighten the day of her siblings and the people around here. “Her friends would always tell me that they miss Karen’s playfulness,” Connie said.

During summer and semestral breaks, Karen would invite her friends to their home in Masinloc, Zambales. “We were so happy to see her happy around her friends,” her mother said.

At the University of the Philippines in Diliman, where Karen studied sociology, she became a member of the League of Filipino Students (LFS).

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18 Comments - Write a Comment

  1. It tragic that these two women were abducted. But one must understand the bigger picture. The NPA and their supporters have declared war on the government and are killing people thru ambushes and land mines. So-called amazons (female NPAs) do their share of liking also. The army is doing all it can to stop these killings, and sadly, amazons must be taken out also. What I don’t understand is why these amazons, if they truly want to help the poor, do not find jobs and give money to the poor. What possible purpose could they have for inserting themselves among the poor? Is it to kill government soldiers? The poor don’t need another mouth to feed.

  2. The case of these two women only shows that the government still refuses to see what reality is. Moving towards advancement is definitely not a bad thing, but to serve as lapdogs for imperialist countries and cater to the whims of capitalists, is truly despicable. It’s bad enough that they have controlled the country’s economy for decades.

    Time to wake up.

  3. We really needs a total revolutions.just like what happen in thailand where people

    fights the corupt government and the millitary alot of bloodsheds happened there with the struggle of the poor people of thailand vs.corrupt government leaders abd the millitary. and they prevailed it againts the corrupt regime.

    its' a wake up calls to Us all filpinos

    the citizens of thailand is a role model that evry filipino should have to follow.they are not stupid.they are not tiklup tuhod.

  4. What is the government doing in a case of these young victims? The Military should protect our society againts socio and psycho path. I felt sad and disappointed of what was happening to our country and society…

  5. the revelation of melissa rojas regarding her torture and the way she deceived her captors for her to be released, will prompted the military abductors not to release anyone captured next time to avoid same controversy.

  6. Karen's case was shown recently on British Television (Channel 4 – Unreported World), and her case desreves international exposure. More power!

  7. Thank you for a wonderful article about two amazing women, their lives cut short but a Philippine elite ready to go to any lengths to protect its control of the land and the people. Here in Canada we are working to demand justice for Karen and Sherlyn. From your friends as the Centre d'appui aux Philippines / Centre for Philippine Concerns in Montreal, and the Philippine Solidarity Network (Canada). We will never forget!

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