Mothers of missing UP students file charges against notorious Army general

“We will not stop seeking for justice. We will not stop until the perpetrators are punished. I cannot settle with the fact that I can only embrace my daughter in my dreams,” Erlinda Cadapan, mother of Sherlyn, said.


MANILA—In their continuing search for their missing daughters, the mothers of Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan have been going to different places. Barely five years since the two University of the Philippines students were abducted, their search led them to the Department of Justice (DOJ).

On May 4, Erlinda Cadapan, mother of Sherlyn, and Concepcion Empeño, mother of Karen, filed before the DOJ a string of criminal charges against Ret. Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr., former commanding general of the 7th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army; his commanding officers Lt. Col. Rogelio Boac of the 56th Infantry Battalion and Lt. Col. Felipe Anotado of the 24th Infantry Battalion, M/Sgt. Donald Caigas and M/Sgt. Rizal Hilario and several “John Does.”

Karen and Sherlyn
were abducted on June 26, 2006 in San Miguel village, Hagonoy, Bulacan by armed men wearing ski masks. Farmer Manuel Merino who came out to help the two was also taken. They remain missing to this day.

The charges include rape, serious physical injuries, arbitrary detention, maltreatment of prisoners, grave threats, grave coercion, violations of Republic Act 7438 or An Act Defining Certain Rights of Persons Arrested, Detained or Under Custodial Investigation as well as the Duties of the Arresting, Detaining and Investigating Officers, and Providing Penalties for Violations Thereof. (Below: press conference held after the filing.)

Palparan are also charged with violations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The two conventions are generally accepted principles of international law adopted by the Philippines under the 1987 Constitution as part of the law of the land and thus can be applied with equal force within Philippine jurisdiction.

“We will not stop seeking for justice. We will not stop until the perpetrators are punished. I cannot settle with the fact that I can only embrace my daughter in my dreams,” Mrs. Cadapan said.

“No mother would not search for her missing child, no matter how long or how difficult it is. In my heart, the hope that I will find my Sherlyn and her colleague Karen Empeño remains,” Mrs. Cadapan added.

Mrs. Empeño, meanwhile, has a message for Palparan: “All of our evidences point to you. Do not lie anymore. It is time that you surface our daughters.”

“My daughter experienced monstrous acts since she was abducted, tortured and detained by Gen. Jovito Palparan,” Mrs. Empeño added.

Palparan has been branded “The Butcher” by human rights groups for the trail of blood he left behind in regions where he was assigned. This is the first countersuit filed against Palparan under the Aquino administration.

The charges are based on the testimonies of several eyewitnesses, including the testimony of torture survivor Raymond Manalo who saw how the soldiers tortured and raped the two UP students. Manalo and his brother Reynaldo were also abducted by state security forces in San Ildelfonso, Bulacan on February 14, 2006 but the two managed to escape after 18 months of captivity.

Two others witnessed the abduction and saw Sherlyn, Karen and Merino, being forced into a private stainless jeep with Plate No. RTF 579. Another witness saw the same stainless jeep parked inside the headquarters of the 56th Infantry Battalion in Iba village, Hagonoy, Bulacan.

Julian Oliva, one of the lawyers, praised Bulacan farmers, fishermen, and other witnesses who have willingly come up to state for the record that they saw Sherlyn and Karen being abducted or in the custody of the military. “Despite the possible consequences, they have stood up in defense of the two UP students who served their community. This is an outstanding act of courage, and a genuine belief that criminals must be punished,” he said.

“We have very strong evidence against Palparan. The testimonies of our witnesses point to his culpability,” Ma. Cristina Yambot, who recently passed the bar and a colleague of the victims, said. Yambot and another new lawyer, Sandra Jill Santos , are among the lawyers for the mothers of Karen and Sherlyn.

In a statement, Mary Guy Portajada, secretary general of Desaparecidos said they are looking forward for this particular case to prosper because, she said, the prosecution of Palparan might also shed light on the whereabouts of other victims of enforced disappearances that happened under his command.

“We will leave no stone unturned to find out the truth on the fate of our missing loved ones,” Portajada said.

High hopes on De Lima, disappointed at Aquino

“Within our almost five years of fighting for justice, we trust Justice Secretary De Lima with this one for she is an advocate and human rights defender. I know and I strongly believe that there will be an answer to our prayers,” Mrs. Empeño said.

De Lima, also former chair of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), welcomed the filing of charges. “We will give this case the attention it deserves,” she said, noting that under the previous Arroyo administration, no one has been prosecuted for human rights violations.

“It is not only the victims who were abducted by the Armed Forces of the Philippines but also the victims’ family and loved ones, everybody suffers and the mystery here is beyond speech, beyond words,” De Lima added.

“We hope for fair treatment this time, we obtained nothing from the Supreme Court but I believe that here in the DOJ, together with Justice Secretary De Lima, we will have a big chance that the perpetrators will be punished,” Mrs. Cadapan said.

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