By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star
Remember Jovito Palparan Jr., the notorious Philippine Army officer tagged by militant political activists as “The Butcher”?
In 2007 the Melo Commission recommended Palparan’s investigation for extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and other human rights violations. Instead, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo personally presented him as a special guest and commended his exploits during her 2008 state-of-the-nation address, thus abetting his continued terror campaign till he retired as major general in 2009.
Now Palparan may soon be hailed to court to face criminal charges. Comeuppance at last!
Last Wednesday the mothers of the two former UP students, Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeno, who were abducted and “disappeared” in 2006, filed a complaint at the Department of Justice against Palparan, two Army colonels and several others. The charges: rape, serious physical injuries, arbitrary detention, maltreatment of prisoners, grave threats, grave coercion, and violation of RA 7438 (on the rights of detained persons).
Sherlyn and Karen were abducted by armed men on June 26, 2006 in Hagonoy, Bulacan. Witnesses have identified their abductors as soldiers of the Army’s 56th Infantry Battalion in Norzagaray, Bulacan. They were detained and tortured in a camp in Limay, Bataan under the 24th IB. The 56th and 24th IBs were both under the 7th Infantry Division, then headed by Palparan.
Their mothers, Erlinda T. Cadapan and Concepcion E. Empeno, filed a petition for habeas corpus at the Supreme Court. The SC directed the Court of Appeals to hear the petitions. Initially the CA denied the petition in 2007, but on appeal in 2008 it reversed the ruling and ordered the military to release the two women.
Yet to this day they remain in limbo.
At least two factors can be credited for the recent positive turn of events.
1. The courageous and credible detailed testimony at the 2008 CA hearing of
a young Bulacan farmer, Raymond Manalo. His testimony — which convinced the CA to reverse its 2007 ruling on the habeas corpus petition cited above — is the linchpin of the criminal case, backed up by the testimonies of seven other witnesses.
In that testimony Raymond cited the direct involvement of Palparan in the abduction, detention and torture of Sherlyn and Karen. In a separate testimony earlier in his own petition for the writ of amparo related to his abduction, he detailed Palparan’s direct role and those of his two trusted aides since the 1980s, MSgt. Donald Caigas and MSgt. Rizal Hilario.
Raymond and his brother Reynaldo were abducted on Feb. 14, 2006 in San Ildefonso, Bulacan and detained together with Sherlyn and Karen, and another farmer, Manuel Merino in the Limay camp. They escaped after 17 months of detention, filed the amparo petition which the Court of Appeals granted in 2008 and affirmed by the Supreme Court.
In its ruling penned by then Chief Justice Reynato Puno, dismissing the military’s appeal to reverse the CA decision, the SC affirmed the credibility of Raymond’s testimony. It likewise clearly pointed out Palparan’s direct accountability for the abduction and violation of the brothers’ human rights.
2. The formation of Task Force Lawsuit, a legal-paralegal group which supervises the preparation, filing and pursuance of this case. The group has been formed by the human rights alliance Karapatan, the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, and progressive party-list organizations. (The group needs more lawyers to help, and justice and human rights supporters to donate funds.)
TF Lawsuit last month filed a damage suit against Gloria Arroyo and some military officers for the illegal arrest and detention of the health workers known as “Morong 43.” The group is set to file next a criminal case against officers and soldiers of the 56th IB for the abduction-disappearance of Jonas Burgos on April 28, 2007. It is also looking into the revival of the Manalo brothers’ abduction case, which was filed with the Ombudsman but hasn’t been acted on.
On the Jonas Burgos case, TF Lawsuit will coordinate with Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who last April 14 directed state prosecutors to initiate criminal proceedings against 1st Lt. Harry Agagen Baliaga Jr., a 56th IB company commanding officer, and other persons allegedly involved.
NUPL secretary-general Edre Olalia, chief counsel in the Cadapan-Empeno case, explains:
“This will not ensure that Karen and Sherlyn will be brought back to us. Indeed, this is more than seeking justice for them. This is a way to put these incorrigible abductors, torturers, and rapists out of places of authority.”
In short, TF Lawsuit aims to score a breakthrough against impunity, the political atmosphere wherein no major human rights violators have been arrested and prosecuted since the era of martial law.
Another NUPL member, Juan Oliva, commended the decision of seven Bulacan farmers, fishermen and barrio folk to testify in the case as “an outstanding act of courage, and a genuine belief that criminals must be punished.”
Interestingly, two young women, contemporaries of Sherlyn and Karen as UP students, passed the last bar examinations and are now assisting in the case. They are Sandra Jill Santos and Ma. Cristina Yambot.