SC: Military officials liable for abduction of UP students

“It’s good news but it [the decision] took so long. Unfortunately, the decisions of the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court have not resulted in the surfacing of the disappeared.” – Mrs. Concepcion Empeño, mother of missing UP student Karen Empeño


MANILA – Concepcion Empeño has been searching for her daughter Karen for almost five years. She, along with Erlinda Cadapan, mother of Sherlyn, went to military camps, hospitals, funeral parlors and the courts but failed to find her dearest Karen.

Karen and Sherlyn, both students of the University of the Philippines (UP), were abducted in Hagonoy, Bulacan together with Manuel Merino on June 26, 2006 at a farmer’s house. They remain missing to this day.

In a decision promulgated May 31, the Supreme Court en banc ordered the military, headed by Ret. Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr., to immediately release the two UP students and Merino from their detention. It affirmed the appellate court’s decision dated September 17, 2008 on the writ of amparo petition filed by the parents of the missing activists.

Mrs. Empeño received the news yesterday. “It’s good news but it [the decision] took so long. Unfortunately, the decisions of the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court have not resulted in the surfacing of the disappeared,” Mrs. Empeño said in a text message.

As early as July 17, 2006, parents of both activists filed a petition for the writ of habeas corpus at the Court of Appeals but the said petition was dismissed on March 29, 2007 on the basis of the military’s denial of custody over Sherlyn and Karen. On October 24 of the same year, Mrs. Empeno and Mrs. Cadapan filed a petition for a Writ of Amparo. The Court of Appeals then granted the said writ but the UP students remain missing.

‘Punish the perpetrators’

Human rights groups deemed that the recent SC decision will bolster the criminal complaint filed by Mrs. Empeño and Mrs. Cadapan in May. Charges of rape, serious physical injuries, arbitrary detention, maltreatment of prisoners, grave threats, grave coercion, violations, among others, were filed against Palparan, 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.”

“We hope that the perpetrators would be punished,” Mrs. Empeño said.

The high court found Palparan, Boac, Anotado, Caigas, Lt. Francis Mirabelle Samson and Arnel Enriquez who were once assigned to the 7th Infantry Division and the 24th Infantry Battalion as “responsible and accountable” for the abductions.

“By pointing to them as the persons liable for the disappearance of the two students, the Court itself gave credence to the charge of arbitrary detention of the two students against Palparan et al. The SC thus submitted ‘probable cause’ in the criminal case against the accused,” Ephraim Cortez, assistant secretary general for legal services of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), said. The group serves as legal counsels of the victims’ families.

Probable cause is the standard by which a person may be arrested. It means that the facts or evidences are sufficient to determine that a particular person might have committed a specific crime.

Cortez said that Palparan’s denial of any of the allegations should be treated as “simple yet puerile defenses, not an exemption from criminal charges.” “His arrest is imminent,” said Cortez.

In response to the writ of habeas corpus petition filed by victims’ parents in July 2006, the military officials denied having custody of the three missing activists.

The high court, however, upheld the testimony of Raymond Manalo who was himself abducted, tortured and detained for 18 months by Palparan’s men. In his affidavit submitted to the Court of Appeals, Manalo said he saw how the soldiers raped and tortured Karen and Sherlyn at Camp Tecson in San Miguel, Bulacan and that they were eventually transferred to a camp in Limay, Bataan. In the Supreme Court decision Secretary of National Defense v. Manalo , Manalo’s account is described to be a candid and forthright narrative.

Another torture survivor, Oscar Leuterio, testified that when he was detained in Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, he saw two women fitting the descriptions of Sherlyn and Karen, and also saw Merino. Two other witnesses corroborated Manalo’s testimony.

The NUPL and their clients are awaiting the notice of preliminary investigation, where prosecutors will determine probable cause and thereafter issue a warrant of arrest.

The group of human rights lawyers also welcomed the high court’s clarification that a writ of amparo is immediately executory, “otherwise it will defeat the purpose of the writ.”??”Contrary to the ruling of the appellate court, there is no need to file a motion for execution for an amparo or habeas corpus decision. Since the right to life, liberty and security of a person is at stake, the proceedings should not be delayed and execution of any decision thereon must be expedited as soon as possible since any form of delay, even for a day, may jeopardize the very rights that these writs seek to immediately protect,” the decision read.

The NUPL called on President Benigno S. Aquino III, as the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), to heed the order to release the missing activists.

In a separate statement, Danilo Ramos, secretary general of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) said “the President should not submit to the AFP’s blanket denials on human rights violations as the Court itself has pointed to the military as responsible for the disappearance of Karen, Sherlyn, and Merino.”

“A failure by Aquino to comply with the High Court’s order is tantamount to his complicity in the human rights violations committed by his predecessor,” Ramos said, referring to former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who is being accused if having “knowledge, approval, and tolerated the disappearance and killings of more than a thousand political activists.”

Command responsibility

Desaparecidos, an organization of families of the disappeared and NUPL, however, lamented that Arroyo, Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, Avelino Razon and Gen. Romeo Tolentino were not included among those who are being held accountable for the disappearance of the three activists.

“Preliminarily, the Court finds the appellate court’s dismissal of the petitions against then President Arroyo well-taken, owing to her immunity from suit at the time the habeas corpus and amparo petitions were filed,” the decision read. “Parenthetically, the petitions are bereft of any allegation that then President Arroyo permitted, condoned or performed any wrongdoing against the three missing persons.”

“They were the people who made disappearances in the Philippines a national policy under the previous counter insurgency-program Oplan Bantay Laya,” Mary Guy Portajada, Desaparecidos secretary general, said.

In the same vein, NUPL secretary-general Edre U. Olalia. said: “The assertion of NUPL is that Mrs. Arroyo personally knew, and could have prevented the disappearance of Karen and Sherlyn because of her administration’s policy Oplan Bantay Laya. She and her generals tacitly knew, approved, tolerated, supervised, managed, induced and/or ordered the operations which have resulted in the disappearance of hundreds of civilians.”

For Mrs. Empeño, the “struggle against offensive attacks of the current regime continues.” (

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