By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Two vital witnesses to the enforced disappearance of two University of the Philippines (UP) students Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan are eager to face the alleged perpetrators of the crime.
During the Sept. 14 hearing, the Department of Justice (DOJ) panel scheduled a clarificatory hearing this Sept. 23. This, after one of the suspects, Staff Sgt. Edgardo Osorio, filed a rejoinder to the reply affidavit of the complainants.
The DOJ panel headed by Assistant State Prosecutor Juan Pedro Navera has been conducting a preliminary investigation on the criminal complaint filed by the mothers of the two missing students against retired Gen. Jovito Palparan and several other military officials. Karen, Sherlyn and farmer Manuel Merino have been missing since June 26, 2006.
Edre Olalia, one of the lawyers of the complainants, welcomed the clarificatory hearing. He said this will “allow complainants and witnesses to support or reinforce their accounts and the lies and script of the accused being forced on the panel will be exposed.”
“It’s not only what is being said or not said that will be examined but the body language [of suspects and witnesses],” Olalia, secretary general of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), explained.
“I have long been dreaming to face Palparan in court. I’m no longer afraid,” Raymond Manalo, the key witness to the case, told Bulatlat.com in Filipino.
In his affidavit, Raymond said he met Karen and Sherlyn in Camp Tecson in San Miguel, Bulacan. Raymond said he and his brother Reynaldo were taken from their homes on Feb. 14, 2006 in San Ildelfonso, Bulacan by soldiers. After 18 months of captivity, the brothers managed to escape.
In his testimony before the Court of Appeals in November 2007, Manalo said the two students were raped and tortured by soldiers of the 7th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army. He also said Palparan talked to him and tried to persuade him to cooperate with the military.
Raymond’s testimony was upheld by the Supreme Court in its decision on the writ of amparo petition filed by the mothers of the two students. The high court found Palparan, Lt. Col. Rogelio Boac of the 56th Infantry Battalion and Lt. Col. Felipe Anotado of the 24th Infantry Battalion, M/Sgt. Donald Caigas, M/Sgt. Rizal Hilario, Lt. Francis Mirabelle Samson and Arnel Enriquez were responsible and accountable for the abductions. These are the same military officials identified by Raymond in his testimony.
Raymond admitted that the first time he saw Palparan after he and his brother escaped, he could not contain his anger. “He had the gall to go to the CHR,” he said, referring to the appearance of Palparan in a hearing conducted by the Commission on Human Rights in July 2009 on the case of Melissa Roxas, another torture survivor. “Now, he even has the temerity to tell the DOJ that we are the ones lying,” Raymond said.
Another witness, Wilfredo Ramos, said he is ready to face the accused soldiers. “Just like in basketball, we are gearing for the finals. I am now prepared,” Ramos told Bulatlat.com.
During the July 19 hearing, Ramos saw Osorio, one of the security escorts of Palparan. Ramos told their lawyers that Osorio was the one who hogtied him and his father when soldiers took Karen, Sherlyn and Merino from their house in Hagonoy, Bulacan five years ago. Ramos was only 14 at the time of the incident.
After seeing Osorio during that particular hearing, Ramos was shaking in fear. “Everything that happened flashed back in my mind. I was also shocked to see him here,” he said in an interview shortly after the last hearing.
Asked if he is willing to testify on Sept. 23, Ramos said, “That will be my chance to give my all out support for Ate Karen and Ate Sherlyn.”
Erlinda Cadapan, mother of Sherlyn, said she believes in the testimonies of witnesses.
“The truth and the evidence to the truth are on our side,” Olalia said. “Based on evidence, there’s no other way except to find probable cause [in this complaint].”
Mrs. Cadapan said she looks forward to the resolution of the case. “I am only fighting for justice,” she said.
“If the DOJ will do its job, Palparan would end up behind bars,” Raymond said.
For her part, Marie Hilao-Enriquez, Karapatan chairwoman, said she hopes that the DOJ will soon issue a warrant of arrest against Palparan and the other respondents. “That would serve as a warning to perpetrators of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances,” Enriquez said.
Enriquez said this case and the charges filed by Mrs. Edith Burgos, Morong 43, United Church of Christ of the Philippines against the military “prove that there are victims of human rights violations who are not afraid to file cases.” “These are all part of our campaign to end impunity,” she said.