Guarded optimism in 2012

By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star

As we wind up 2011, we find some grounds to be guardedly optimistic that in 2012 our people’s long-hobbled quest for justice can gain momentum on two fronts: against graft and corruption in high places, and against impunity from wanton human rights violations.

Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has been arrested for the non-bailable electoral sabotage case, in connection with the 2007 senatorial elections, filed at the Pasay City Regional Trial Court by the Comelec and the Department of Justice.

Her favorite counterinsurgency officer, retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr., has been ordered arrested by the Bulacan RTC for the non-bailable charges of kidnapping and serious illegal detention in the 2006 forced disappearance of former UP students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeno, filed by their parents.

However, Palparan has evaded arrest and is being hunted down, with a P500,000 reward offered for information that could lead to his apprehension.

This week added two positive developments:

1. Last Wednesday the Office of the Ombudsman filed at the Sandiganbayan graft charges against Mrs. Arroyo, her husband Mike, former Transportation and Communications Secretary Leandro Mendoza and former Comelec chair Benjamin Abalos Sr.

The case involves the $329-million National Broadband Network contract between the government and China’s ZTE Corp., which Mrs. Arroyo pushed and whose signing she personally witnessed in Beijing. The deal was scrapped in 2007 after detailed allegations of overpricing and bribery were uncovered during a Senate investigation.

Next Monday the case will be raffled among the Sandiganbayan divisions, after which the court shall determine probable cause to issue warrants of arrest against the accused. The charges are bailable.

The graft charges were culled from the criminal complaint of plunder filed last September by Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casino, former Gabriela Rep. Liza Maza, and Carol Pagaduan-Araullo, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan president. The Ombudsman, however, excluded plunder from the charges, saying evidence was insufficient that money (P50 million or more) had changed hands.

2. Last Thursday, the National Bureau of Investigation arrested the alleged gunman in the Oct. 17 slaying of Italian missionary priest Fr. Fausto Tentorio at his parish church compound in Arakan, North Cotabato. Taken into custody in Barangay Kulaman Valley, Arakan, was Jimmy Ato, allegedly a gun-for-hire syndicate member.

The Tentorio killing was the 54th of 64 cases of extrajudicial killings committed under the P-Noy administration. Should Ato’s arrest lead to a strong murder case to be filed and prosecuted in court, it could signal – like the Palparan case – a break for the campaign to end the climate of impunity on extrajudicial killings going back to the Marcos martial law regime.

Palparan’s evasion of arrest – contrary to his earlier declaration that he would face the charges in court – challenges the P-Noy government, particularly its law-enforcement agencies led by the PNP, and the AFP which has pitched in, to nab and present him to the court as soon as possible.

His lawyer has told the media that his client would likely do what Sen. Panfilo Lacson did in 2010 – hide abroad to evade arrest over his implication in the murder of publicist Bubby Dacer and the latter’s driver, Emmanuel Corbito.

Recall that Palparan was stopped by immigration officials from boarding a commercial flight to Singapore two days after the charges against him were filed in court but before the arrest warrant was issued. He has filed an omnibus motion seeking a review of the preliminary investigation proceedings and dismissal of the charges against him.

Palparan understandably fears appearing before the court. He would be up against the formidable testimony of an eyewitness, Raymond Manalo, who already filed as early as 2008 at the Ombudsman a criminal complaint against Palparan and other AFP officers for kidnapping, arbitrary detention and other offenses.

Raymond and his brother Reynaldo, both Bulacan farmers, were abducted from their home in 2006 and held in various military detention areas for almost two years. Raymond met and talked with Sherlyn Cadapan in a detention camp in Bataan; later he saw Karen Empeno in the same camp.

The brothers managed to escape and sought court protection by filing a petition for the writ of amparo, which was given due course. When the parents of Sherlyn and Karen filed their own writ of amparo petition, Raymond provided eyewitness testimony in their favor.

Raymond’s damning testimony as to Palparan’s direct involvement in the two abduction, detention and torture cases, given through affidavits and oral testimony before the Court of Appeals, has been given credence by the CA. After reviewing the two cases upon appeal by the Department of Defense, the Supreme Court en banc affirmed the CA’s factual findings.

Credit for these breaks is due to both the Department of Justice and the Office of the Ombudsman, now headed by two women who are sticklers for due process. Credit in equal measure is deserved by those who initiated and unrelentingly pursued the criminal complaints against Mrs. Arroyo and Gen. Palparan.

Hooray for them! A happy and peaceful New Year to all!

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December 31, 2011

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