By RONALYN V. OLEA
MALOLOS, Bulacan – The lawyers of soldiers tagged in the abduction of University of the Philippines (UP) students Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan cross examined one of the vital witnesses in a hearing, October 29.
Jose M. Cruz, lawyer of Staff Sgt. Edgar Osorio, and Abner M. Torres, lawyer of Col. Felipe Anotado asked Raymond Manalo about the latter’s abduction and captivity.
Osorio and Antado are two of the four military suspects charged with kidnapping and serious illegal detention for the disappearance of Empeño and Cadapan. Two others – retired Gen. Jovito Palparan and M/Sgt. Rizal Hilario remain at large.
The defense attempted to ruin the credibility of the witness but Manalo remained calm and straightforward in his answers.
In the Sept. 24 hearing, Manalo testified how elements of the 24th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army tortured the two students. Karen and Sherlyn, along with farmer Manuel Merino, had been forcibly taken allegedly by state agents on June 26, 2006 in Hagonoy, Bulacan. They remain missing to this day.
Torres asked Raymond to review three of his affidavits and tell the court if Anotado’s name was mentioned.
Manalo said Anotado’s name was not in his first three affidavits. He said he only came to know Anotado’s name during a hearing at the Court of Appeals for the writ of habeas corpus filed by the mothers of the two UP students years ago.
“Was he[Anotado] in uniform?” Torres said. Manalo replied in Filipino, “No.” “So how did you know him?”Torres asked. “He admitted in court what his name is,” Manalo said.
“Have you ever seen him before that?” Torres asked. “I saw him and met him in Limay, Bataan,” Manalo said.
Manalo said Anotado spoke to them. “What did he tell you?” Torres asked. “To change our ways when we get home,” Manalo replied.
“Are you mad at him?” Anotado’s lawyer asked Manalo, to which the latter replied, “Yes. Because he is involved in our abduction.”
Anotado, who sat beside Osorio, was grinning widely. Both suspects wore their Army uniforms.
Testing Manalo’s credibility
For about two hours, Torres and Cruz asked Manalo details of his abduction on Feb. 14, 2006.
Manalo recalled how he and his brother, Reynaldo, were forcibly taken by military agents from their house in Buhol na Mangga village, San Ildelfonso, Bulacan. Manalo said they were brought to Fort Magsaysay, then to a safehouse in Pinaud village, also in San Ildelfonso and then to Camp Tecson where he met Karen and Sherlyn.
Manalo also said they were brought to the 24th IB camp in Limay, Bataan and to another safehouse in Iba, Zambales. It was in Limay where he last saw the two UP students.
According to his testimony, Manalo and his brother were later brought to Bolinao, Pangasinan where they had escaped after 18 months of captivity.
Torres repeatedly asked Manalo who prepared four of his affidavits submitted to the court. Manalo said he wrote it himself, with the assistance of his lawyer Julian Oliva Jr.
Torres asked the witness how he came to avail of the services of Oliva, a member of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL). Manalo replied it was through the help of Marie Hilao-Enriquez, then secretary general and now chairwoman of Karapatan.
Torres also asked if Manalo has a passport, noting that the latter used it as his identification in his affidavit. He also asked Manalo if he had traveled abroad.
Anotado’s lawyer also asked Manalo what he understood by the name safehouse. Manalo replied by describing the three safehouses they were brought to — one in Pinaud village, San Ildelfonso, Bulacan; another in Iba, Zambales and the last one in Bolinao, Pangasinan.
“It is a two-storey house where nobody else lived but military agents,” Manalo said in Filipino, referring to the safehouse in Pinaud.
Torres asked Manalo how he came to know that one of the places they were brought to was the 24th IB camp.
Manalo said he saw it on the arc at the entrance of the camp. He said some of the soldiers in uniform bore tattoos with the text “24th IB.”
Torres asked how did Manalo know it was in Limay, Bataan. He asked if Manalo had ever been to that place before. Manalo said he read the name of the place when soldiers ordered him to buy some alcoholic drinks from the store.
Meanwhile, Cruz asked Manalo if he was tortured.
Manalo said he and his brother were repeatedly hit by rifles, pointing to a scar just above his right eyebrow. Water was poured into their noses, Manalo said. One time, they were hit by a burning piece of wood.
Cruz asked Manalo to show if he had torture marks. Manalo then raised his polo and pointed to his back.
Manalo’s lawyer, Oliva, said the Supreme Court, in its decision on the writ of amparo petition filed by Manalo, duly noted the torture his client went through. Oliva was referring to the high court’s ruling dated October 7, 2008 granting the amparo petition of Manalo.
The decision, penned by no less than former Chief Justice Reynato Puno, states: “The abduction, detention, torture, and escape of the respondents were narrated by respondent Raymond Manalo in a clear and convincing manner.”
In an interview shortly after the hearing, Manalo’s lawyer Oliva said the cross examination further established Manalo’s credibility.
“We just let them [defense],” Oliva said. “They failed to ruin his [Manalo] credibility.”
Meanwhile, Mrs. Erlinda Cadapan, mother of Sherlyn, waited patiently outside the courtroom. She was asked to leave the courtroom before the hearing began as she has yet to take the witness stand.
After learning from the lawyers and staff of Karapatan how the hearing went, Mrs. Cadapan said, “By asking Raymond [Manalo] those questions, other crimes of the military have been exposed once again.”