By RONALYN V. OLEA
MALOLOS, Bulacan – For the third time, a key witness to the torture of University of the Philippines (UP) students Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan, faced two of the accused and answered all the questions hurled at him by the defense.
Raymond Manalo once again took the witness stand in the continuing hearings at the Bulacan Regional Trial Court Branch 14 implicating retired Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr. and three other soldiers for kidnapping and serious illegal detention.
Manalo was cross examined by the defense during the Oct. 29 hearing but defense’s lawyers Jose M. Cruz and Abner M. Torres asked the court to provide them more time to ask Manalo additional questions. Cruz and Torres represent two of the four suspects – Col. Felipe Anotado and Staff Sgt. Edgar Osorio. Palparan and another suspect, Master Sgt. Rizal Hilario, are still at large almost a year after the Bulacan local court issued the warrant of arrest.
According to his affidavits, Manalo and his brother Reynaldo were forcibly taken by suspected state agents from their house in Buhol na Mangga village, San Ildefonso, Bulacan on February 14, 2006 and were detained in various military camps and safe houses. Within their 18 months of captivity, Manalo met Karen and Sherlyn and saw how the two suffered in the hands of their captors. Karen and Sherlyn were abducted on June 26, 2006 in Hagonoy, Bulacan.
Cruz asked Manalo if he saw with his own eyes how Karen and Sherlyn were tortured at the camp of the 24th Infantry Battalion in Limay, Bataan. Raymond said “yes” and provided details of the torture he witnessed.
“I saw Sherlyn, her head touching a wooden bench, her feet tied up while soldiers poured water into her nose and poked her private part with a stick,” Manalo said in Filipino. “Karen was lying on the ground while soldiers burned her body with cigarettes.”
Manalo said the incident took place at the stock room inside the military camp where the two women were locked up for months. Manalo said that he, Reynaldo, Karen, Sherlyn and farmer Manuel Merino were held in Limay, Bataan from November 2006 to May 2007.
Asked if he was able to identify who tortured the two students, Manalo enumerated: “Donald Caigas, Billy, Mar, Robin, Iko, Jojo, Lat, Butch, Edwin, Jolo.”
“Did you get their real names?” Cruz asked Manalo. “I know it’s not their real names but that was how they were called,” Manalo replied.
Torres would later ask the same question and Manalo had the same answer.
Cruz repeatedly asked Manalo why he did not escape earlier than he did.
Manalo’s answer was consistent. It’s either he was still limping from pain due to torture or they were heavily guarded by soldiers.
During the cross examination, Manalo described his first meeting with Palparan at the village hall of Sapang, San Miguel, Bulacan.
“Palparan talked to us, told us they would bring us to our parents if we would follow his instructions,” Manalo said.
“What were those instructions?” Cruz asked. “He told us to tell our parents not to attend court hearings, not to join rallies and never talk to Karapatan,” Manalo said. “He even handed to me P1,500 ($35.70) and told me to give it to my parents.”
They were indeed brought to the house of their parents and did what they were told, Manalo said. However, the brothers were brought back to the Sapang village hall. Palparan was still there. “He gave me tablets to drink and said they were vitamins,” Manalo recalled.
In one of his affidavits, Manalo said that after taking the “medicines,” he felt groggy.
Manalo also spoke about how he met Anotado. He said he saw Anotado visit the camp in Limay, Bataan three times.
During the first visit, Manalo said Anotado went straight to the stock room where Karen and Sherlyn were locked up and stayed there for one hour. He said Anotado also spoke to him and to Merino. “He told us to change our ways once we are freed,” Manalo said.
Anotado, who was present during the hearing, was staring at Manalo all the time. When Manalo recounted their meetings, Anotado just kept moving his right thumb as he listened.
Manalo’s lawyer Julian Oliva Jr., a member of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) said his client was able to provide details – names, places, even dates. The cross-examination, he said, even bolstered Manalo’s credibility as a witness.
Mrs. Concepcion Empeño, mother of Karen, who attended the hearing also praised Manalo for being “determined and consistent.”