“Our evidence is strong. The two suspects were positively identified, again and again, by our two main witnesses.” – Julian Oliva Jr., counsel of the families
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Asher Cadapan had the opportunity to attend the hearing on the case filed against the suspected abductors of her daughter, Sherlyn, May 20. He has been working in the Visayas and so, his wife, Erlinda, often attend the hearings alone.
“I have not cut my hair since my daughter disappeared,” Mr. Cadapan said. “I want to have it cut soon.”
It has been almost seven years since Sherlyn and Karen Empeño, both students of the University of the Philippines (UP) and farmer Manuel Merino, were forcibly taken by suspected state agents in Hagonoy, Bulacan.
“I really thought I would see my daughter after the Supreme Court ordered the military to surface her. Until now, she has not been found,” Mr. Cadapan said.
In a May 30, 2011 decision, 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.
The high court found Palparan and five other elements of the 7th Infantry Division and the 24th Infantry Battalion as “responsible and accountable” for the abductions.
In the May 20 hearing, only two of the accused – Col. Felipe Anotado Jr. and Staff Sgt. Edgardo Osorio – were present. Two others – Palparan and Master Sgt. Rizal Hilario – have not been arrested despite warrants of arrest issued by the court in December 2011.
Through their counsels, both Anotado and Osorio have filed petitions for bail.
Julian Oliva Jr., counsel for the complainants, is confident that the Bulacan Regional Trial Court Branch 14 would junk the petitions.
“Our evidence is strong,” Oliva, an officer of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), told Bulatlat.com in an interview. “The two suspects were positively identified, again and again, by our two main witnesses.”
Oliva was referring to Raymond Manalo and Wilfredo Ramos. Raymond, who, along with his brother, Reynaldo, was held captive by the military for 18 months, identified Anotado in court as one of the military officers who talked to him in Limay, Bataan. In his testimony, Raymond said he saw how soldiers tortured Karen, Sherlyn and Merino in Limay, Bataan.
Ramos, on the other hand, identified Osorio as one of the men who took the two UP students and Merino from their house on June 26, 2006.
In more than a year of the court hearings, the prosecution presented five other witnesses and the mothers of the two UP students.
Oliva said the suspects only used denial and alibi as bases for their petitions for bail and would not even present any evidence. Oliva said alibi is much inferior to positive identification.
For her part, Mrs. Cadapan said she hopes that the court would not grant bail to the suspects. “For all we know, those two are not even detained.”
Anotado and Osorio are detained at Fort Bonifacio, headquarters of the Philippine Army. “Of course, when we visited them there, they were behind bars. They know we would be coming,” Mrs. Cadapan said.
She also aired her frustration that Palparan and Hilario have not yet been arrested by authorities. “If the government is really serious, they can arrest Palparan. It’s impossible they do not know where those fugitives are.”
The court would resolve the petition for bail by June after both parties filed their comments. The hearings for the main case would resume June 24.
Despite the frustrations, Cadapan’s parents are holding on.
“It’s painful. I miss my daughter so much,” Mr. Cadapan said, his voice quivering.