After the prosecution presented several eyewitnesses in the abduction of Karen and Sherlyn, the defense was given several opportunities to present their own witnesses. Not one has been presented since.
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MALOLOS, Bulacan – For the nth time, the defense failed to present any of its witnesses in the continuing hearings on the enforced disappearance of University of the Philippines (UP) students Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan.
In a hearing June 23 at the Bulacan Regional Trial Court Branch 14, Abner Torres, lawyer of the one of the accused, said their witness Gen. Herbert Yambing purportedly had to attend turnover ceremonies at the Department of National Defense and another witness is in Mindanao.
Five military officers, including retired Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr., have been charged with kidnapping and serious illegal detention in relation to the disappearance of Karen and Sherlyn almost eight years ago. Palparan and Master Sgt. Rizal Hilario have yet to be arrested while two of the accused – Col. Felipe Anotado Jr. and Staff Sgt. Edgardo Osorio – surrendered to authorities after the issuance of the warrants of arrest in December 2011. Master Sgt. Donald Caigas, the other accused, is already dead.
“You are delaying the presentation of your evidence,” Judge Teodora Gonzales of Bulacan RTC Branch 22 told Torres. Gonzales said there is no need to present Yambing because the only fact to be presented by Yambing is regarding the assignment of Anotado.
State Prosecutor Irwin Maraya said the court should terminate the presentation of evidence. “It is unfortunate that the witnesses are not here. The court has given them a deadline and the prosecution has not objected in the past… The presentation of evidence [for the defense] started last year.”
The hearings started in January 2012. After the prosecution presented several eyewitnesses in the abduction of Karen and Sherlyn, the defense was given several opportunities to present their own witnesses. Not one has been presented since.
Torres said they have four witnesses to present but the defense has only submitted Yambing’s judicial affidavit and that of respondent Osorio. Torres said the defense is still preparing the affidavits of three other witnesses.
Gonzales then asked the defense to present Anotado, one of the accused, who had neither taken the witness stand nor submitted his judicial affidavit. Initially, Torres hesitated, saying they have yet to formalize Anotado’s judicial affidavit. Gonzales said the defense could refer to the counter-affidavit submitted by Anotado to the Department of Justice (DOJ) during the preliminary investigation of the case.
Anotado then took the witness stand.
In his affidavit, the Army colonel said he served as battalion commander of the 24th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army from Nov. 15, 2005 to Feb. 1, 2008. He also claimed he never met Raymond Manalo, the key witness, and that he had no knowledge about the forcible abduction of Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan.
Anotado further claimed that he did not know the two other suspects Caigas and Hilario and that the two were not assigned with the 24th IB.
Anotado also denied the existence of a military camp in Limay, Bataan but admitted that the unit had established a military detachment in Duale village, Limay Bataan. He said the fences were made of bamboo, barbed wire and that all the activities there could be seen from the outside.
Manalo, in his testimony before the court on Nov. 28, 2012, said he saw Anotado visit the 24th IB’s military 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 farmer Manuel Merino. “He told us to change our ways once we are freed,” Manalo said.
During the cross examination, lawyer Julian Oliva Jr. of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) noted that a certification from the barangay captain (village chieftain) in Duale described the so-called detachment as a “military camp.”
Anotado said the barangay captain is a civilian and he did not know that the military set up was only a detachment. Oliva said, “A civilian then would not be able to differentiate a camp and a detachment.”
Oliva asked Anotado if the detachment had thick foliage, reminding the latter of his statement that it was located near Mt. Limay. Anotado answered in the affirmative, saying there were mango trees.
Oliva then asked Anotado how often he visited the detachment in Limay. Anotado said he went there only once, after he received a report about the abduction of the two UP students.
“When did you learn about the report?” Oliva asked. Anotado said it was only when he received a subpoena during the writ of amparo hearing at the Court of Appeals.
Oliva recounted to Anotado how Manalo, in a hearing at the appellate court on January 28, 2008, positively identified him. “He saw you and pointed at you as one of those who detained him.”
To this, Anotado said in Filipino, “I was surprised why he pointed at me. I don’t even know him.”
Upon hearing Anotado’s denial, Karen’s mother Concepcion Empeño murmured, “How could Raymond not point at him? He knows him.”
Gonzales gave the defense another opportunity to present all their witnesses on August 18.
Asked for her reaction, Sherlyn’s mother Erlinda Cadapan said in Filipino, “I thought I would be able to sleep soundly at last and wait for the resolution of the case. I was mistaken. This is yet another form of torture.”