“With boundless hope and bated breath, may justice find its place amidst tragedy and the many lives that have been snatched, futures destroyed and agonizing years that have passed.”– Edre Olalia, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — While progressive groups welcome the arrest of retired General Jovito Palparan, they are demanding that the general, dubbed as “The Butcher” for his gross human rights violations, be sent to a regular jail.
“No special treatment should be accorded to butchers like him. There should likewise be no more delays in delivering justice, for the victims and their relatives have suffered far too long. Place Palparan behind bars now,” human rights group Karapatan said in a statement.
Palparan was arrested at around 3 a.m. in a house in Sta. Mesa in Manila by combined forces of the National Bureau of Investigation – Anti-Organized Crime Division and the Armed Forces’ Naval Intelligence Group. He was brought to the NBI’s office in Manila an hour later.
In a press conference, Justice secretary Leila De Lima said they would wait for the commitment order from the local court. Until then, she said, Palparan would be detained at the NBI office.
Palparan, both in his radio interview and press conference, said he wanted to surrender but he was concerned about his security. He said that according to media reports, an NPA unit was specifically formed to kill him.
In an earlier interview, Connie Empeño, mother of one of the two missing UP students Karen, warned that she could “almost foresee that (Palparan) would appeal for house or hospital arrest. But he deserves to be sent to prison along with other criminals whom he used to lead.”
“There should be no special treatment for the ex-general. We look forward to a speedy trial so that justice can finally be rendered in the disappearance of our colleagues and friends Karen Empeno and Sherlyn Cadapan. Their families have been fighting for justice for years now. It is time to send a message to the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) and all human rights violators that justice is the only answer to impunity,” Renato Reyes, secretary general of Bayan, said.
“The Aquino government must not bungle this case,” Reyes said.
Palparan was arrested due to a standing three-year-old warrant of arrest for the kidnapping and serious illegal detention of two University of the Philippines student Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño. The two students, along with Manuel Merino, were abducted in Hagonoy Bulacan on June 26, 2006.
Outside NBI, various progressive groups held a protest action to hold to account Palparan.
“We are a bit happy, but not completely,” said Ailec Manano, whose brother Isaias, the secretary general of Anakpawis Mindoro Orienal was killed in 2004 after Palparan left Southern Tagalog.
Lolit Robiños of Desaparecidos said she vomited as soon as she heard the arrest on the 7 a.m. news. “I don’t know why, but it must be pent up emotions,” she said. Her son Romulos was abducted and disappeared on Nov. 17, 2006, after Palparan’s term as chief of the 7th Infantry Division in Central Luzon.
Romeo Dollente, 40 and a former peasant organizer in San Jose City, Nueva Ecija whose house was burned by suspected soldiers during Palparan’s time likened the former general’s capture to that of a notorious snatcher.
“When a thief gets arrested, the police calls on those who were victimized to come out. So I call out to all victims of Palparan, those who were terrorized, it’s time for you to have your say,” said Dollente.
Credit to rights group
De Lima, in a press conference, said Palparan’s arrest is a major accomplishment for the NBI and the AFP as both local and international human rights group have been clamoring for it. She said that it goes to show the commitment of the Aquino government to ending the culture of impunity.
“De Lima and Aquino should not use Palparan’s arrest to improve their ratings. Credit should go to the mothers who filed the case and subsequently the warrant for his arrest,” Palabay said, “Local and international groups’ clamor (for Palparan’s arrest) made it hard for the Aquino administration to evade their responsibility.”
Lawyer Edre Olalia, secretary general of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, one of the counsels of the mothers of the missing UP students, said “although long in coming, it’s never too late for justice to catch up. Palparan’s arrest comes as the defense for two other accused military officers prepares to wrap up on Monday, August 18, when his own will begin.”
Lito Ustarez, vice chairperson of Kilusang Mayo Uno, said Aquino could not use Palparan’s arrest to project himself as a “crusader for human rights” as he has not filed a single human rights case against Arroyo under whose presidency Palparan served.
“Just last week, two activist students of the University of the Philippines were abducted but were immediately surfaced by the military,” Ustarez said, referring to Gerald Salonga, 24, and Guiller Martin Cadano, 22, who were abducted on Aug. 9 and later on surfaced at the headquarters of the Provincial Public Safety Company in Cabanatuan City in Nueva Ecija.
Kabataan Partylist Rep. Terry Ridon said the recent arrest and detention of Salonga and Cadano “proves that impunity is alive and kicking in the country, Palparan or no Palparan.”
“The culture of impunity that the ex-general helped cultivate is thriving – student and youth activists are still being abducted and unjustly detained for their political beliefs, workers and farmers are still being harassed by elements of the military because they are fighting for their rights, and thousands of Filipinos in the countryside still feel and experience the violence wrought by militarization in their communities,” Ridon said.
Olalia said Palparan’s arrest “is an important reminder of how persistence and the firm resolve of victims, their families and human rights defenders pay off in the long run.”
“For even those who place themselves above the law meet their match, and more pointedly, those who take the law into their own hands can find no permanent refuge in fantasies of invincibility,” he said, adding that Palparan’s arrest will pose a challenge to the country’s legal and political system.
Olalia said, “With boundless hope and bated breath, may justice find its place amidst tragedy and the many lives that have been snatched, futures destroyed and agonizing years that have passed.”
“This is a good step but there is a long way to go to make Palparan accountable for all the human rights abuses he committed against activists and civilians,” Dr. Lito Manalili, former Dean of the UP College of Social Work and Community Development and co-convenor of Kapayapaan, a network of peace advocates, said.
Palparan, the human rights group said, is the main implementor of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s counterinsurgency program Oplan Bantay Laya that has resulted in gross human rights violations. Kapayapaan said he should be made to account for the violations such as the killing of human rights defender Eden Marcellana, peasant leader Eddie Gumanoy, United Church of Christ in the Philippines pastor Edison Lapuz, Lawyer Fedelito Dacut and Iglesia Filipina Independiente Supreme Bishop Alberto Ramento.
Bayan’s Reyes said that, “Up to now, they have not been given justice by the Aquino regime.”
Kapayapaan, for its part, called for the scrapping of Aquino’s counterinsurgency program Oplan Bayanihan, which, the peace advocates group said, is a mere continuation of Arroyo’s Oplan Bantay Laya.
“Instead of addressing the roots of the armed conflict, these counterinsurgency policies target activists and dissenters resulting in gross human rights violations,” Manalili said.
In his visit to the Philippines, then United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions Philip Alston attributed the rights violations to Oplan Bantay Laya. But instead of reversing the policy, Arroyo praised Palparan in her 2006 State of the Nation Address.
Lorena Santos, secretary general of the Families of the Disappeared for Justice (Desaparecidos) spoke during the protest at NBI and said that the arrest is good news, because there will be no more excuses for the government not to prosecute Palparan. She is, however not fully convinced about Palparan’s capture.
“For all we know, the government had coddled him and had known where he was the whole time. Now that the Aquino regime badly stinks, they surfaced Palparan to make Aquino look good,” Santos said.
Everyone also wanted a piece of “The Butcher.”
“We want you to get a taste of the violence and suffering you inflicted on so many,” Santos said. “We want you to experience every threat, every chain-lashing, every punch, every kick, every bullet that cut through flesh that you gave Karen and Sherlyn, Raymond Manalo, Oscar Leuterio and many others,” she said.
“But we will keep our restraint,” Santos said, “because it is better to see you serve your sentence in jail.”
Quoting her Facebook post, Santos told Bulatlat.com that she hoped Palparan gets detained at the Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, along with Tirso Alcantara, and other National Democratic Front consultants.
“If you could just bring Palparan outside, so that we could all get to pinch him,” said one activist.
A church activist who spoke during the program said Aquino’s Oplan Bayanihan has spawned many Palparans, as the killings and disappearances continue. Another activist said in agreement: “Although Palparan has retired, he left a blood-soaked legacy for soldiers to emulate.”
Among the protesters was Mayeth Corpuz, Agta leader and secretary general of the Samahan ng mga Katutubo sa Sierra Madre (SKSM), who said she felt so angry. She recalled how in 2007, she and seven others were interrogated and threatened at a military detachment of the 69thInfantry Battalion, and how soldiers boasted about having killed activists and leaders in Central Luzon. She said that although Palparan had retired, the soldiers who used to be under his command continued his reign of terror. (With reports from Dee Ayroso /)