Impunity or justice?

Bulatlat perspective

bu-op-icons-benjieIt is ironic that retired Army Gen. Jovito Palparan, who is called “The Butcher” by human rights groups for the trail of blood he left wherever he was assigned, is now saying that he did not surrender because he fears for his life. And the Aquino government, after arresting him and boasting that Palparan’s arrest shows that they are serious in running after fugitives, was so quick to assure Palparan that he would be secured and given due process.

These should have been the assurances given to UP students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño and farmer Manuel Merino instead of torturing them and keeping their whereabouts from their relatives up to the present. Due process should have been accorded human rights defender Eden Marcellana, peasant leader Eddie Gumanoy, human rights advocates lawyer Felidito Dacut, Dr. Bartolome Resuello, lawyer Norman Bocar, Rev. Edison Lapus, Prof. Jose Ma. Cui, Fr. Cecilio Lucero, Rolando Mariano, Reiner “Alvin” Cusio, Jose Levimar Rieza, 60-year old Perla Rodriguez, Leodegario Punzal, the Albarillo couple, Apolinar family and the many others who were arbitrarily, senselessly, and cold-bloodedly murdered because Palparan accused them of being communists.

The military, on the other hand, even commended him. Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff General Catalino Pio Catapang was quoted by the Manila Times saying: “He was really an aggressive officer, an anti-communist and he really did his job well.” General Catapang added that under the rule of law, Palparan is innocent until proven guilty. General Catapang went so far as telling the media that Palparan is suffering from diabetes and should be treated first.

How people wish the same rule of law and sympathy would be accorded political and environmental activists and even those from the poor who are being accused of crimes. The rule of law and due process do not only apply to human rights violators such as Palparan, big-time plunderers such as Janet Lim-Napoles, and the rich and powerful such as the Ampatuans, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and Aquino’s allies who have been implicated in the pork barrel scam but sadly, the government is wont to be selective in its application.

Ironically, the Aquino government’s assurances that Palparan would be accorded due process and his safety and security would be taken cared of have not served the quest for justice. On the contrary, it has emboldened Palparan to continue denying his involvement in rights violations especially in the enforced disappearance of Sherlyn Cadapan, Karen Empeño and Manuel Merino despite the positive identification of witnesses.

Palparan is no ordinary fugitive. He is the face of impunity. And impunity has not been arrested with Palaparan in jail. Impunity would remain for as long as Sherlyn Cadapan, Karen Empeño and Manuel Merino have not been surfaced and Palparan has not been made to answer for their abduction, illegal detention, and torture, as well as for the so many other enforced disappearances, killings, torture, and massive displacements he had ordered.

More than that, Palparan is the face of the government’s counterinsurgency campaign. Former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo praised Palparan in her state of the nation address in 2006, when the counterinsurgency campaign Oplan Bantay Laya and the spike in extrajudicial killings were at its peak.

Take away the trimmings about purported adherence to human rights, peace and development and listen to the testimonies of relatives and colleagues of victims of human rights violations and that of people in militarized communities and one would realize that the current counterinsurgency program of the Aquino government Oplan Bayanihan is essentially the same as Arroyo’s Oplan Bantay Laya. The number of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances may have reduced but it is occurring with increasing frequency and with the same systematic pattern.

Why? It is because Oplan Bayanihan takes off from the same militaristic approach to addressing the armed conflict in the country.

How the Aquino government would handle the Palparan case – from his detention to the developments in the court case – would speak a lot in terms of its commitment to ending impunity, respecting human rights and international humanitarian law, and addressing the roots of the armed conflict, more than any formal declaration by the Aquino government.

So the question is: Will impunity continue to persist or will justice finally reign?

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