“While his transfer to a regular detention cell today is some kind of soothing balm to a lot of pain and suffering for his many victims, the fight for justice is far from over. His unscrupulous disciples of darkness will not tire of wronging a right to protect evils incarnate.” – Edre Olalia, National Union of People’s Lawyers secretary general
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MALOLOS, BULACAN – Retired Army Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan was finally brought to the Bulacan Provincial Jail, after a Malolos court denied his motion to stay at the National Bureau of Investigation in Manila.
Palparan did not enter any plea plea during his arraignment today, August 18, on the kidnapping and serious illegal detention of two UP students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño. Judge Teodora Gonzales of the Malolos Regional Trial Court Branch 14 entered a “not guilty” plea for the accused, and set his pre-trial on Sept. 1.
Silence swept over the court room as Palparan was brought in at around 9:30 a.m. He was heavily guarded by members of the National Bureau of Investigation.
“I was shaking when I first saw him,”Concepcion Empeño, mother of Karen, said.
Palparan, dubbed as “The Butcher,” was arrested on Aug. 12. in a house in Sta. Mesa, Manila based on a standing three-year-old warrant. UP students Karen and Sherlyn, along with another victim, Manuel Merino are still missing to this date.
His co-accused M/Sgt. Rizal Hilario is still at large as of this writing.
Palparan, during the hearing, reiterated his earlier pronouncements that the threats to his life are real. He also repeatedly asserted that the Bulacan Provincial Jail is not prepared to provide him security despite Judge Gonzales’ citing a letter from jail warden Lt. Col. Pepito Plamenco, who stated that they are prepared to take in Palparan.
“I value my life,” Palparan said.
During the hearing, Palparan’s lawyer Narzal Mallares said that though there are people who prosecute Palparan, there are also others who praise him as far as peace and order is concerned.
He added that the court should “be kind to animals, and humans too.” He also likened Palparan to Jesus Christ, whom, he said, was crucified by mortals with their fast and unfair trial.
“Your client does not look like Jesus Christ to me,” Edre Olalia, secretary general of the National Union of People’s Lawyers and one of the counsels of the kin of victims, quipped during the hearing. Olalia later called it “blasphemy of the highest order.”
Olalia added that the threats are “unproven, self-serving and could not be taken as gospel truth.” He also reiterated that it is not for the accused to tell the court whether or not authorities are prepared to commit him or not.
Public prosecutor Juan Pedro Navera said the Department of Justice recognizes the threats to Palparan’s life and is urging the court to strike a balance between ensuring his safety and not giving special treatment to the arrested general.
Mallares said he was able to talk to the “higher ups” at the NBI who assured that Palparan could be detained at the NBI for a maximum of three months.
The NBI, however, in its comment to Palparan’s urgent ex-parte motion to stay at the NBI detention, said their detention facility is intended only for temporary detainees until their respective commitment orders are issued.
The agency added that the NBI is already catering to 93 inmates, way beyond its capacity of 60. Protest actions, too, against Palparan were disrupting their operations and that they do not have sufficient manpower to provide him protection.
In his last attempt to sway the court’s decision, Palparan said, “Look around you. These are the people who are after me.”
Olalia, in a statement after the hearing, said: “Palparan has proven in court today that he is dead scared of his demons. .. the depths of his desperation makes him twist reality.”
Judge Gonzales, in her ruling to commit Palparan to the provincial jail, also said that he could not be sent to military detention as he is already retired and considered a civilian, unlike his co-accused Col. Felipe Anotado and Staff Sgt. Edgardo Osorio.
Motion to quash dismissed
Mallares filed a motion to quash information on Palparan’s warrant of arrest, which stated that the accused, at the time of the abduction was “way, way up the ladder of the AFP to be responsible for the individual acts of each of the subordinate officers and men in his division.”
Public prosecutor Navera countered it saying that it was a “mere rehash” of a motion filed and already dismissed back in April 2012.
Judge Gonzales junked the motion before proceeding to Palparan’s arraignment.
Meanwhile, the court has ordered to put to rest the presentation of evidence for Palparan’s co-accused Anotado and Osorio.
Defense lawyer Jose Cruz argued that they have yet to present Alex Alberto Popanes, legal counsel of the Philippine Army, as a witness to prove that Osorio was, indeed, at a military hospital during the time of the abduction.
Osorio was identified by eyewitness Wilfredo Ramos as one of those who abducted the missing UP students. In a previous hearing, Osorio claimed that he was undergoing medical tests at the time of the abduction as he was set to be sent as one of the peacekeepers in Liberia.
When asked why they did not ask for a subpoena, Cruz said they were having a hard time communicating and coordinating with Popanes.
Navera said these are “belated excuses” when defense lawyers had all the opportunity to talk to Popanes, saying that he was not held incommunicado. Even so, he added, Popanes’ judicial affidavit should have been submitted before the court.
Judge Gonzales cited that the defense had been given four chances but failed to present their witnesses. She ordered the resting of the presentation of evidence and issue resolution for the two co-accused, which, private prosecutors expect to be issued in three months.
Mrs. Empeño said she felt so grief-stricken she wanted to cry when she first saw Palparan. She said she was reminded of the pain when she heard the clerk of court enumerate the crimes Palparan is accused of.
“Value his life? Did he even value the lives of our daughters?” she told Bulatlat.com.
Mrs. Cadapan, for her part, said she wanted to throw her shoes at Palparan when he walked inside the court room.
“Before you die, you still have to surface our daughters first,” she said.
Mrs. Cadapan said that while she is happy that the court will now hear the case against Palparan, she hopes that the hearing would not be dribbled around.
Eyewitnesses and Palparan’s torture victims themselves, Oscar Leuterio and Raymond Manalo told Bulatlat.com that the “coward” Palparan they saw before the court today was far from the vicious and brutal military official they met a few years ago.
“When they were torturing us, they did not stop even as we begged for mercy,” Manalo said.
“Parang basang sisiw,” Leuterio used the Filipino idiomatic phrase – which literally means “wet chick”—to describe how Palparan tried to appear weak and pitiful.
After the hearing, protesters who were holding a program outside the court rushed toward Palparan as he was being escorted to the Bulacan Provincial Jail, located just behind the court.
Tension flared as Palparan’s security, a phalanx of members of the NBI and the police, blocked the angry protesters, among whom were relatives of victims who were killed in Central and Southern Luzon during Palparan’s time as Army division commander in the two regions.
The protesters later on managed to hold a short program in front of the jail, carrying pictures of victims of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances from Central and Southern Luzon and Eastern Visayas.
Kin of victims hurled invectives as Palparan passed by.
“Son of a bitch! You will rot in jail,” Orly Marcellana, husband of slain activist Eden Marcellana, said.
Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay told Bulatlat.com that Palparan should be thankful he was “only” sent in jail while many victims of his human rights violations are clamoring for revolutionary justice.
“If revolutionary justice is the way to commensurate for the lives he has taken, then so be it,” Palabay said.
Olalia, in a later statement said: “While his transfer to a regular detention cell today is some kind of soothing balm to a lot of pain and suffering for his many victims, the fight for justice is far from over. His unscrupulous disciples of darkness will not tire of wronging a right to protect evils incarnate. But the vigilance and determination of mothers, victims, and rights workers are crucial to the legal and political struggle to hold Palparan accountable for his crimes against humanity.”