By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
At around 9:30 a.m., silence swept over the court room. A group of men, most of them burly, came in. Behind them was a seemingly frail-looking man, a shadow of the stoic general I have seen only in news reports – it was retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan. And this was his arraignment.
The silence eventually gave in to murmurs, lawyers arguing for their respective clients, and snickers from those inside the court room.
Here are five of the best quotes I heard before, during and after the court hearing. Number 5 is “dead scary.”
1. “I value my life”
If I did not see his lips move, I would have never thought that a man accused of so many cases of human rights violations would have the guts to say, “I value my life” in front of the mothers of Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan.
In his media interviews, Palparan’s lawyer Narzal Mallares said they were not given sufficient time to be heard before the court. But private prosecutors said they find the court “liberal” because it allowed the accused to speak and argue for himself.
“Value his life? Did he even value the lives of our daughters?” Mrs. Connie Empeño, still shaking with rage, told Bulatlat.com after the hearing.
For eight years now, she and Nanay Linda have been looking for their missing daughters but to no avail.
2. “…be kind to animals, and humans too.”
This was Mallares’ statement in his effort to convince the judge to allow Palparan’s continued detention at the NBI office in Manila.
It is ironic that he would mention such when, in a press conference a few days ago, Orly Marcellana, husband of slain activist Eden Marcellana, said, “Si Palparan ay hindi tao. Isa siyang hayop.”
So, imagine the looks on our faces when, out of his mumblings and all, we heard Mallares say, “be kind to animals,” pauses for about a second or two and quickly adds, “and humans too.”
Was it a Freudian slip? We would never know. One thing is for sure, it left us all open-mouthed.
3. “Sanitize? So aalcoholan niyo kami?”
A few minutes before Palparan was brought inside the court room, one of the members of the NBI said they meant no harm but needed to “sanitize” us. I got lost in translation. I have never heard anyone use that term — not even when I am in a hospital.
Right on cue, lawyer Krissy Conti, young and perky, and, one of the private prosecutors, quipped, “Sanitize? So aalcoholan niyo kami?” (Are you going to pour alcohol on us?)
Since his arrest, Palparan has repeatedly said that threats to his life are real. No less than the head of the military intelligence group Edgardo Ano, who, let us not forget is implicated in the abduction of Jonas Burgos, confirmed that members of the New People’s Army nearly had Palparan in three instances while the then fugitive general was in hiding.
The military has repeatedly claimed that the New People’s Army has weakened. Its members, especially in the light of the arrest of NDF consultants Benito and Wilma Tiamzon, whom they dubbed as its “supremo,” are already returning to government fold.
But the recent paranoia about his security and a “liquidation squad” set out to kill him, whether real or imaginary, makes one wonder if the NPAs are really losing strength.
Why, with all its government resources, did it hesitate to transfer a single person from NBI to Malolos, Bulacan? Why, despite promises to provide him security, is Palparan “dead scared” to be transferred to the Bulacan Provincial Jail?
Apparently, the NBI only wanted to double check the contents of our bags. In one of the paralegal’s bag, they found an intriguing roll of cloth.
“What is this?” the NBI agent asked. He was wearing one of those “gotcha” smile on his face.
He then slowly and theatrically unrolled it, only to find an impressive collection of ballpens and pencils of all sizes and colors neatly stacked to each other. I must say I am personally impressed with the ballpen collection. I should get one of those!
4. “Your client does not look like Jesus Christ to me.”
For those who studied in a Catholic school, one of the first things taught in Christian Living classes is that all men are made in the likeness and image of God.
But not Palparan — at least according to Edre Olalia, one of the private prosecutors.
Mallares went as far as likening the arrested general, who is presumed innocent until proven guilty, of course, to Jesus Christ, who, he said, was crucified by mortals with their fast and unfair trial.
Edre, his voice a few decibel higher, started to counter him, saying that the defense’s argument is irrelevant to the case, and Mallares was seemingly trying to shake his hand to appease him.
And then he dropped the bomb. Edre said, “Your client does not look like Jesus Christ to me!”
Coined from the classic Filipino horror film, Patayin sa Sindak si Barbara, Edre, just before the hearing jested that Palparan, with all his paranoia, might just die of fright.
So after conferring with public prosecutors outside the court room, Edre came in and said loudly, “Andyan na ba si Barbara?” (Is Barbara here?)
Human rights lawyers, too, were victims of Palparan’s bloody counterinsurgency program under former President Gloria Arroyo.
It is nearly impossible to chronicle all the controversial, funny, infuriating sidelines of Palparan’s long awaited day in court.
But the most powerful messages delivered were those that needed no words — the silent tears of mothers who have longed to see their daughters, the dagger looks torture victims threw at Palparan, the struggle to stop oneself from going to the other side of the court to punch a man accused of having his wife killed, the rage felt by human rights defenders, even the lawyers, who lost their colleagues to a counterinsurgency program that attacked those who advocated genuine change.