With Palparan in jail, has impunity really been arrested? The human rights record of the Aquino government shows it has not.
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – The arrest of retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan, dubbed as “the butcher” for his record of gross human rights violations wherever he was assigned, purportedly shows the Aquino government’s resolve in ending impunity in the country.
In the wee hours of Aug. 12, Palparan was nabbed based on a standing three-year warrant in relation to the enforced disappearance of Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeno, students of the University of the Philippines who were abducted along with farmer Manuel Merino in 2006 in Hagonoy, Bulacan.
But has Palparan been truly arrested and detained?
Since his capture, Palparan has appeared in court, and yet has not been accessible to the public and the media, with the members of the National Bureau of Investigation and the Philippine Army keeping a protective wall around him, giving tiger looks at those attending the hearing as if they are threats to what remains to be a shadow of the stoic general accused of killing and abducting human rights activists.
The seeming pampering of Palparan went on as he was eventually transferred from the Bulacan Provincial Jail to the Philippine Army Custodial Center, “a homecoming,” human rights activists say, for a retired general, and the poster boy of perhaps one of the bloodiest counterinsurgency program, Oplan Bantay Laya, in the history of the country.
“Palparan is a continuing example. He represents the attack dogs of the state. He was praised for it and even promoted. He ran for the Congress and evaded the justice system. And now that he has been arrested, or has he? This speaks volumes of how impunity persists in the country,” Cristina Palabay, secretary general of human rights group Karapatan, told Bulatlat.com.
Rights violations continue
The implementation of the Arroyo regime’s brutal counterinsurgency program Oplan Bantay Laya killed 1,118 activists while 204 were victims of enforced disappearance, Karapatan said. Palparan, who served as Arroyo’s model in her counterinsurgency program, launched bloody attacks on the people’s movement when he was assigned in Southern Tagalog, Eastern Visayas, and Central Luzon. Human rights groups said such attacks did not discriminate between activists and armed guerrillas in the underground movement.
Preceded by the Arroyo administration’s bloody human rights record, Aquino has yet to make a significant pronouncement on its intention to end impunity in the country, let alone, take concrete steps.
When asked to comment on the killing of journalists, Aquino even put the blame on the victims themselves when he said: “Did they die because they were investigative journalists? Were they exercising their profession in a responsible manner, living up to journalistic ethics? Or did they perish because of other reasons?”
Aquino also downplayed journalist killings by saying that they were murdered because of “mixed reasons” such as love triangle, extortion, among others.
But as the hackneyed “action speaks louder than words” goes, then the human rights violations committed under the Aquino administration reveal its empty claim to “the straight path” that he promised during his election campaign.
Karapatan documented 226 activists killed, 26 victims of enforced disappearance and 104 were tortured. There were also 225 victims of frustrated killings. Most of the victims were peasant and indigenous peoples.
Palabay, in a statement, said extrajudicial killings under the Aquino administration is not only rising but is increasingly becoming more brutal as there are at least 15 victims who were either tortured to death, beheaded, hogtied and dumped in shallow graves.
On Apr. 27, Ricardo Tuazon Sr., his son and a neighbor, just came from hunting birds in Anticala village in Butuan City when they were fired upon by soldiers. The three ran for their lives, towards their home. But Tuazon failed to get home, Karapatan reported. Tuazon’s body was discovered a day later — riddled with bullets, intestines exposed, and his face rendered unrecognizable by a large hole.
Elmer Valdez, a resident of Bonconig East village in Sta Lucia, Ilocos Sur was found dead, with skull crushed and teeth missing. His buttocks sustained gunshots but was covered with packaging tape.
But the most notorious was the killing of the “Lacub martyrs,” who included both NPA guerrillas and civilians. The remains of Recca Noelle Monte, a member of the NPA, was found to have no gunshot wounds but her skull was “crushed like eggshell,” said an autopsy report.
Such brutal killings, Palabay said, is a mere reflection of the recent report on how the US government’s Central Intelligence Agency conduct torture on those they arrested.
Indigenous peoples communities and their schools were also targeted and attacked by military operations, triggering evacuation.
Among the highlights this year, Palabay said, is the filing of trumped-up cases against human rights defenders. In Mindanao alone, 508 activists and leaders are facing 608 trumped up cases.
United Nations special rapporteur Philip Alston, during his 2007 visit, criticized the now defunct Interagency Legal Action Group (IALAG) as a tool used by the state to file trumped-up cases against activists. Though it was later on abolished, the cases filed against activists remain active.
Under the Aquino administration, Palabay said the IALAG remains very much alive in the Cabinet “security cluster,” headed by former AFP chief of staff retired Gen. Emmanuel Bautista, whose claim to fame was authoring the Oplan Bayanihan, which was patterned after the US Counterinsurgency Guide of 2009.
The said “security cluster,” which reports directly to Aquino, is the one behind today’s rampant filing of trumped-up cases and, even the arrest of activists, Palabay said.
Among the prominent cases include the arrest of then seven-month pregnant Andrea Rosal, the daughter of the late Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) spokesman Ka Roger Rosal. The dire conditions inside the jail, she said, resulted to the poor health of daughter Diona Andrea, who died two days after she was born.
Months later, another pregnant activist Miradel Torres was arrested in Quezon province while seeking medical help due to her delicate pregnancy. She gave birth last Nov. 19 at the Philippine General Hospital.
The military also bragged about its arrest of Benito Tiamzon and wife Wilma Austria, whom they labeled as top ranking officials of the CPP. The Tiamzon spouses are now facing several charges including multiple murder based on the purported discovery of mass graves in Inopacan, Leyte.
Their co-accused include other NDF peace consultants Randall Echanis, Rafael Baylosis, Vicente Ladlad, and Makabayan chair Satur Ocampo.
Austria told Bulatlat.com how incredulous, even dubious the claims of so-called witnesses of the military being presented against activists. For one, a witness would claim that he or she was able to recognize all 40 combatants by their respective complete names in a middle of a crossfire between government troops and members of the New People’s Army. She even jested that NPA guerrillas are probably torn which should come first: shooting their enemies or shouting their complete names, not their aliases.
Nonetheless, testimonies like that have led to the arrest and detention of 491 political prisoners, some of whom were even convicted.
The Aquino administration’s “straight path” is also marred with the continuing inaction on pending human rights cases. Much like Arroyo’s infamous commendation of Palparan during one of her State of the Nation Address, high-ranking military officials charged with human rights violations were dropped as respondents and subsequently promoted.
Before the international community, the Aquino administration flaunted its Interagency Committee on Extra-Legal Killings, Enforced Disappearances, Torture and Other Grave Violations, a “superbody” that would supposedly look into various human rights cases.
But human rights groups argue that cases they have supposedly “prioritized” have not moved an inch. Among these are the cases on killing of botanist Leonard Co and his two companions, the killing of Fr. Fausto Tentorio, Fr. Cecilio Lucero and tribal leader Jimmy Liguyon.
The trial on the disappearance of Jonas Burgos, another priority case, just began late this year. Meanwhile, Maj. Gen. Eduardo Año, who is implicated in the abduction, is currently head of the 10th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army. He was earlier assigned chief of the Intelligence Service of the AFP (ISAFP).
Criminal and civil charges filed against Arroyo by the 43 health workers, collectively known as the “Morong 43,” arrested in 2010 and released 10 months later have yet to have significant progress. Lt. Gen. Aurelio Baladad, one of those who ordered the arrest of the Morong 43, was promoted and is now the Eastern Mindanao Command chief.
In 2011, the United Church of Christ of the Philippines (UCCP) also filed a damage suit against Arroyo for the extrajudicial killing of 18 of its members and a case of an enforced disappearance, among others. But the case is hardly moving.
Ironically, the case filed by abduction and torture survivor Raymond Manalo, whose statement served as among the basis for Palparan’s arrest, is still pending for review before the Office of the Ombudsman.
Neither is there relief for security guard Rolly Panesa, who was arrested, tortured and detained for 11 months based on the military’s claim that he is a ranking official of the CPP, which was later proven to be a case of mistaken identity. His complaint was dismissed by the Department of Justice, sparing punishment on high-ranking officials who caused his suffering.
Profit from rights violations
Government critics say that not only is the Aquino regime perpetuating human rights violations, it is even distorting its human rights record to gain foreign funding.
Palabay said the Aquino government has peddled its Oplan Bayanihan towards gaining foreign funding for their “security and justice reform” projects, which, in reality, is its counterinsurgency program designed to silence its critics.
The European Union, for one, announced in July 2013 that it was funding a four-year, $12.8 million project. The project, “European Union – Philippine Justice Support Programme: Justice for All: Enhancing Accessibility, Fighting Impunity” is headed by the Department of Interior and Local Government.
In December 2013, US State secretary John Kerry announced that they have agreed to a three-year $40 million program with the Philippine government under the Global Security Contingency Fund, which would be used to provide maritime security and provide “law enforcement counterterrorism capacity building in the Southern Philippines in line with the country’s 2011 Internal Peace and Security Plan.
The Philippine government has received a total of $507 million in military assistance from 2001 to 2010. The military aid decreased to $11.9 million in 2011 due to a 2007 US senate hearing on the involvement of Philippine state security forces in human rights violations.
But the military aid increased again to $30 million in 2012 and $50 million the following year.
In the recent signing of the Omnibus Appropriations Bill, which included the Foreign Military Financing, Edre Olalia, secretary general of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, said the US Congress has imposed conditions on the Philippine government, specifically to address issues of human rights violations before it releases its $50 million military aid in 2015.
These include the prosecution of involved state security forces, implementing reforms among the ranks of the military to respect human rights and to ensure that soldiers and paramilitary groups are not engaging in acts of intimidation or violence against journalists and rights defenders.
The Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines (EANAP), a human rights group based in the US, sent a letter to the US Congress and State Department, stating that the Aquino administration has failed to address issues of rights violations.
On top of the funding that they get, Palabay assailed how the Oplan Bayanihan, through its “money-making venture” and “organized racket” bounty money, has been used to peddle in more money.
In 2014 alone, Karapatan said, the Aquino government has already spent $1.2 million to hunt down those in Order of Battle, a military hit list. The money is then given to unknown “informants” whose identity only the government knows.
This year, the military awarded $270,200 to four “informants” that led to the 2013 arrest of members of Abu Sayyaf and NDF peace consultant Loida Magpatoc.
Other NDF peace consultants such as the Tiamzon spouses had a $223,300 bounty each while Roy Erecre had $125,000.
Laguna community organizer Dionisio Almonte and his wife Gloria were arrested, with Dionisio having $111,660 bounty. Arrested agriculturist Dominiciano Muya of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines had a $107,200 bounty.
There were also cases of mistaken identity such as Manuel Esteban whom the military claimed was “Eduardo Esteban” who had a $129,500 prize on his head; Reynaldo Ingal and Lourdes Quioc, who were arrested as “Agaton Topacio and Eugenia Topacio,” respectively, who both have $111,660 bounty each.
“It is all about the money. The AFP-PNP makes money out of the peace consultants by falsely charging us with criminal offenses. It is the AFP that is sowing terror,” Magpatoc said in a statement issued thru Karapatan.
From 2012 to 2014, Karapatan said the military has already dispensed almost $2 million in bounty.
“This is all at the expense of the victims and their families and the failure of the government to address the roots of the armed conflict. This goes to show that no amount of superficial reforms to make it appear or even boost Aquino’s human rights record will ever succeed,” Palabay said.
Palparan may be behind bars but he has not been truly arrested. Even as government continues to brag about its efforts and give lip service to human rights, its gross human rights violations belie the “straight path” that Aquino has promised. Until the government truly serves its people, only then would impunity be finally ended.