Without a defense counsel, the court proceedings against retired Major General Jovito Palparan Jr. could be declared null and void.
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MALOLOS, Bulacan — Retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr. appeared without a lawyer in a hearing today, Feb. 4, at the Malolos Regional Trial Court Branch 15. He said he could no longer afford to pay legal fees, and even sideswiped the court on the progression of the case.
“I believe that if the court honestly evaluated the merits of the case, then I will be acquitted by now,” Palparan said during the hearing.
Judge Alexander Tamayo said he will appoint a lawyer from the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO). But the retired general – who was once high and favored among the state security forces despite complaints of various human rights violations against him – said he does not trust government lawyers, especially those from the Department of Justice, whose prosecutors are leading the case against him.
Palparan, the highest military officer ever to be indicted for a rights violation, is facing kidnapping and serious illegal detention cases in relation to the enforced disappearance of two University of the Philippines (UP) students Karen Empeno and Sherlyn Cadapan, who were abducted along with farmer Manuel Merino nearly 10 years ago.
Both the country’s Constitution and rules of court require that an accused be assisted by a lawyer. If not, Tamayo said the proceedings would be rendered null and void. The judge offered to assign a lawyer from the Integrated Bar of the Philippines chapter in Bulacan. Palparan reluctantly agreed.
For today’s hearing, Col. Felipe Anotado’s lawyer Abner Torres agreed to assist Palparan.
For the mothers of the disappeared, it showed nothing short of Palparan’s “paranoia.”
“Nauulol na siya (He has gone berserk),” Erlinda Cadapan, Sherlyn’s mother, told Bulatlat.
Recently, the Malolos court denied Palparan’s petition for bail and, subsequently, his motion for reconsideration. Tamayo said in his decision that for purposes of bail, Palparan’s testimony alone could not overturn the evidence presented by the prosecution.
Wasting government money
The mothers of the disappeared UP students said that if Palparan does not trust the government anymore, there is no reason for the government to spend public funds to provide him protection.
Soldiers in uniform and in plainclothes have been providing security to Palparan in his court hearings. Burly soldiers stood around him, forming a protective wall as he sat inside the courtroom.
“It looked intimidating. He does not need that kind of military presence, especially if he claims that he can defend himself,” said Isabel, Connie Empeno’s younger sister, who was on vacation from her work abroad.
Today was Isabel’s first time to attend the trial. Asked about her impression on the trial, Isabel said he admired the judge for being straight to the point.
“There is no mocking around with him,” she added.
Meanwhile, she found Palparan “ridiculous and unreasonable” as he repeatedly interfered in the hearing “as if dictating how the judge should run the court.”
“Palparan is not worth government money. It is a waste of government funds to spend for all these men to protect him,” Isabel said.
Prosecution rests the case
Julian Oliva Jr. of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) and the private lawyer of the complainants, ended the presentation of evidence by the prosecution.
The prosecution moved to adopt pieces of evidence and testimonies that were presented in all the previous proceedings.
“We have presented credible witnesses. It is more than enough,” Cadapan said.
Palparan’s co-accused Anotado and Sgt. Edgardo Osorio will also present their own witnesses. Anotado will present four witnesses in the succeeding hearings on Feb. 18, March 17, and April 28.
Tamayo reminded Torres that failure to present their witnesses on the given day will render their testimonies waived, to which Torres agreed.
The mothers of the disappeared, however, are doubtful whether the witnesses of the accused would show up.
Cadapan said a year was almost wasted last time because no witnesses arrived. The defense then claimed that they could not bring their witnesses as the soldiers were designated in far-flung provinces.