“I am saddened that the arraignment did not push through. Still, I am resolved to fight until Palparan’s conviction. I hope Duterte will be true to his word – criminals must be sent to jail.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Torture survivor Raymond Manalo is calling on both President-elect Rodrigo Duterte and the Bulacan court to speed up the prosecution of his abductors and torturers, including retired Maj. General Jovito Palparan Jr., as the much-anticipated beginning of the hearing, today, May 31, was postponed due to the absence of public prosecutors.
“I am saddened that the arraignment did not push through. Still, I am resolved to fight until Palparan’s conviction. I hope Duterte will be true to his word – criminals must be sent to jail,” Manalo told Bulatlat after the hearing.
Manalo and his brother Reynaldo, were hogtied and forcibly taken by soldiers from their home on Feb. 14, 2006. The soldiers were initially looking for their brother Rolando, a rebel returnee since the Ramos administration. In their earlier testimonies, both recounted how they were illegally detained in various military camps in Central Luzon and were tortured and inhumanely treated. They escaped from a military camp in Pangasinan in 2007.
Palparan is facing kidnapping and serious illegal detention charges in relation to their disappearance, torture, and detention, following a resolution of the Office of the Ombudsman recommending such. The said resolution was issued only last February, about seven years since Manalo, through his lawyers from the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), filed the charges before the Ombudsman.
Palparan appeared before the Regional Trial Court Branch 19, along with his co-accused Marcelo dela Cruz, Maximo dela Cruz, and Roman dela Cruz – all members of CAFGU and residents of Buhol na Mangga village in San Idlefonso, Bulacan, the Manalo family’s hometown.
Presiding judge Francisco Felizmencio said the court notified the Ombudsman regarding today’s arraignment. In turn, it filed its indorsement letter to the Bulacan’s Office of Regional Prosecutor “for information and appropriate action” on Palparan’s case. However, not one from either the Ombudsman or the regional prosecution’s office attended Palparan’s arraignment.
While Palparan’s lawyer Arturo Cabides said their camp is ready for arraignment, Judge Felizmencio ruled to reset the arraignment to June 21 to avoid “technicalities” in the future.
Judge Felizmencio said it would “make time” for the case, following NUPL secretary general Edre Olalia’s manifestation that the alleged abduction, torture and detention took place more than 10 years ago.
Capt. Telefoso Balasabas, who was among the phalanx of soldiers and police providing security detail to Palparan, asked the court to reschedule the arraignment on June 21 to a later day as it is “too close” to the retired general’s June 16 hearing before Branch 15, where the latter was earlier charged for the disappearance of two University of the Philippines (UP) students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeno.
Balasabas added it would take time to coordinate with their higher ups regarding Palparan’s security detail.
Olalia manifested before the court that it should keep the June 21 schedule as the state has all the resources to “find a way” to bring Palparan to the hearing. He also quipped that it was Palparan’s camp, in the first place, who preferred to stay in a “faraway” detention facility, when he could have simply been detained at the Bulacan Provincial Jail, located at the back of the Malolos RTC building.
Palparan, after his brief detention at the National Bureau of Investigation’s office in Manila, was brought to the Bulacan Provincial Jail. He stayed there until the Malolos Regional trial Court Branch 14, who was then handling charges on the disappearance of two UP students, granted in September 2014 his request for transfer to the Philippine Army Custodial Center in Taguig City.
Judge Felizmencio said it would issue a subpoena for Palparan within the day so that necessary arrangements for Palparan’s travel to Bulacan could be made possible. He also reminded Balasabas that he still has three weeks to go to coordinate Palparan’s transfer.
In a statement sent to the media, Olalia said they will ask Duterte to direct concerned government agencies to join the NUPL in seeking Palparan’s return to an ordinary civilian jail.
“Palparan earlier, in Twitter, called Duterte a coward. Now is the time for Palparan to prove that he is not the real coward who appears to have been actually coddled by Aquino,” he said, referring to the outgoing President Benigno S. Aquino III.
After their escape and eventually their highly-publicized case, the Manalo family continued to be subjected to various rights abuses.
For one, his brother Rolando, a rebel returnee since Ramos administration, was killed on May 14, 2012. Manalo described his killing as a “salvage,” a colloquial term for summary execution. He sustained six gunshot wounds in his chest after he was reportedly ambushed by alleged members of both the police and the military in San Rafael, Bulacan.
Manalo said neither the police nor the military deployed in the area admitted they were behind Rolando’s killing. But the accused CAFGU members have been peddling news in their village that they are the ones who killed Rolando.
“If we were able to find and kill Rolando, what can stop us from doing the same to Raymond?” the accused CAFGU members told Manalo’s family.
Asked if the Manalo family is worried after his safety, the torture survivor said they have been very supportive, adding that “they know these CAFGUs are just brave when Palparan and other ranking officials are there. But nonetheless they are big cowards.”
He shared that the rest of his family is receiving death threats from CAFGUs as well.
“I was livid with anger when I saw them inside the court room,” Manalo said, adding that this is the first time he saw accused CAFGU members since his abduction.
He added that he became even more angry when a staff of the court said they have received information from Malolos Regional Trial Court 15 that another accused in the case Master Technical Sgt. Rizal Hilario is also detained at the PACC.
Olalia said that for the longest time, Hilario, who is also among those accused in the disappearance of two UP students, has been at large.
Balasabas, for his part, denied they have Hilario in custody.
After the hearing, Manalo, unable to control his fury, slapped accused Roman Dela Cruz, who was walking along with his brother Maximo towards the stairs of the court building. Both were not handcuffed and had no military escorts even when the cases against them were non-bailable charges.
“You said you wanted to kill me. Here I am,” he told the Dela Cruz brothers as a human rights volunteer from Karapatan kept him from further slapping the two accused.
‘A stronger case’
Olalia told the media that Manalo’s case would even be stronger because it is they, themselves, who would be testifying about their ordeal.
Manalo took the witness stand several times in the kidnapping and serious illegal detention case in relation to the disappearance of two UP students. His testimony was praised by no less than the Supreme Court as consistent and credible.
The torture survivor said, “At least now, the case is finally moving, even if it took a long time.”