After three years of postponements, presentations, and hearings, the trial of former Army general Jovito Palparan on the abduction and torture of UP students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño has come to an end.
By RUTH LUMIBAO
MALOLOS CITY, Bulacan – On that fateful day, June 26, 2006, two students from the University of the Philippines (UP) Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño were abducted in Hagonoy, Bulacan. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), along with other state agents, was then conducting military operations in the area, in line with the counterinsurgency program of the Arroyo administration called Oplan Bantay Laya.
Raymond Manalo, another victim of torture and abduction who was able to escape and later became a key prosecution witness, provided chilling details, during his testimony before the court, on the brutal torture done to the two UP student activists by the military.
Charged with cases of kidnapping and serious illegal detention of Karen and Sherlyn, former Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan took the witness stand on Feb. 15.
His testimony, however, revealed more than what was expected. Private prosecutors from the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) described Palparan’s testimony as “self-destruction.”
Of counterinsurgency operations
Palparan, known for being one of the prime movers of Oplan Bantay Laya under the Arroyo administration, is charged with and accused of not only the abduction of Karen and Sherlyn but also various human rights violations committed by soldiers of the Philippine Army under his command, wherever he was assigned.
According to the records of Karapatan or the Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights, Palparan’s trail of human rights violations spanned from Central Luzon down to Eastern Visayas — with Oriental Mindoro, Romblon, and Central Luzon having been the most affected.
Human rights worker Eden Marcellana and peasant leader Eddie Gumanoy were among Palparan’s victims.
Even during the hearings for Palparan’s bail petition, he admitted the existence of counterinsurgency operations — claiming that villages ‘infested’ with members and supporters of the New People’s Army (NPA), a revolutionary armed group, should be ‘cleared.’ In his testimony during the Cadapan-Empeño hearing, he admitted that these ‘clearing operations’ did exist.
‘Central Luzon’ clearing operations
As commander of the 7th Infantry Division (ID), which had control over the 24th Infantry Battalion stationed in Bulacan, Palparan had knowledge of and control over all counterinsurgency operations being conducted by the Army.
During his cross-examination, he was repeatedly questioned about an ‘order of battle’, which he described to be a list of all targets, branded as ‘enemies of the state,’ by the military. According to Palparan, the list provided their targets for ‘clearing.’
When asked what exactly the military does in its clearing operations, the Army general gave two situations: if they find the person to be armed, then there will be an encounter; if not, then they will try to ‘convince’ the individual or charge him or her in court.
Incidentally, the two UP students, Karen and Sherlyn, were in an immersion trip with farmers of Bulacan at the time of the incident. They were allied with the peasant group Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luson.
In his testimony, Palparan directly called the peasant organization as a ‘front organization’, thus making all individuals — armed or not — as targets of their counterinsurgency operations.
Inconsistencies and implied admissions
Palparan referred to the two UP students as Ka Lisa and Ka Tanya, but he claimed that he did not know them up until the AFP was tasked to conduct an investigation into their kidnapping. Likewise, he claimed that he did not know Raymond Manalo until after the kidnapping incident.
Yet, he claimed to have known that the Manalo family is a ‘family of NPAs.’
On June 26, 2006, Palparan claimed to have been in the headquarters of the 7th Infantry Division in Nueva Ecija. Yet he also testified that it would have been possible for him to go to Bulacan some other time — in fact, several other times — within that month.
After three years of postponements, presentations, and hearings, the trial of former Army general Jovito Palparan on the abduction and torture of UP students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño has come to an end. In a few months’ time, Judge Alexander Tamayo of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Malolos is expected to render his decision.
In every hearing conducted, victims and kin of victims of human rights violations committed not only by Palparan but also by his fellow Army officials, as well as other state security forces, have conducted picket protests in front of the Hall of Justice.
“Our rage against Palparan and fascist dogs among the State forces comes from a deep well of disgust and utter revulsion on the long list of crimes and barbarity they have committed. Palparan is now pathetically trying to assume the role of a bullied victim, crying foul over baseless allegations against organizations that he believes are ‘conspiring’ to achieve his conviction. At least, he was accorded the right to due process, something which he cruelly and deliberately denied his victims,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said in a statement.