Comeuppance for a brutal, unrepentant HR violator

Evidently scared of getting physically harmed, he was brought to court handcuffed, wearing a combat helmet while closely secured by Philippine Army soldiers he once commanded. A few hours later he was taken out of the court, his head bowed in gloom. The court convicted him for kidnapping with serious illegal detention and sentenced him (with two others) to serve 20 to 40 years in prison.

This refers to the case, which took seven years of court hearings, of the abduction (in Hagonoy, Bulacan on June 26, 2006) and subsequent disappearance of two University of the Philippines students, Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan. Convicted for the crime last Monday were retired Major Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr., Lt. Col. Felipe Anotado Jr., and S/Sgt. Edgardo Osorio, all of the Philippine Army.

The guilty verdict was promulgated by Judge Alexander Tamayo of the Malolos Regional Trial Court Branch 15. He earned a wide range of approbation, national and international.

“The time of reckoning has come,” said the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), which initiated and helped prosecute the case. It paid tribute to “the fortitude of the mothers, the strength of the mass movement, the courage of human rights defenders, and the value of good lawyering for the people” which stood their ground against the powerful general.

Malacañang said it respected the court decision. The Armed Forces of the Philippines assured it would obey the court order, and Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra somehow echoed the NUPL statement. “Justice may come a bit late but it does come,” he said adding, “Let’s believe in that.”

The court verdict states in part:

“Crucial in determining the culpability and conspiratorial liability of General Palparan is the unassailable fact that he knew all too well of the forcible abduction and detention of Karen and Sherlyn by those under his command.” He had seen the two women at Camp Tecson [in Bulacan], it notes, “but he not only acquiesced to their unlawful captivity but also gave his imprimatur to their inhumane treatment at the hands of his men, and, in effect, fomented the same by not lifting a finger to halt the abuses against them.”

“Clearly,” the ruling adds, “(Palparan) was one [with others] in the desire to stamp out the enemies of the state, like Karen and Sherlyn, who they believed deserved to be erased from the face of the earth at any cost.” It points to the fact that the two women “have not been seen again, despite the many years of continuing search for them. His silence and inaction were the signals of approval for his men to commit atrocities against these hapless women.”

Notably reported in the media was how Palparan reacted to the court ruling. (Earlier he was quoted in one report as saying confidently, “After this, we walk as free men. We are not guilty.”) Yet as the verdict was read, Palparan vitriolically cursed the judge. He yelled, “Duwag ka! Tarantado! Gago! (You’re a coward! Jerk! Stupid!).” Likewise, he growled at the senior state prosecutor, “You’re so stupid!” And as the judge warned him of being cited for contempt, the convicted general grumbled back, “It doesn’t matter anymore, we’re going to prison anyway!”

Such behavior exposed Palparan for what he essentially has been: a self-righteous, boorish, bigoted, and fascistic military officer utterly contemptuous of the judicial system and the rule of law that he had been sworn to uphold and defend. He has equally been contemptuous of the rights, freedom and welfare of those he deemed as “enemies of the state.”

He had been marked out for such bad attitude since he was a mid-level field officer in Central Luzon in the second half of the 1980s. Local government officials, religious and civic leaders and human rights defenders then already petitioned his transfer out of the region.

But it was during his stint as commanding general of the 7th Infantry Division (2005-2006), under the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo regime, that Palparan became even more vicious – leaving a trail of extrajudicial killings of activists and others he had tagged as “communists” or “communist supporters” in the areas where his military units had been deployed – in Mindoro, Samar, and Central Luzon. He seemed pleased to have been tagged as “The Butcher,” even as he tried to evade accountability (and flattered himself) by facetiously claiming that he had only “inspired” those who did the killings.

Just a month after the abduction-disappearances of Karen and Sherlyn, President Arroyo, in her state-of-the-nation address before the joint session of the 13th Congress, bid Palparan to stand up from the gallery and fulsomely praised him as her favorite general. She declaimed in Filipino: “Hindi siya aatras hanggang makawala sa gabi ng kilabot ang mga pamayanan at makaahon sa bukang-liwayway ng hustisya at kalayaan. (He won’t stop until the communities are freed from the night of terror and arise to the dawning of justice and freedom).” Given the bloody results of Arroyo’s Oplan Bantay-Laya (Phases I and II counterinsurgency plans) one cannot miss the gross irony in that presidential plaudit.

After retiring that year, Palparan sought a seat in the House of Representatives via a partylist group, named Bantay, in the 2007 elections. Bantay failed to gain the needed 2% of the total number of partylist votes to win a seat (it got only 1.06%). However, when the Supreme Court later decided to fill up all the 56 seats allotted for the partylist system, it allowed seats for a number of those who fell short of the 2% threshold, including Bantay. Palparan became a congressman for 14 months (April 24, 2009 to June 30, 2010). And he focused on pursuing a single platform.

In tandem with Pastor Alcover, of the self-declared anticommunist partylist group, Anad, Palparan spent that short stint in the House to find every opportunity to attack me (then Bayan Muna representative) as a “communist infiltrator,” demanding my ouster from Congress along with my five other progressive partylist colleagues. The House leadership advised me not to dignify Palparan and Alcover, describing them as “ineffectual nuisances.”

Earlier, the Arroyo government had tried to do that (expel us from Congress?) by filing a ridiculous rebellion charge against our partylist bloc, dubbed as the “Batasan 6” by the media. Acting on our petition for certiorari and prohibition, the Supreme Court, in mid-2007, promptly directed the lower court to dismiss the charge for lack of merit.

The progressive partylist bloc in the House wasn’t the only one that Palparan and Alcover targetted for verbal attacks and demonization.

When then Commission of Human Rights Chairperson Leila de Lima conducted investigations on the EJKs and other human rights violations attributed to the state security forces, the two nuisances brusquely accused her of being biased against the military. “What’s your basis for the accusation?” she calmly asked them. The duo’s reply: “You are a cousin of Julieta de Lima, Joema Sison’s wife.”

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Published in Philippine Star
Sept. 22, 2018

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