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Volume IV,  Number 1              February 1 - 7, 2004            Quezon City, Philippines


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Palparan: From Mindoro to Iraq

In the Philippine military, it has been customary to send errant soldiers (“scalawags” in the AFP jargon) to Mindanao for tougher assignments. Col. Jovito Palparan, Jr. is however considered an asset to government’s counter-insurgency campaign and has been promoted to brigadier general. Human rights groups are wondering whether his new assignment in Iraq is a way of plucking him out of the hot seat he faces at home for alleged human rights violations – or as yet another promotion.

By Alexander Martin Remollino

Palparan testifies in a hearing at the House of Representatives.

Human rights groups and progressive legislators are asking government authorities why a military commander who is under investigation for alleged human rights violations in Mindoro and other provinces has been assigned to join the Philippine peacekeeping force in Iraq. Before his new assignment, the military commander, Col. Jovito Palparan, Jr., was promoted by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to brigadier general despite complaints of military abuses leveled against him.  

In Congress on Jan. 26, Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo said that Palparan, former commanding officer of the army’s 204th Infantry Battalion (IB) in Oriental Mindoro and presently assigned to the 1st IB in Rizal, was being sent to Iraq. The reassignment of the colonel, Ocampo said, would allow him to evade justice in the Philippines.  

(Palparan's reassignment is reportedly on hold, however.)

Palparan, named by militant groups as the “Butcher of Mindoro,” has come under investigation by both the justice department and Congress following reports in connection with the abduction and killing of several activists and civilians in Oriental Mindoro. He was also implicated in the abduction and summary execution of human rights worker Eden Marcellana and peasant leader Eddie Gumanoy in April last year.

“I hope he shows up today to face his (Palparan’s) accusers,” Ocampo said, “otherwise we would be inclined to believe that he is being flown to Iraq to elude this inquiry and the cases pending against him.”

“In Baghdad as in Mindoro, Palparan will be playing a familiar role in the company of oppressors led by the U.S. occupation forces. In any case, I do hope Palparan returns to the Philippines in one piece from his latest assignment. He has to face the cases against him.”

Aside from more than 500 American soldiers several other troops from “coalition forces” have been killed in recent Iraqi guerrilla attacks.

Palparan was set to testify before the House Committee on Human Rights on Jan. 26 over his alleged involvement in the killing of activists and innocent civilians in Oriental Mindoro. He did show up later that day, although the committee was not able to grill him for lack of time.

He was supposed to appear again before the committee last Jan. 29, but failed to show up.

From Oriental Mindoro to Rizal

Palparan was assigned to head the 204th IB in the latter part of 2001.

Reports from the Southern Tagalog chapter of the human rights group Karapatan showed there were 27 activists and innocent civilians killed in Oriental Mindoro from the time Palparan assumed command there until April 2003. Many of them were coordinators and organizers of the legal progressive political party Bayan Muna.

Palparan had accused Bayan Muna, along with other cause-oriented organizations, as “communist fronts.” He also claimed that those killed in Oriental Mindoro under his command were supporters of the underground New People’s Army (NPA).

Among the most prominent cases in the Mindoro killings were those of Expedito and Manuela Albarillo; Ruben, Rodriga, and Niña Angela Apolinar; and Edilberto Napoles. Photos used for broadcast journalist Maki Pulido’s “I-Witness” documentary on the Mindoro killings, showed the victims’ faces mutilated; for example, one of the eyes of Manuela Albarillo was missing.

The number of killings in Oriental Mindoro shot up with the deaths of Marcellana and Gumanoy. The two activist leaders were heading an 11-man fact-finding mission to investigate the spate of killings that had taken place in Oriental Mindoro under Palparan’s command.

The photos of Marcellana and Gumanoy in Terror in Mindoro, a book on the Mindoro killings published by the Justice for Eden and Eddie, Justice for All in cooperation with the Ecumenical Consortium for a Just Peace—show their corpses bearing marks of torture, with their faces mutilated beyond recognition.

Palparan was a colonel when Marcellana and Gumanoy were killed. In the subsequent investigation by Congress, he attended a hearing wearing a star on his shoulder—in spite of the fact that his promotion had not been confirmed by the Commission on Appointments. Aware of the charges against him and a law prohibiting the promotion of military officers facing complaints, senators and congressmen refused to recognize him as a brigadier general.

In May last year, Palparan was transferred to the 1st IB  in Rizal province. In the very week of his assignment, based on an article by Bulatlat.com’s Aubrey Makilan, the chief of a barangay (village) security force in Antipolo City was killed. Before that he was repeatedly questioned by the military on his alleged connections with the NPA.

Before Mindoro

A separate fact sheet released by Karapatan in opposition to his promotion shows that Palparan’s record stretches back to the 1980s, when he was commanding officer of the 24th IB in Central Luzon. He headed this army command until 1991.

During his stint in Central Luzon, he was implicated in the abduction and torture of peasant organizers and other activists.

In September 1991, while elements of the 24th IB were stationed by a chapel in Sta. Cruz, Zambales, about 100 townsfolk were arrested, interrogated, and forced to sign “affidavits of surrender.”

From Oct. 13-18, 1991, also in Sta. Cruz, Zambales, 10 families were forced to evacuate as a result of shelling operations by the 24th IB. Three days later, more than 1,000 residents of the same town were forced to attend a “peace rally,” in which Palparan claimed that they were “rebel surrenderees.”

After Central Luzon, Palparan was assigned to the Cordillera region. In 1992 alone, based on an article in the May-June 2003 issue of Southern Tagalog Exposure magazine citing data from the Cordillera People’s Alliance and the Karapatan fact sheet, there were six cases of illegal arrest, five harassment cases, one case of disappearance, one summary execution, one case of wounding, and two cases of evacuation—all in Mt. Province.

Palparan was also involved in the torture of Marcelo Fakila, an official of the Cordillera People’s Alliance-Mt. Province Chapter and a village elder of Sagada.

His last assignment before Oriental Mindoro was as head of Task Force Banahaw, which covers Rizal and Laguna.

The Laguna chapter of the human rights group Karapatan was able to record 61 cases of human rights violations of Task Force Banahaw in Laguna under Palparan’s command. Among these were seven killings of civilians—including a five-year-old child—in 2001 alone. Bulatlat.com

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