In a resolution released Dec. 15, a Department of Justice (DOJ) panel found probable cause to file charges against retired Major General Jovito Palparan and his men for the abduction of UP students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño, and farmer Manuel Merino.
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Teary-eyed Erlinda Cadapan, 60, said she is somehow happy to receive the news. “I’ve been waiting for that for years,” she said.
In a resolution released Dec. 15, a Department of Justice (DOJ) panel found probable cause to file charges against retired Major General Jovito Palparan and his men for the abduction of the Mrs. Cadapan’s daughter Sherlyn, her companion who is also a UP student Karen Empeño and farmer Manuel Merino.
Sherlyn and Karen, both students of the University of the Philippines (UP), were abducted on June 26, 2006 by suspected soldiers under the command of Palparan, then commanding officer of the 7th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army. Since the two have gone missing, their mothers went to courts, police stations, military camps, hospitals and morgues in searching for them.
“My happiness is not complete. Until they surface Sherlyn, until I would be able to embrace her, I would not be really happy,” Mrs. Cadapan told Bulatlat.com in an interview.
In the same vein, Mrs. Concepcion Empeño said that after almost six years, they finally saw light in their long search for justice.
“This is just the beginning. Palparan should be imprisoned,” Mrs. Empeño told Bulatlat.com in a phone interview.
Human rights group Karapatan welcomed the DOJ resolution, “For the first time, a notorious human rights violator like Gen. Jovito Palparan is being charged in court. This is an initial step to end the culture of impunity,” Roneo Clamor, Karapatan deputy secretary general, said.
In a 36-page resolution, the DOJ panel of prosecutors investigating the incident found “probable cause” to charge Palparan, Lt. Col. Felipe Anotado, Master Sergeant Rizal Hilario, and Staff Sergeant Edgardo Osorio with two counts of kidnapping and serious illegal detention in connection with the abduction of the two UP students.
In May, the mothers of the victims filed a complaint before the DOJ against Palparan and other military officials for rape, serious physical injuries, arbitrary detention, maltreatment of prisoners, grave threats, grave coercion, violation of Republic Act No. 7438 (An Act Defining Certain Rights of Persons arrested, Detained or Under Custodial Investigation), violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and violation of Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment. The DOJ panel conducted several hearings, including a clarificatory hearing, on the case.
The DOJ said the military who took the two women “committed the acts not in relation to their office but in violation of their sacred duty of protecting the People and by acting outside their oaths of incude, thereby acting as if they are private individuals.”
The DOJ concluded that “Palparan had a direct hand in the detention of Sherlyn and Karen and that through his men, he had knowledge and control of the places where the women were held.” It gave weight on the “positive testimony” of witness Raymond Manalo.
Manalo, who was held captive by the military for more than 16 months, also positively identified Anotado and Hilario as being present in the scene of the crime.
Meanwhile, Osorio was identified by another witness Wilfredo Ramos during the preliminary investigation as one of the armed men who took Sherlyn and Karen on June 26, 2006.??The lawyers who handled the case are also happy with the DOJ resolution. “The DOJ resolution sends a clear message to human rights violators, especially top military officials, that abuses must stop,” Cristina Yambot, one of the lawyers and a member of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) said.
“Holding Palparan for trial is long overdue amidst the several crimes he perpetrated against activists and those who espouse dissent amidst injustice. While this is just the start of a long and rigorous trial to make Palparan account for his crimes, this is a significant victory for human rights defenders and a big step towards ensuring respect for human rights in a country that has witnessed monstrous human rights violations in the past decade,” Edre Olalia, NUPL secretary general, said.
“At long last, justice has caught up with Gen. Palparan and his ilk. The resolution sends a strong, clear and loud message to human rights violators that they cannot just get away with their inhumane acts and that there is no other place for them but behind bars. It should help abet the longstanding climate of impunity, the offspring of the anti-insurgency policy of the state that has no regard for human rights and the law,” Olalia added.
Lorena Santos, Desaparecidos deputy secretary general, noted that it took more than five years before the perpetrators will be facing charges. “They should have been in jail long ago,” Santos, whose father Leo Velasco remains missing, said.
Santos also said they are not satisfied that Palparan and the others accused are only charged with kidnapping.
“They should already be charged with enforced disappearance, but the bill criminalizing enforced disappearance is still pending approval at the House of Representatives. There should be no waiting time anymore to pass the bill, especially that this case has proven that the military is behind the abduction and disappearance of ordinary civilians,” Santos said.
The Anti-Enforce Disappearance bill seeks to criminalize the crime of enforced disappearance.
Karapatan called on the DOJ to immediately issue a hold departure order against Palparan and the other respondent. “No dilatory tactics should be allowed nor special treatment be accorded to Palparan and his officers like what was accorded to Gloria Macapal Arroyo,” Clamor said.
The Supreme Court earlier issued a temporary restraining order on the issuance of Watch list and Hold Departure Orders.
Santos, meanwhile, said Arroyo should also be made accountable for human rights violations. “Palparan was Arroyo’s favorite general,” she said.
Mrs. Cadapan agreed, saying that human rights violations are part of Arroyo’s policy. She recalled how Arroyo praised Palparan during one of her State of the Nation Address (Sona) speeches. “Gloria [Arroyo] recognized Palparan for going after activists whom they regarded as criminals. It is a policy of government. Gloria should also be punished,” Mrs .Cadapan said.
For the two mothers, the struggle is far from over.
“Christmas would still be sad. One more year will pass, Karen is still not here,” Mrs. Empeño said, her voice breaking.
Mrs. Cadapan said her family will have to content themselves celebrating Christmas without Sherlyn. Just like the previous years, they would place Sherlyn’s photograph at the center of the table as they gather in prayer.