By RED CARAO
MALOLOS, Bulacan – The trial of the kidnapping and illegal detention case against retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr. is delayed yet again, when the hearing today, July 17, was cancelled due to schedule conflicts.
Palparan is charged with two counts of kidnapping and serious illegal detention in relation to the disappearance of University of the Philippines students Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan 11 years ago. Palparan is charged along with retired Lieutenant Colonel Felipe Anotado, Master Sergeant Rizal Hilario, and Staff Sergeant Edgardo Osorio. Palparan, Anotado, and Osorio are now held in a military detention center in Fort Bonifacio, while Hilario is still at large.
Today’s hearing was cancelled as the judge who presides over the case, Judge Alexander Tamayo of the Malolos Regional Trial Court Branch 15, has yet to return from a hearing in Ilocos region, said the Malolos court officer-in-charge. The officer-in-charge claimed that all parties were informed last Friday, July 14, about Tamayo’s predicament.
However, Jun Oliva of National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), counsel of Linda Cadapan and Connie Empeno, said that they were not informed about the cancellation of the hearing.
Oliva also said that earlier in the day, Osorio’s lawyer, Bonifacio Alentajan, instructed a representative to request the cancellation of the hearing because Alentajan also had a conflict of schedule, and that their witness is unable to attend.
Monday’s hearing was supposedly Osorio’s time to present his first witness, Private First Class Edward Neri. Osorio was allotted two more hearings on August 14 and September 14, to showcase his witnesses that were expected to prove his innocence. His witnesses may still testify during the following hearings; if the witnesses fail to show up again, their testimonies will be waived.
“The next step for us is to manifest in court that we were not informed that the hearing was cancelled,” Oliva said.
“We would also like to manifest that the dates of the hearings were scheduled more than a month before, which leaves plenty of room for them to clear their schedules and to make sure their witness is available,” he added.
Karen Empeño, then 23 and Sherlyn Cadapan, 29 were abducted on June 26, 2006 while they were conducting a study on the plight of Bulacan farmers.
Their case was only one of the many cases of enforced disappearances in 2006, during the implementation of the Arroyo administration’s counterinsurgency program Oplan Bantay Laya, which equally targeted activists and suspected members of the New People’s Army (NPA). Witness have testified that Cadapan and Empeño were abducted by soldiers and brought to different military camps.
Palparan was then commander of the Philippine Army’s 7th infantry division which operates in Central Luzon, including Bulacan province.
‘They’re toying with us’
Linda Cadapan and Connie Empeño, the mothers of the two victims, admit that they were not surprised that the trial was cancelled. This was not the first time, in the long years of their judicial fight, for them to be stood up by the accused.
“Pinaglalaruan lang kami (They’re toying with us),” said Cadapan.
“Nakakapagod, nagmamadali kaming dumating roon dahil kami ang naghahabol ng hustisya, at nang mapalitaw namin si Sherlyn at Karen tapos ‘di sila darating, wala silang attorney (It’s tiring, we rush to get here because we are the ones chasing after justice and so that we could see Sherlyn and Karen again, and then [the accused] don’t arrive, or their lawyers don’t),” she added.
The previous hearing on June 1 was also postponed because Palparan failed to attend. The accused’s “delaying tactics” has stretched the case for many years, said Cadapan and Empeño.
Palparan and his men have used countless excuses to skip hearings, the two women said, while the victims’ families go through hours of travel time to attend.
Cadapan comes all the way from Laguna, Empeño from Zambales, garnering almost 10 hours of travel between the two of them. Both in their late 60s, they admit that the constant need to travel to Manila has exhausted them. But both are still thankful for the support they receive from NUPL and Karapatan, a human rights organization. The grieving mothers also emphasized that they will never be tired of chasing after justice, and of believing that their daughters are still alive.