Mothers of missing activists question gov’t commitment in finding Palparan

“The long wait is slowly killing us. It is like mental torture.” – Mrs. Erlinda Cadapan

By RONALYN V. OLEA
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – For the nth time in the past six years, Concepcion Empeño, a principal at a local elementary school in Masinloc, Zambales, took a two-day leave to continue searching for her daughter Karen.

Karen and Sherlyn Cadapan, both University of the Philippines (UP) students, along with farmer Manuel Merino, were taken by state agents on June 26, 2006 in Hagonoy, Bulacan. They remain missing to this day.

Their search for their daughters led Mrs. Empeño and Mrs. Erlinda Cadapan, mother of Sherlyn, to file charges of kidnapping and serious illegal detention against retired Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr. and other military officials identified by witnesses.

More than a year since they filed the case, the trial has just begun this month. Almost eight months after the local court in Bulacan issued a warrant of arrest against Palparan and three other military officials, Palparan and another respondent, M/Sgt. Rizal Hilario, remain at large. The other two who surrendered – Col. Felipe Anotado and Staff Sgt. Edgar Osorio – are kept in military custody.

“Even if it is too slow, we have followed the due process,” Mrs. Cadapan said in an interview with Bulatlat.com after the August 6 hearing. The last hearing was held in April and the next one is scheduled on September 10.

“The long wait is slowly killing us. It is like mental torture,” Mrs. Cadapan said. “Every day, I wonder how she [Sherlyn] is being treated, what is happening to her.”

Mrs. Cadapan said that as a mother, she could not accept that her daughter, whom she took good care of since childhood, was abducted and tortured by elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

Based on the testimony of Raymond Manalo, a key witness, Karen and Sherlyn were sexually abused and enslaved by soldiers for many months.

Mrs. Cadapan scoffed at the AFP’s slogan ‘To serve and protect.’ “To serve and protect? Grabe. What about our daughters? Where are they now?” she said.

Palparan

Both mothers expressed disgust that authorities have not arrested Palparan, the alleged mastermind in the abduction. Palparan was head of the 7th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army at the time of the incident.

“Palparan could not be found because the military is protecting him,” Mrs. Empeño said.

Mrs. Cadapan said the authorities could have captured Palparan if they wanted to. “The order [from higher-ups] is a sham. The press conference [of the police] was a PR [public relations] stunt and not accompanied with action,” she said.

Mrs. Cadapan said President Benigno Aquino III should issue an ultimatum for the arrest of Palparan. “He should have done this because Palparan tainted the military. He did the crimes while he was in active service,” Mrs. Cadapan said.

Mrs. Empeño appealed anew to the public to arrest Palparan right away if they see him. “We can only rely on citizen’s arrest to get Palparan because the government is simply inutile in finding and arresting him,” she said.

Determined

Despite the odds, the mothers would not give up.

“We will never get tired,” Mrs. Cadapan said.

On August 6, even without sleep, Mrs. Empeño took the witness stand. She was asked questions such as the cost of her accumulated absences, her salary since 2006 until now, what job would Karen had taken if she had not disappeared, how much could she have been earning.

“Our lawyer said the court needs to determine the cost of the damage done to us. When I was asked point blank the estimated value of the loss, I broke down in tears. The damage caused by Karen’s absence is immeasurable,” Mrs. Empeño said.

“So long as I am alive, I will not stop fighting,” Mrs. Empeño vowed, forcing a smile that failed to hide the sadness in her eyes. ()

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