By RUTH LUMIBAO
MANILA – Families of victims of human rights violations, especially those killed and disappeared during the Arroyo administration, lambasted the spokesperson of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) who practically praised retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr, and expressed hope for his release, saying soldiers “would be delighted.”
On Nov. 25, Major General Restituto Padilla, Jr. said that Palparan’s release, once proven innocent, would make soldiers happy. He went as far as saying that the cases filed against Palparan are filed only by the “left,” who have been targets of Palparan’s counterinsurgency program.
Enraged progressive groups called out such statement as “brazen and insensitive” amid the atmosphere of impunity and continuing injustice for many victims of human rights violations by suspected state security forces. Padilla’s remark came shortly after President Duterte himself confessed of being a “fascist,” and threatened to order a “crackdown” on Leftist organizations.
Palparan, who has earned the monicker, “The Butcher,” has been in detention since 2014 on charges of kidnapping and serious illegal detention in connection with the case of Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan, the two student activists from the University of the Philippines Diliman who were abducted and disappeared along with peasant Manuel Merino in Bulacan in 2006. He was arrested after two years in hiding.
The case is up for resolution at the Malolos Regional Trial Court where Palparan has been charged with other military officials. The three victims remain missing. Groups have denounced what they called “special treatment” for Palparan, who, instead being detained in a regular jail in Bulacan, is in the Philippine Army Custodial Center in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City.
“Ikinagagalit ko nang lubos ang ganoong pahayag. Dapat mabulok itong mahal nilang si Palparan sa bilangguan (I am enraged with Padilla’s statement. Their beloved butcher should rot in jail),” said Erlinda Cadapan, mother of Sherlyn.
“Hinding-hindi matutuwa ang sambayanang Pilipino kung lalaya ang berdugong si Palparan. Ito ay pagyurak sa karapatang pantao. Siya ay mamamatay-tao na di dapat ipagmalaki at tularan. Dapat pa ngang ikondena ng kasundaluhan si Palparan. Dapat na maprotektahan ang mga taong naaapi, iyan dapat ang kanilang sinumpaang tungkulin (The Filipino people will not rejoice if Palparan is released. This is a travesty of human rights. He is a killer that the military shouldn’t emulate and be proud of. The military should even condemn Palparan. They should protect the people who are oppressed; that should be their sworn duty),” said Concepcion Empeño, mother of Karen and chairperson of the group, Desaparecidos.
Witnesses and survivors of other cases of abduction have pointed to Palparan as the mastermind of the human rights violations, including the abduction and brutal killing of Karapatan-Southern Tagalog secretary general Eden Marcellana and peasant leader Eddie Gumanoy in 2003.
Orly Marcellana, Eden’s widower and peasant leader was even more livid.
“Kahit tadtarin ng pinong-pino si Palparan ay hindi nito kayang bayaran ang dusa, hirap at sakit na ginawa nila sa aming mga mahal sa buhay na pinahirapan bago pinatay na wala namang kasalanan,” said Marcellana in a text message to Bulatlat.
“Madami pang pinatay, dinukot at nawawala. Justice for Eden Marcellana. Justice for Eddie Gumanoy. Kamatayan para kay Jovito Palparan, berdugo ng bayan!” he added.
Palparan also faces two counts of kidnapping and illegal detention with serious physical injuries in connection to the case of peasant brothers Raymond and Reynaldo Manalo. Raymond Manalo is a vital witness in the Cadapan-Empeno case, and was the last to see the two UP students and peasant Merino alive in a military camp in Bataan.
“We followed due process and court orders. We filed cases to find our daughters and seek justice, despite all obstacles put up by the government,” said Cadapan.
Under the Arroyo administration’s counterinsurgency program, Oplan Bantay Laya I and II, human rights groups documented 1,118 victims of political killings and 204 victims of enforced disappearance. Palparan, who started out as an Army colonel in Mindoro at the start of Oplan Bantay Laya I, was openly praised by then President Gloria Arroyo, who even called him out in one of her State of the Nation Address.
Arroyo then assigned Palparan to head the regional military commands in Eastern Visayas and Central Luzon, where scores of cases of killings and disappearances perpetrated by suspected military deaths squads were documented.
“We don’t care if Padilla is just boosting the morale of his troops. These are very brazen and insensitive statements to make at a crucial time when civilians – mostly farmers and peasant leaders, are being killed, abducted, illegally arrested and detained by the military and different units of the Philippine Army,” said Danilo Ramos, chairperson of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), in a statement.
“Suggestions, insinuations and even the mere thought of Palparan getting out of jail is unacceptable. It sends the chilling message that if Palparan can get away with anything then it will also be the same for all military elements. Releasing Palparan will be an ‘open season’ to further target activists, progressive mass leaders and critics of the Duterte administration that are now subjects of a crackdown,” Ramos added.
Kabataan Partylist Rep. Sarah Elago said should the Duterte administration attempt to manipulate the outcome of the case or find any means to have Palparan suddenly released, giving in to the nudging of its AFP spokesperson, it would be nothing more than a favor to former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
The Duterte administration has been grooming Arroyo as its “little” president, as manifested in her transfer to the supermajority bloc, the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino – Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) and her packaging as the most ‘presidentiable’ president during the ASEAN summit.
“Should Duterte grant this request despite a pending case against Palparan, it will only prove how he will stop at nothing to wage war against the people. Undoubtedly, letting the ‘butcher’ on the loose will only further human rights violations and the culture of impunity,” Elago said.
“This is the exactly the same political climate 45 years ago before Marcos declared martial law. Duterte’s recent pronouncements against activists, putting all the blame for failure of the peace talks on the CPP-NPA-NDF, and his hints at a ‘crackdown’ are red flags that should keep us on our toes — to be vigilant and critical at all times, and most importantly, to take bolder steps to thwart all attempts to establish a fascist dictatorship,” she added.