“The recent conviction of Palparan is a reminder to everyone that evil will never ever triumph.”
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — Her voice breaking, Rev. Irma Balaba said the conviction of Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr. brought tears of joy to many victims of human rights violations.
Balaba and three other pastors celebrated on Monday an ecumenical mass of thanksgiving at the UCCP Chapel in Quezon City hours after a Bulacan court declared Palparan guilty of kidnapping and serious illegal detention of University of the Philippines students Karen Empeno and Sherlyn Cadapan.
“This is an initial victory brought about by our collective action,” Balaba said as she wiped the tears underneath her eyeglasses. She received messages of jubilation from fellow human rights defenders in her home region, Eastern Visayas, where Palparan also left a trail of blood as then commanding general of the Army’s 8th Infantry Division.
For Balaba, however, the fight is far from over. “Gloria Arroyo should be next,” she told the families of victims and human rights defenders.
Balaba knew very well that Palparan and his men were carrying out Arroyo’s counterinsurgency program Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL). The OBL’s core principle does not distinguish civilians from combatants. In crushing what the military calls “political infrastructures” of the Left, leaders and members of people’s organizations and party list groups are targeted for neutralization.
The OBL claimed the life of Balaba’s friend Rev. Edison Lapuz. Under Arroyo’s OBL, Karapatan documented 126 victims of extrajudicial killings and 27 disappearances in Eastern Visayas region alone. Also murdered were known activists and human rights advocates lawyer Felidito Dacut, Dr. Bartolome Resuello, lawyer Norman Bocar, Prof. Jose Ma. Cui, and Fr. Cecilio Lucero.
Nationwide, Arroyo’s the OBL 1 and 2 resulted in 1,118 victims of extrajudicial killings and 204 victims of torture by the end of 2009, according to Karapatan.
Concurring with Karapatan was former United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Prof. Philip Alston who also blamed Arroyo’s counterinsurgency program for the extrajudicial killings.
Alston visited the country in February 2007 to investigate the spate of killings in the country. He released his findings and recommendations in April 2008. In his follow-up report to the United Nations Human Rights Council dated April 29, 2009, Alston noted, “The AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines] has not changed its counterinsurgency techniques in such a way as to eliminate the likelihood that leftist activists will be killed.”
Alston also recommended that the principle of command responsibility must be a basis for criminal liability of perpetrators. He mentioned in particular the appointment of Palparan to the Drug Enforcement Board. Palparan later assumed the post as Bantay party list representative in the Lower House.
Arroyo did nothing to punish Palparan, even as the Melo Commission, the body she herself created in 2006 implicated Palparan as the primary military suspect with command responsibility for numerous extrajudicial killings.
Early on, Arroyo had made it clear that Palparan is the chief implementer of her bloody counterinsurgency campaign. On her sixth State of the Nation Address delivered on July 24, 2006, Arroyo said, “Sa mga lalawigang sakop ng 7th Division, nakikibaka sa kalaban si Jovito Palparan. Hindi siya aatras hanggang makawala sa gabi ng kilabot ang mga pamayanan at maka-ahon sa bukang-liwayway ng hustisya at kalayaan.” (In the provinces within the jurisdiction of the 7th ID, Jovito Palparan is fighting the enemy. He will not retreat until communities break free from the night of terror and give rise to the new dawn of justice and freedom).
Following the conviction of Palparan, Edre Olalia, president of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), said they are also looking at the angle of command responsibility of Palparan’s commander in chief Gloria Arroyo.
Under such principle, the United Church of Christ of the Philippines (UCCP) filed a P5.6-million damage suit against former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on June 17, 2011. More than 18 of its members were killed, one disappeared, three ambushed and wounded and four arrested, detained and tortured under Arroyo’s OBL.
The UCCP civil case has been dismissed while the civil case filed by Morong 43 is ongoing at the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 224.
Roneo Clamor, deputy secretary general of Karapatan, told Bulatlat that while the Morong 43 case is a separate, he hopes that the conviction of Palparan would influence the judge to “render the appropriate justice for the victims especially when Gloria Arroyo was still the commander in chief.”
Arroyo, in fact, had been indicted for human rights violations twice. The International People’s Tribunal held in Manila in 2005 declared Arroyo guilty of human rights violations. The Permanent People’s Tribunal second session on the Philippines held in March 2017 in the Hague, the Netherlandsdeclared the U.S.-backed Arroyo regime guilty of gross and systematic violations of civil and political rights, among others.
Arroyo, after being freed from hospital detention following the dismissal of a weak case filed against her, is now Speaker of the House. Her OBL bears similarities with Duterte’s counterinsurgency program Oplan Kapayapaan.