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The ‘Butcher’

August 15, 2014 · 

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Philippine Daily Inquirer
2:14 am | Friday, August 15th, 2014

When government agents finally caught fugitive ex-general Jovito Palparan in Sta. Mesa, Manila, on Tuesday, he wasn’t dragged out of his hideout or beaten into submission. In fact, he was even allowed to hold a news conference a few hours after his arrest, with no restraints whatsoever. In contrast, Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan, the two University of the Philippines students whose abduction on June 26, 2006, Palparan is accused of ordering, did not enjoy any such courtesies.

According to witnesses, and the testimony of former detainees who managed to escape their hell on earth, Karen and Sherlyn were hogtied and dumped into what Filipinos call an owner jeep. Manuel Merino, a farmer in San Miguel, Hagonoy, Bulacan, where the two students were visiting, ran out when he heard the women’s cries; he, too, was thrown into the jeep. They remain missing until today.

We highlight the contrast not because many of our readers must wish all sorts of torture on Palparan, the so-called “berdugo” or butcher who became the military face of impunity during the Arroyo administration; we do so to emphasize that the brutal conduct that Palparan stands accused of is the exact opposite of what society expected of him.

After the abductions, Palparan told a television talk show that he knew nothing about Karen, Sherlyn, or Manuel (whose nickname, we learn later from the harrowing testimony of ex-detainees, was Em-Em). But he did acknowledge that, on the day in question, in the same area, soldiers had captured two women and a man. “But they are real NPA, who for five years were dominating the area,” Palparan said.

What are the odds of just such a coincidence? But even if we set improbabilities aside, Palparan still has something to answer for. As area commander, he must have been informed of the arrest of the “real NPA” rebels. A formal report must have been filed, or submitted to him. An investigation of the arrest must have been conducted. What did Palparan do then, in his capacity as commanding general of the responsible Army unit? Did he treat them fairly? Did he allow them to conduct a news conference, or reach out to their lawyers? Most important: Did he order them detained, and where?

If, as he told anchor and columnist Winnie Monsod in 2006, that two women and a man were indeed captured, where are they now?

Palparan, who has made no secret of his abhorrence of communism, has been accused of masterminding the extrajudicial killings of dozens of militant activists. “Wherever he went—Mindoro, Palawan, Nueva Ecija—he left a trail of blood,” Commission on Human Rights Chair Etta Rosales told Radyo Inquirer. Fr. Edwin Gariguez described Palparan’s strategy. “During his reign of terror [in Mindoro], Palparan lumped

together all those in progressive movements, even people from the Church doing justice advocacy for the poor, and they were targeted for assassination. They were tagged as dissidents and terrorists on Palparan’s list and his list even included me.”

But it is for the abduction of Karen and Sherlyn that Palparan is facing criminal charges; two men who escaped from military torture cells under Palparan’s command tell heartbreaking stories about what happened to Karen, Sherlyn and Em-Em.

Farmers Raymond and Reynaldo Manalo were abducted in February 2006 by military personnel who suspected they were New People’s Army rebels. They escaped their captors in August 2007; in those 18 months, they were shuttled from base to base, tortured intermittently, forced into servitude. For a time, in a base in Limay, Bataan, they shared prison space with Karen, Sherlyn and Em-Em.

Raymond has testified, here and before the United Nations in Geneva, that Karen and Sherlyn had been severely and serially sexually abused, and that Em-Em had been torched to death.

Another ex-detainee, Oscar Leuterio, was imprisoned and tortured for five months. During that time, Oscar noticed the presence of two women he believes were Karen and Sherlyn, and heard about the torture of Em-Em—his friend, as it turned out.

The details of their testimony are harrowing. Let Palparan refute them in court, if he can.

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