WHAT WENT BEFORE: Abduction of UP students Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan
Early on June 26, 2006, University of the Philippines students Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan were seized by gunmen from their rented house in Hagonoy, Bulacan province.
A farmer, Manuel Merino, 57, came to the students’ aid but was also taken, witnesses said. The three were forced to board a private “stainless” jeep with the plate number RTF 597.
Empeño, then 22, was a sociology student doing research on the plight of Bulacan farmers, and Cadapan, then 29, a human kinetics student and community organizer for the farmers’ group Alyansang Magbubukid ng Bulacan. Cadapan was purportedly two months pregnant then.
After years of fruitless search, their mothers filed in May this year criminal charges, including torture and rape, against retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan at the Department of Justice (DOJ). The other offenses alleged in the complaint were serious physical injuries, arbitrary detention, maltreatment of prisoners, grave threats and coercion.
In June, the Supreme Court ordered the military to “immediately release” Empeño, Cadapan and Merino, and named Palparan and five others as apparently responsible for their disappearance.
In response to the high court’s order, then Armed Forces chief of staff Eduardo Oban Jr. ordered a review of the military’s past actions on the case through the newly formed AFP Human Rights Office.
Palparan denied having a hand in the disappearances. “What will you admit if you have done nothing wrong?” he said in July, at the start of the preliminary investigation on the complaint filed at the DOJ.
The Army has long insisted that the students and Merino were not in its custody. But the League of Filipino Students, of which Empeño was reportedly a member, maintained that soldiers were behind the abduction.
The parents of Empeño and Cadapan asked the Supreme Court to compel the military to release their daughters.
Named respondents in the petition for habeas corpus were Palparan, then commanding general of the 7th Infantry Division based in Nueva Ecija; Lt. Gen. Romeo Tolentino, then commanding general of the Northern Luzon Command; and other military men.
Writ of amparo
As early as July 19, 2006, the high court ordered the military to produce the students. But military officials denied holding them.
In October 2007, acting on a petition for a writ of amparo filed by the students’ mothers, the high court directed the Court of Appeals to hear the case. Under the writ, the military or the police cannot simply deny involvement in abductions or extrajudicial killings but must also prove they are not involved and, if ordered by the court, open their detention facilities for inspection.
The military opposed the request of the students’ mothers to have its camps inspected, and denied knowledge of the abduction. It also opposed a request for documents and military operation reports, saying this was tantamount to a “shotgun” search warrant.
On Dec. 18, 2007, farmer Raymond Manalo, testified at the Court of Appeals that he first saw the two students at Camp Tecson in Bulacan in September 2006. He said he escaped from military detention in August, along with his brother, Reynaldo.
Manalo said he and his brother, as well as Cadapan, Empeño and Merino, were all tortured. He said that he saw what was done to Cadapan but only heard Empeño’s screams, and that he saw Merino being set on fire.
He also said he last saw the students in June 2007 in Limay, Bataan, where they were taken.
Convinced by Manalo’s testimony, the appellate court directed the military on Sept. 17, 2008, to free the two students and Merino. It said there was “clear and credible evidence that the three missing persons” were “being detained in military camps and bases under the 7th Infantry Division.”
Source: Inquirer Archives
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