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Army pans SC order: We can’t free those not with us

The Philippine Army says it is being asked to do the impossible.

Insisting the Army does not have custody of two student activists and a farmer missing since 2006, Army spokesperson Col. Antonio Parlade Jr. on Tuesday said: “Who will we release when the three are not in our custody?”

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“What if somebody tells us to produce Ka Roger’s body? If we don’t have him what are we supposed to do?” Parlade said, referring to New People’s Army leader Gregorio Rosal, whom the military believe has died from illness but who communist rebels say is still alive.

Asked if the Supreme Court’s order for the military to release the missing activists was impossible to fulfill, Parlade said: “As far as we know, it is.”

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Former University of the Philippines students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño and Bulacan farmer Manuel Merino have not been heard from since armed men seized them from Merino’s house on June 26, 2006.

Another farmer, former military captive Raymond Manalo, claimed in an affidavit that he saw the three at Camp Tecson in Bulacan province where they were allegedly tortured. Merino was supposedly later set on fire.

The families of the two UP activists have filed a complaint in the justice department accusing several military people of arbitrary detention, rape, serious physical injuries, torture and violation of the law on the rights of prisoners.

Palparan denies

Among the accused is retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Paliparan Jr., former commander of the Army’s 7th Infantry Division based in Central Luzon.

In his heyday as a soldier, Palparan was accused by militants of being a berdugo or “butcher” for his tough ways in dealing with rebels.

“I don’t think the current military command has them. Wala talaga (They’re not with them),” Palparan told the Inquirer on Tuesday.

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“How could (the Armed Forces of the Philippines) keep them? What will we turn over when they are not with us,” Palparan said.

The abductions happened two weeks after Palparan repositioned his troops in Pampanga province and Bulacan.

By the end of Palparan’s stint in the region, the Karapatan group had recorded 136 cases of human rights violations.

Alias Tanya

Palparan said it was best for the government to ask Manalo the whereabouts of the missing trio.

In an affidavit, Manalo—who said he escaped from detention by Palparan’s soldiers—alleged that the two UP activists were also raped while in detention.

Palparan said he did not remember seeing Manalo or knowing him and claimed he learned about the abductions only from newspapers.

Palparan said a check by military intelligence units in Bulacan yielded information about “two full-fledged New People’s Army (rebels), one with the alias Tanya, who were taken by an armed group.”

“Baka sila-sila rin yan (This might be an internal conflict in their organization). We had military activities in the area so they charged us with abduction,” Palparan said.

“I’m not sure if Tanya and her companion were Cadapan and Empeño. But we got the information that Tanya and the other woman were not UP students anymore,” he said. “We got other information in the area but people don’t want to be involved, they don’t want to talk anymore.”

A black eye

The AFP was equally adamant that the missing trio were not in military custody. But it did not sound as categorical in its denial when asked about Palparan and his group.

Asked if the AFP could confidently say that Palparan et al. were innocent, Commodore Miguel Rodriguez, AFP spokesperson and deputy chief of staff for civil military operations, said: “That’s not for me to comment on.”

“I cannot say what kind of investigation was conducted. The Army said they have investigated and the investigation showed they are not in our custody,” Rodriguez said.

He said the case of the missing activists was giving the military a “black eye.”

“For as long as they are not found, the imputation is it was done by the Armed Forces. That is not good for us and we don’t want that,” Rodriguez said. “But the order to produce them, how will we release them if they are not with us? The investigation revealed that they are not in our custody.”

“There is nothing in the records, nothing in the investigations. We are in a bind,” he added.

Records denied

Parlade said the Army would have no choice but to obey the Supreme Court if the missing activists were in its custody.

“The problem is, we do not know where they are,” Parlade said.

He said the military had asked the UP Office of the Registrar for records of “these alleged UP students so we can at least start somewhere, but they denied our request.”

Another problem, said Parlade, is that most of the implicated officers have retired.

The Supreme Court said Palparan, Lt. Col. Felipe Anotado, Lt. Col. Rogelio Boac, Lt. Francis Mirabelle Samson, alleged Cafgu member Arnel Enriquez and M/Sgt. Donald Caigas shall remain impleaded in the petitions filed by victims’ families because they appeared responsible for the abductions.

Unanswered calls

According to the military, only Samson remains in active service. He is now assigned with the Security Escort Battalion.

Rodriguez indicated the AFP was ready to represent Samson if any case was filed against him.

“If he so desires and requests the AFP to represent him, then the AFP in the presumption of regularity will have to do that,” Rodriguez said.

With Palparan’s retirement, the Supreme Court’s order for the release of the three was directed to Maj. Gen. Ireneo Espino, the current 7th ID commander.

Espino did not return calls from the Inquirer. He is the third officer to head the division after Palparan. The two others were Maj. Gen. Juanito Gomez and Lt. Gen. Ralph Villanueva.

Maj. Jonathan Abutin, 7th ID public affairs officer, said Empeño, Cadapan and Merino were “not in the custody of the division.”

Two other officers named by the court as apparently responsible for the disappearances, Anotado and Boac, also did not answer the Inquirer’s calls.

Anotado used to head the division’s 24th Infantry Battalion while Boac was the former chief of Task Force Malolos.

Abduction not policy

Lt. Gen. Gaudencio Pangilinan, chief of the military’s Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom), which has operational control over the 7th ID, said Nolcom units were engaged in “continuing efforts to find them.”

“It is not a policy of the AFP to abduct activists,” Pangilinan said by telephone from Camp Aquino in Tarlac City.

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TAGS: Abduction, alleged Cafgu member Arnel Enriquez, Army’s 7th Infantry Division, berdugo, Bulacan farmer Manuel Merino, forced disappearances, Jovito Palparan, Karen Empeño, Lt. Col. Felipe Anotado, Lt. Col. Rogelio Boac, Lt. Francis Mirabelle Samson, M/Sgt. Donald Caigas, military captive Raymond Manalo, Political killings, Rape, Sherlyn Cadapan, The Butcher, UP activists murder
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