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MOTHERS’ LONG WAIT FOR JUSTICE

The disappearance of Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan

JUDGMENT DAY Concepcion Empeño (left) and Erlinda Cadapan, mothers ofmissing student activists Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan, await Judge Alexander Tamayo’s decision on the fate of former Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr. at the Bulacan Regional Trial Court Branch 15 on Monday. —NIÑO JESUS ORBETA

CITY OF MALOLOS — Where are Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan?

It’s a question that may never get an answer despite the conviction on Monday of retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr., former Lt. Col. Felipe Anotado Jr. and S/Sgt. Edgardo Osorio  for the disappearance of the two University of the Philippines (UP) students.

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Empeño and Cadapan were abducted in the coastal town of Hagonoy, Bulacan province, on June 26, 2006, while conducting research for a school requirement.

School project

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Erlinda Cadapan, mother of Sherlyn, said her daughter was the second of her five children whom she and husband, Asher, raised to be critical thinkers.

Cadapan said her daughter attended the UP Rural High School in Los Baños and had completed two years as an athletic scholar at the UP College of Human Kinetics at Diliman, Quezon City.

Sherlyn was a sports science senior student when she was abducted, Erlinda said.

It was a school project that brought her and Karen to Hagonoy.

Karen’s mother, Concepcion Empeño, said her daughter, a graduating sociology student, was very friendly and would always bring her friends home.

When Karen and Sherlyn could no longer be found, their families sought the help of friends and government workers.

Finally, they asked a local court to force the government to produce their daughters, according to lawyers of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), who served as the families’ counsels.

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“In 2007, the mothers went to court seeking relief under the then newly promulgated writ of amparo that would shield individuals from abuse of the state. The court granted protection and allowed the mothers to inspect all military [jails],” said NUPL lawyer Maria Kristina Conti.

Charges filed

When they failed to find their daughters, the Empeño and Cadapan families turned to the Department of Justice (DOJ).

“In May 2011, the mothers filed criminal charges of arbitrary detention, rape, and other offenses against Palparan at the DOJ. After months of preliminary investigation, where Palparan appeared and put forward his defense that he did not take part in the students’ abduction, the DOJ resolved to file charges of kidnapping because it deemed the act as that of a rogue soldier,” Conti said.

The Bulacan Regional Trial Court (RTC) issued an arrest warrant on Dec. 19, 2011.

Anotado and Osorio surrendered to Judge Teodora Gonzales of the Bulacan RTC Branch 14. Their trial proceeded as scheduled.

Went into hiding

But Palparan and a fourth defendant, M/Sgt. Rizal Hilario, went into hiding.

In August 2014, Palparan was arrested in Santa Mesa, Manila, after more than three years in hiding.

Conti said the prosecution presented three witnesses who claimed they saw the two students in Bulacan under military custody.

“We have a witness, also while in military custody, who saw and talked to Palparan himself,” Conti said.

Palparan and Hilario are facing separate charges of kidnapping and serious physical injuries brought by Raymond and Reynaldo Manalo, both farmers from Barangay Bohol na Mangga in San Ildefonso town, Bulacan.

The brothers testified against Palparan in the Empeño-Cadapan kidnapping case.

They were taken from San Ildefonso on Feb. 14, 2006, for allegedly being communist rebels.

Several militiamen, among them Maximo and Michael de la Cruz, were arrested and detained for abducting the Manalo brothers.

Wilfredo Ramos, another farmer from San Miguel town, testified as a major witness against Palparan.

‘The Butcher’

Palparan, called “The Butcher” by left-leaning groups because of the killings of activists wherever he was assigned, served on the “Oplan: Bantay Laya” counterinsurgency program of the Arroyo administration in the early 2000s.

He served in the House of Representatives as a party-list lawmaker from 2004 to 2009. —With Inquirer Research

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TAGS: Edgardo Osorio, Felipe Anotado Jr., Jovito Palparan Jr., Karen Empeño, kidnapping and illegal decision case, Sherlyn Cadapan
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