DOJ OKs 2 kidnap cases vs Palparan; arrest urged | Inquirer News

DOJ OKs 2 kidnap cases vs Palparan; arrest urged

It’s a “ray of hope.”

Prosecutors of the Department of Justice (DOJ) on Friday approved two cases of kidnapping and serious illegal detention against retired Army official Jovito Palparan Jr. and three others over the disappearance of University of the Philippines (UP) students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño in 2006.

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The offense, which carries the penalty of life imprisonment, is nonbailable.

In an ambush interview, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said she hoped arrest warrants would be issued as soon as possible. “It shows that this time, we can expect results of such investigations because witnesses [now] tend to cooperate, unlike before,” she said.

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The cases against Palparan, a former congressman labeled “Berdugo” (Butcher) by activists, Lt. Col. Felipe Anotado, M/Sgt. Rizal Hilario and S/Sgt. Edgardo Osorio were filed at the Regional Trial Court in Hagonoy, Bulacan province, where the abduction took place.

But the DOJ dismissed other charges, such as torture, rape, serious physical injury, arbitrary detention and maltreatment of prisoners, against the four respondents and three others. One respondent, M/Sgt. Donald Caigas, retired from the service in May 2008 and died of cardiac arrest on March, 27, 2010, in Samal, Davao del Norte province.

De Lima said she had ordered the Bureau of Immigration to be “on the lookout” for the four respondents in case they tried to flee the country. She said that the watch-list order on Palparan might have already expired and that she could not issue a new one because the Supreme Court had restrained her from issuing any more such orders.

The complaints against Palparan et al. were filed by the students’ mothers, Erlinda Cadapan and Concepcion Empeño, who later filed petitions for a writ of habeas corpus at the Court of Appeals and a writ of amparo at the Supreme Court.

The DOJ was tasked by the courts in May to investigate the case; De Lima formed the preliminary investigation panel in June.

Only the start

Erlinda Cadapan, 62, wept upon hearing the news at the home of her two children in Quezon City. Later at the office of the human rights organization Karapatan in the same city, she smiled with delight on seeing Edre Olalia and Rey Cortez of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), who are serving as counsel for the families of the missing students.

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“I’m partially happy with the DOJ resolution. I should have gotten this from the former administration. I’ve been looking for my daughter for five-and-a-half years now,” she said in an interview. “My search for justice was partially served today.”

NUPL secretary general Olalia said the resolution was “very crucial” and “symbolic, because this case is against not only Palparan and his minions but also other perpetrators of human rights violations who are still scot-free.”

“This is only the start. While long in coming, any ray of hope that can be provided, especially a concrete one such as the resolution and the impending arrest of Palparan, sends a very clear signal that this is not something you can do with impunity and get away with. Sooner or later, whether immediately or over a period of time, the law will catch up with you,” he said in an interview.

Wearing a white T-shirt marked “Desaparecidos” and a pin with the words “Justice for Sherlyn and Karen,” Erlinda  said the resolution was the first step in achieving justice vis-à-vis her daughter’s disappearance. She said she was glad that people like De Lima and Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, a former associate justice of the Supreme Court, were giving her hope of finding justice.

But her happiness will be complete only when her daughter Sherlyn, by now 34, surfaces and the people behind her and Karen Empeño’s disappearance are put behind bars, the mother said. “She’s not with me yet. There’s no one to embrace.”

She aired a terse appeal: “This time, the authorities should not take their sweet time. They should immediately arrest the perpetrators and put them behind bars to ease my pain.”

Karen’s mother, Concepcion Empeño, a grade-school principal in Zambales province, did not make it to Karapatan’s hastily called briefing.

Farmer’s testimony

In his counteraffidavit, Palparan said that as the commanding general of the Army’s 7th Infantry Division, the other military officers accused with him were not under his control and supervision. He said the abduction of the UP students was a “police matter.”

The other suspects also denied knowing or abducting the two students.

In approving the kidnapping and serious illegal detention cases, the panel of DOJ prosecutors—composed of assistant state prosecutors Juan Pedro Navera and Irwin Maraya, and associate prosecution attorney Ethel Rea Suril—relied on the testimony of farmer Raymond Manalo and security guard Oscar Leuterio, who claimed they were also taken by soldiers and detained in military camps where they saw the two UP students.

Manalo and Leuterio both said they met Palparan during their detention, and were able to positively identify the soldier-respondents. Three Hagonoy residents also testified before the panel that they witnessed the students’ abduction.

“The complainants’ witnesses were able to establish that Sherlyn and Karen, both female, were kidnapped on June 26, 2006, and were last seen by Manalo detained up to around June 2007, a period of one year. The armed men who took Sherlyn and Karen did not pretend they were making an arrest. They simply took the two women,” the prosecutors said in their 36-page ruling.

Manalo and his brother Reynaldo said they were abducted in February 2006, brought to Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija province, and later transferred to Camp Tecson in San Miguel, Bulacan. There, Manalo said, he was able to speak to Sherlyn, who told him she had been raped by their captors.

He said he also saw Karen and Manuel Merino, another farmer who had tried to help the students when they were abducted.

All three were chained and made to do chores in the camp, he said.

Leuterio, on the other hand, said he was abducted in April 2006 and brought to Camp Tecson and later Fort Magsaysay, where he saw the students and the Manalo brothers. He was freed in September.

Arrest warrants urged

“At long last, justice has caught up with General Palparan and his ilk,” the NUPL said in a statement. “The [DOJ] resolution sends a strong, clear and loud message to human rights violators that they cannot just get away with their inhumane acts and that there is no other place for them but behind bars.”

The NUPL said the resolution should help break “the longstanding climate of impunity, the offspring of the anti-insurgency policy of the state that has no regard for human rights and the law.”

It added its voice to Erlinda’s call for the immediate arrest of Palparan and his co-respondents.

Karapatan secretary general Jigs Clamor called on the DOJ to immediately issue a hold-departure order on Palparan et al., and on the proper courts to promptly file the case.

“The families of the missing students have long been waiting for the resolution to come out. We should not give any opportunity to Palparan to evade justice,” Clamor said.

Olalia said the DOJ was expected to file the resolution with the “appropriate court,” which in turn would determine probable cause “for the purpose of issuing arrest warrants” for the respondents.

“We hope that the process will be done with dispatch, considering that the evidence is so abundant to hold Palparan and the rest responsible,” he said.

Olalia shrugged off the DOJ’s dismissal of the rest of the charges.

“What’s important to us is not the characterization of the crime, although for practical purposes it’s important. Ultimately, what’s important to us is to hold them liable for the acts they committed, such as the [victims’] disappearance, torture, maltreatment and denial of right to counsel,” he said.

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TAGS: 2 cases of kidnapping, Department of Justice, DoJ, Jovito “The Butcher” Palparan Jr., Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, University of the Philippines (UP), UP students Sherlyn Cadapan
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