Lawyers question exclusion of Arroyo from raps over abduction of 2 UP students, farmer
MANILA, Philippines—Human rights lawyers helping the families of missing student activists Karen Empeno and Sherlyn Cadapan have hailed the Supreme Court decision ordering the military to release them, saying the ruling has strengthened the criminal complaint filed by their families against retired general Jovito Palparan and other military officials at the Department of Justice.
However, the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) also lamented the exclusion of former President and now Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her former top generals from those identified by the high tribunal as answerable for the disappearance of Cadapan and Empeno, as well as farmer Manuel Merino five years ago.
In a statement, NUPL secretary general Edre Olalia said that Arroyo was not impleaded in the case “simply based on command responsibility.”
“The assertion of NUPL is that Mrs. Arroyo personally knew, and could have prevented the disappearance of Karen and Sherlyn because of her administration’s policy Oplan Bantay Laya. She and her generals tacitly knew, approved, tolerated, supervised, managed, induced and/or ordered the operations, which resulted in the disappearance of hundreds of civilians,” Olalia said.
NUPL asserts that Oplan Bantay Laya, the past administration’s counter-insurgency program, is the framework of the huge number of extra judicial killings, enforced disappearances and other unsolved human rights violations.
“The disappearance and torture of Karen, Sherlyn and Manuel were human rights violations perpetrated by foot soldiers and policemen under Arroyo’s aggressive counter-insurgency policy. We do not implead Arroyo simply based on command responsibility,” said Olalia.
Empeno and Capadan were University of the Philippines students who were abducted on June 27, 2006 in Hagonoy, Bulacan while Merino was taken along when he tried to help the two women.
Nothing has been heard from them since but another farmer, Raymond Manalo, who had escaped from military detention, had said in court that he was detained along with the three desaparecidos in an Army detachment in Limay, Bataan.
In a recent decision, the Supreme Court ordered the military to immediately release Empeno, Cadapan, and Merino, upholding a 2008 appellate court ruling.
The high tribunal also said that Palparan and five other military officials were apparently responsible for their disappearance.
The NUPL was optimistic, however, that the Supreme Court’s order bolstered the criminal complaint the mothers of Empeno and Cadapan filed at the Department of Justice last May.
The complaint against Palparan and the other military Army officials and personnel were for arbitrary detention, serious physical injuries, rape, torture, and violation of the law on the rights of prisoners.
“By pointing to them as the persons liable for the disappearance of the two students, the Court itself gave credence to the charge of arbitrary detention of the two students against Palparan et al. The SC thus submitted ‘probable cause’ in the criminal case against the accused,” said NUPL assistant secretary general for legal services Atty. Ephraim Cortez.
The NUPL defines probable cause as the “standard by which a person may be arrested.”
“It means that the facts or evidence point to a particular person who committed a specific crime,” the group said in its statement.
In a press conference, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima agreed with NUPL that the Supreme Court decision could help in the preliminary investigation of the complaint.
“It could probably help. I have not seen the decision yet, but I think part of the dispositions of the Supreme Court is to refer it to us. There’s already a complaint so whatever findings submitted to the Supreme Court may be supplemental (to the preliminary investigation),” De Lima said.
The justice secretary has formed a panel to conduct the preliminary investigation for the Empeno-Cadapan complaint against Palparan et al.
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