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‘Time for President Aquino to step in’

Aquino urged to compel military to free missing activists

President Benigno Aquino III should now step in and order the Armed Forces of the Philippines to release University of the Philippines students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño and Bulacan farmer Manuel Merino, Edita Burgos said on Wednesday.

As commander in chief, Mr. Aquino has the power to compel the AFP to comply with the Supreme Court’s order to immediately release the three missing activists, said Burgos, whose son Jonas, also remains missing.

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Burgos said the President should “take up the cudgels” for the disappeared whose families she said had no other recourse if the military defied the SC order.

“It’s the correct, right thing to do for us to know the truth. I have faith in the President. He has a Christian heart. He will do what is right,” she said in an interview by phone.

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The Supreme Court recently found retired Army Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr. and five other military personnel liable for the abduction and detention of Cadapan, Empeño and Merino and ordered the AFP to immediately release the missing activists.

But the military insisted it was not keeping them in its custody.

“Who will we release when the three are not in our custody?” Army spokesperson Col. Antonio Parlade Jr. said Tuesday.

The two UP students, along with Merino, were reportedly forcibly taken by armed men believed to be members of the military from the farmer’s house in Hagonoy, Bulacan, on June 26, 2006.

Summoned
On Wednesday, the Department of Justice summoned Palparan and six other military officials to appear in the preliminary investigation on the criminal case filed on May 4 against them by Concepcion Empeño and Linda Cadapan, the mothers of the missing UP students.

Apart from Palparan, also ordered by the DoJ to attend the scheduled hearing on July 8 were Lt. Col. Felipe Anotado, Lt. Col. Rogelio Boac, Lt. Francis Mirabelle Samson, Arnel Enriquez and M/Sgt. Rizal Hilario.

The mothers of the two UP students have accused the military officials of rape, serious physical injuries, arbitrary detention, maltreatment of prisoners, grave threats and grave coercion.

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Their complaint was based on the testimony of farmer Raymond Manalo who claimed that he saw Empeño, Cadapan and Merino in September 2006 while they were all detained inside Camp Tecson in Bulacan.

Credible witness

The Court of Appeals found Manalo’s statement credible and granted the writ of amparo filed by the missing activists’ families in 2008.

Palparan and the AFP have repeatedly denied accusations that Empeño and Cadapan were in their custody and that they had a hand in their sudden disappearance.

Burgos, widow of the late press freedom icon Jose “Joe” Burgos Jr., lauded the SC for its order on the three missing activists, but conceded they could not rejoice completely.

“I’m very happy. I thank God for the ruling. But there’s also a reality check because we know the Armed Forces will not follow the order of the Supreme Court,” she said. “What will the Supreme Court do now? Will they slap contempt charges against the military?”

The Burgos family is awaiting the high court ruling on its petition for the issuance of a writ of amparo. It has recently filed criminal charges against military officials involved in the April 28, 2007 abduction of Jonas from the Ever Gotesco mall in Quezon City.

‘Kinse’ for soldiers

Army Maj. Harry Baliaga was implicated in the abduction.

The AFP said Baliaga would appear before any criminal investigation assisted by a military lawyer.

Meanwhile, the AFP has required soldiers to watch films depicting human rights violations.

The AFP said it hosted the special screening of “Kinse” on Wednesday night at the AFP Theater inside Camp Aguinaldo to underscore its human-rights advocacy under the new internal peace and security plan Bayanihan under the Aquino administration.

The 15 short films depict rights abuses in real life involving among others, indigenous people, children, gays, women, workers and the media.

The film series is a joint project of the ABS-CBN News Channel, the Commission on Human Rights and the Embassy of Netherlands.

“We believe that ‘Kinse’ is a very effective way to bring human rights issues to the people as well as to our troops as we continuously seek the propagation of our advocacy inculcated within our IPSP Bayanihan,” Col. Domingo Tutaan Jr., head of the newly established AFP Human Rights Office, said. With Dona Z. Pazzibugan

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TAGS: AFP Human Rights Office, Edita Burgos, Jonas Burgos, Jovito Palparan Jr., Karen Empeño, Kinse, Manuel Merino, Military, missing activists, President Benigno Aquino III, Sherlyn Cadapan, short films, UP student activists
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