The kidnap case of 2 UP students vs Palparan et al.
Nine years ago, University of the Philippines students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño disappeared.
Last year, retired Army Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan and three soldiers were charged with kidnapping and illegal detention at Malolos Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 14 over the disappearance of the two human-rights activists.
One of the soldiers remains on the loose. There have been hearings on the case, but how much longer the parents of the two students and the public have to wait before the court hands down a decision is unknown.
What is known is the account of witnesses that they have seen the abduction and torture of Cadapan and Empeño.
According to the witnesses, armed men, on June 26, 2006, barged into the rented house of Cadapan and Empeño in Purok 6, Barangay San Miguel in Hagonoy, Bulacan province, and seized the two students.
A farmer identified as Manuel Merino was also taken when he tried to help Cadapan and Empeño.
The three were then forced to board a “stainless” jeep with license plate No. RTF 597.
They were never seen again.
‘The Butcher’ tried to flee
It took some time to bring the case to court. After retiring from the military, Palparan, called “The Butcher” by human rights activists because of the killings of rights advocates wherever he was assigned, served in the House of Representatives as a nominee of the Bantay party-list from 2004 to 2009.
After his term in the House, the case against him went up to the Malolos court and he was indicted in December 2011. He tried to flee to Singapore but was stopped from boarding the plane and turned back.
Palparan went into hiding and became one of five high-profile fugitives for whose arrest the government offered millions of pesos in rewards. President Benigno Aquino III put a P2-million price on his head.
After two years on the lam, Palparan was arrested not in some remote village in the country but in an apartment above a bakery shop on Teresa Street in Santa Mesa, Manila, last year.
The two other suspects in the case, Lt. Col. Felipe Anotado and S/Sgt. Edgardo Osorio, surrendered on Dec. 20, 2011, a day after a court issued warrants for their arrest.
Parents not losing hope
Anotado, Osorio and Palparan are detained at the Philippine Army Custodial Center in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City.
The fourth suspect, M/Sgt. Rizal Hilario, remains at large. Records showed that he has been absent without leave from the service since 2008.
Cadapan, who was 28 then and believed pregnant, was a human kinetics student and a community organizer for the farmers’ group Alyansang Magbubukid ng Bulacan. Empeño, then 22, was a graduating sociology student studying the conditions of Bulacan farmers for her thesis.
Nine years after their disappearance, their parents have not given up hope that they are still alive and just being held in a secret military jail.
“As long as there is no evidence of her death, I will continue to believe that she is still alive,” Concepcion Empeño, Karen’s mother, said in a telephone interview.
“They (the accused) got my daughter alive so they should return her alive,” Erlinda Cadapan, Sherlyn’s mother, said in a separate telephone interview.
At the time of the alleged abductions, Palparan was the commander of the Army’s 7th Infantry Division based in Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija province, where Anotado and Hilario were also assigned. Osorio was assigned to the 24th Intelligence and Security Group in Fort Bonifacio.
Presiding Judge Teodora Gonzales of the Malolos RTC is handling the cases against Palparan, Anotado and Osorio.
Palparan bail petition
According to the case summary sent to the Inquirer by Julian Oliva, lead lawyer of the families of the missing students, hearings have started for the prosecution to present evidence in opposition to Palparan’s bail petition.
“The prosecution presented all over again its witnesses and evidence, but is about to wind up its presentation of evidence on the petition for bail by General Palparan,” the summary said.
Palparan can present evidence in his defense before the prosecution submits the petition for resolution, the summary added. Once a decision is handed down, the court can proceed to try the main case against Palparan.
Anotado and Osorio have been on trial since 2012. The Malolos RTC denied their bail petitions in July 2013.
According to the same case summary, the defense was able to present only Anotado and Osorio, prompting the court to stop the presentation of more evidence.
“As of August 2014, before the arrest of General Palparan, there was already a standing order from the court declaring the accused Colonel Anotado and Sergeant Osorio to have waived their right to present further evidence,” the summary said.
Motion for reconsideration
Anotado and Osorio filed a motion for reconsideration. It was granted, allowing both to present additional evidence.
The next hearings for all the accused have been scheduled for Aug. 11.
“I hope there will be no further delays,” Concepcion Empeño, a public school principal in Masinloc, Zambales province, said.
The hearings were initially slated for next month but were moved to August because the court would conduct an inventory of cases, Concepcion said.
Erlinda Cadapan complained that the hearings were “slow,” but expressed confidence in the prosecution’s case.
“We have submitted strong and credible evidence. Now it is up to the court to render a decision,” Erlinda said.
Witness to abduction
At the resumption of the hearings on Palparan’s case on May 25, fisherman Wilfredo Ramos said that he saw Cadapan and Empeño taken from a house and dragged into a vehicle in their home village of San Miguel in Hagonoy by Osorio, who also tied him and his father.
Ramos, a witness who testified in court with the same narrative in 2012, said he and his father were later freed and did not see the students in detention.
Human rights groups condemned the abduction of the two students. On July 17, 2006, Concepcion Empeño and Erlinda Cadapan brought a petition for habeas corpus in the Supreme Court, asking the tribunal to compel the military to produce their daughters in court.
The respondents were Palparan, Lt. Francis Mirabelle Samson, Romeo Tolentino, Lt. Col. Rogelio Boac and Arnel Enriquez.
The petitioners claimed that Palparan hinted about their daughters’ arrests in an interview on ANC. But the military officials denied holding the students.
In January 2007, a fact-finding team led by retired Supreme Court Justice Jose Melo recommended that Palparan be held responsible for the extrajudicial killings in his area during his tour of duty.
The panel, which was formed two months after the abduction of the UP students, was tasked to look into extrajudicial killings following a local and international clamor.
Human rights groups in Central Luzon have counted more than 700 incidents of human rights violations in the less than two years that Palparan was assigned to the region.
Writ of amparo
On Oct. 24, 2007, Concepcion Empeño and Erlinda Cadapan sought a writ of amparo from the Supreme Court for their daughters.
The next day, the court issued the writ and ordered the Court of Appeals to hear the petition.
Under the writ, the military or the police cannot simply deny involvement in abductions or extrajudicial killings but must also prove they are not involved and, if ordered by the court, open their jails for inspection.
The military opposed the requests and continue to deny knowledge of the abductions.
On Dec. 18, 2007, farmer Raymond Manalo testified in the appellate court that he first saw the two students at Camp Tecson in Bulacan in September 2006.
He said he saw Cadapan being waterboarded and subjected to electric shocks, and Merino being burned.
Manalo said he escaped from detention in a military safe house in Pangasinan province with his brother Reynaldo, also a farmer, on Aug. 13, 2007, while their guards were binge drinking.
On Sept. 17, 2008, the appellate court, citing Manalo’s “clear, consistent and convincing” testimony, ordered the military to free the two students and Merino. The military did not obey the order.
But the respondents were cleared of contempt by the appellate court in March the following year. The court ruled that “there is nothing in the rules on the writ of amparo that states that a decision rendered is immediately executory.”
On May 4, 2011, the mothers of Empeño and Cadapan filed criminal charges, including torture and rape, against Palparan in the Department of Justice (DOJ).
The other offenses alleged in the complaint were serious physical injuries, arbitrary detention, maltreatment of prisoners, grave threats and coercion.
In December 2011, the DOJ approved the kidnapping and serious illegal detention charges against Palparan, Osorio, Anotado and Hilario. The other soldiers tagged in the case were cleared.
In January 2012, lawyer Jesus Santos, who represents Palparan, told the Malolos RTC that he was informed that the missing students were still alive.
But Judge Gonzales questioned the authority of Santos to represent Palparan and ruled that the information he offered, unless backed by proof, could not be accepted by the court.
On April 23, 2012, Osorio and Anotado pleaded not guilty during their arraignment.
The parents of the missing students took the witness stand in separate hearings and expressed their grief.
On May 11, Concepcion Empeño said in the hearing that Palparan should tell the truth that he knew Karen and Sherlyn for everyone’s peace of mind.
At a hearing on May 18, Erlinda Cadapan said she would not agree to a settlement.
“No amount of money, even millions of pesos, can pay for my daughter’s life. I went to court so I could get her back alive and healthy,” Cadapan said.
Sources: Inquirer Archives