Jovito Palparan may be in hiding, but the cases connecting him to a series of abductions and disappearances when he was an Army officer are progressing. The retired major general famously dubbed the “Butcher” by activists has made himself scarce, doubtless with the aid of powerful friends, since late last year when a judge ordered him arrested for the 2006 abduction and disappearance of University of the Philippines students Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan.
The latest development in the trial of the case at the Malolos Regional Trial Court has implicated soldiers under Palparan when he headed the Army’s 7th Infantry Division in Central Luzon, when the abductions took place. Wilfredo Ramos, a fisherman, told the court that he saw S/Sgt. Edgardo Osorio among the men who barged into a neighbor’s house in Purok 6, Barangay San Miguel, in Hagonoy, Bulacan, on June 26, 2006. Ramos said that Empeño and Cadapan were guests in that house, and that he saw the men blindfold the two women before dragging them into a waiting vehicle. He also said Osorio and the others arrested Manuel Merino, a farmer who was assisting the two students in their research on the conditions of farmers in the area.
Ramos said the armed men saw him and his father peeping from their window, and went to their house. He said they were tied up but his mother spoke to Osorio and “urged him not to drag us along, and he relented.” Jose Cruz, Osorio’s lawyer, was later quoted as saying that Ramos was “biased” and “a member of activist groups.” But Ramos was only 14 in 2006!
The witness’ testimony is a breakthrough because it credibly establishes Osorio’s participation in the abduction, which prosecutors say was ordered by Palparan. It also dovetails with the 2007 testimony of farmer Raymond Manalo before the Court of Appeals that he first saw the two students at Camp Tecson in Bulacan in September 2006; he said it was in that camp where he, the students, and Merino were all tortured. Manalo, who escaped detention in August 2007, said he saw what was done to Cadapan but only heard Empeño’s screams, and that he saw Merino being set on fire. He also said he last saw the students in June 2007 in Limay, Bataan, where they had been taken.
Osorio, who was assigned to the Army’s 24th Intelligence and Security Group in Fort Bonifacio, and Lt. Col. Felipe Anotado are charged with serious illegal detention. Both are in custody, having surrendered to authorities in Camp Aguinaldo. While Palparan and another soldier, M/Sgt. Rizal Hilario, are also thus charged, they remain at large. As a result, Judge Teodora Gonzales has ruled that only the charge against Osorio and Anotado would be heard because Palparan and Hilario could not be tried in absentia.
Palparan has justified his evading arrest by protesting his “persecution.” But what to make of him and Hilario but that they show their true colors by skulking in their hiding places and refusing to face the music? The bereaved parents say it like it is: “Palparan should be man enough to face up to his sins,” said Sherlyn Cadapan’s mother; “If you’re listening now, Jovito Palparan, you’re a coward,” said Karen Empeño’s father.
The task now is to make the charges stick against Palparan and the rest. This means a more determined prosecution by the Department of Justice. Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has goaded her prosecutors to deliver results for the trial. But the more problematic matter is another agency under De Lima’s supervision, the Bureau of Immigration, which has lately shown an appalling laxity in blocking the flight of fugitives such as former Palawan Gov. Joel Reyes and his brother, Coron Mayor Mario Reyes Jr., both wanted for the 2011 murder of environmentalist-broadcaster Gerry Ortega in Palawan.
Palparan was last seen in December 2011, when he tried to leave the country through the Clark International Airport in Pampanga. The government has since offered a P2-million reward for his head, to no avail. Last April, when the Reyes brothers managed to get away despite being on the BI hold-order list, De Lima did not sound optimistic about tracking down Palparan. “I regret to report to you that today we no longer have information about his possible whereabouts,” she said. “In other words, to be honest, we don’t know exactly where he is now.”
The candor is appreciated, but justice requires nothing less than the “Butcher” being brought to the bar of justice.