No passing of time or surging adversity can make the families of Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño and human rights defenders forget that fateful morning of June 26, 2006, when the two university students were forcibly taken by military men and herded like helpless sheep to the darkest depths where evil men perform unimaginable barbaric cruelties.
With abundant proof overpowering any rational doubt, with tenacious and unfaltering witnesses and with intense public scrutiny, the abduction and illegal detention of Karen and Sherlyn have become one of the country’s strongest countersuits against human rights violators from the stormy presidency and counterinsurgency programs of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. After months of tedious preliminary investigation, a local court took cognizance of the criminal charges and issued arrest warrants in December 2011.
But even as his coaccused are now facing trial and the dastardly crime painfully recounted by one brave witness after the other, the notorious, disgrace-to-the-military coward retired general Jovito Palparan and his sidekick have evaded prosecution by disappearing altogether, thus sacrificing their dignity.
And after the government with all its powers and resources failed—or refused—to successfully pursue, locate and arrest “The Butcher,” the burden now falls upon the civilian population to flick a glimmer of hope back into what the victims see as a law enforcement and justice system they cannot depend on.
The Cadapan and Empeño families, together with their support groups from various human rights organizations, are using this time of painful uncertainty to indict, not only the perpetrators of the crimes against their young daughters, but those human rights violators whose systematic abuses are being repeated until this time.
The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, supported by international groups such as the UN-accredited International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL) and the progressive International Association of People’s Lawyers, is taking on the legal battle to compel the military to release Sherlyn and Karen, and to jail Palparan. In a recent resolution by its governing bureau, the IADL said that the continuing failure to hold Palparan demonstrates the continuing impunity from extrajudicial killings, disappearances, torture and other human rights violations.
We, as lawyers, can do only so much as revealed by the limits of how the law protects—and imperils—the people. Papers and pleadings, like old photographs, merely draw out intangible arguments, theories and memories. The fact is, when law barely serves justice, it would simply be impossible to carry on believing that the law can singularly bring back Sherlyn and Karen. Or the rest of those still missing to this day.
We call on all those left behind by all desaparecidos, extrajudicially killed and victims of torture and other human rights abuses to channel our energies toward making government and the violators accountable, and our society safer, better and decent. For together, even as our bodies break at times, we can forge a resolute spirit that grows not weary in time, just ever more patient, more intense, more brave and all the wiser.
—EDRE U. OLALIA,
National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers,