It took 12 years before justice caught up with Jovito Palparan — but catch up it did.
On Monday, a Malolos Regional Trial Court sentenced the former major general, 68, to life imprisonment for the kidnapping and illegal detention of two University of the Philippines students in 2006.
His associates, former lieutenant colonel Felipe Anotado and former staff sergeant Edgardo Osorio, were also sentenced to reclusion perpetua, or 20 years and one day to 40 years imprisonment. They were ordered to pay P100,000 for civil indemnity and P200,000 for moral damages for each count.
The conviction is a small but vital victory in a dreary political landscape that has seen a sustained and systematic assault on human rights and the rise of extrajudicial killings.
It is all the more consequential because Palparan’s reign as a powerful, much-feared general during the administration of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was a direct precursor to the climate of impunity now stalking the land.
“The Butcher,” as he was called, gained notoriety for his aggressive anti-insurgency campaign; witnesses said he ordered the rape, murder and torture of suspected communist rebels. He once proudly boasted in an interview that he did not commit the killings, but merely “inspired” the triggermen.
While his military peers hailed his leadership, the United Nations, the Human Rights Watch and other observers watched with alarm the routine rise in the murders of activists and alleged communists wherever he served as commanding general of the military’s Seventh Infantry Division — from Mindoro to Samar to Central Luzon between 2005 and 2006.
In 2007, the Melo Commission, which Arroyo had created to probe these killings, recommended an investigation on Palparan. No action was taken.
Instead, Palparan was not only promoted twice within a short span, he was also lionized by Arroyo in her 2006 State of the Nation Address: “Hindi siya aatras hanggang makawala sa gabi ng kilabot ang mga pamayanan at makaahon sa bukang-liwayway ng hustisya at kalayaan (He won’t stop until the communities are free from the night of terror and awaken to the dawning of peace).”
For a while, it looked like Palparan could literally get away with murder.
In 2007, a year after he retired from military service, he won a seat in Congress as Bantay party-list representative. (He also ran, but lost, in the 2016 senatorial elections.)
But in 2011, under the Aquino administration, he went into hiding after an arrest warrant was issued over the enforced disappearances of UP students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño.
With a P2-million bounty on his head, the supposedly fearless general became one of the country’s most wanted men; he was finally arrested in Santa Mesa, Manila, in 2014.
Judge Alexander Tamayo’s ruling against Palparan cited the damning eyewitness account of farmer Raymond Manalo, for “being replete with details that could not have been simply concocted.”
Manalo, who was abducted in 2006, testified that he saw Palparan twice while in detention, and described in harrowing detail how Cadapan and Empeño were tortured and sexually molested. The whereabouts of the two women remain unknown. Erlinda Cadapan, mother of Sherlyn, has not given up hope that her daughter is still alive.
Progressive groups rightly hailed Tamayo’s decision as a rare moment of accountability against a once-all-powerful state agent who had reveled in his ruthless reputation. Palparan “is probably the highest-ranking military officer [to] ever been criminally convicted for what are essentially human rights violations in the Philippines,” said Edre Olalia of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, which acted as private prosecutors in
The possibility of spending the rest of his life at the maximum security compound of the New Bilibid Prison has apparently unnerved Palparan, who, after the verdict, said he is “not prepared” for a life behind bars.
His imprisonment will not bring back Cadapan, Empeño and the many others who died by his brutal orders. But his conviction stands as a ringing affirmation of the moral certainty that, contrary to current official rhetoric, human rights matter, and their violation carries grave consequences that will haunt the violators long after they’ve ceased being in power.
Whether it takes 12 years or a lifetime, the hour of reckoning will come.
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