Stolen: 26 June 2006
Her name is Sherlyn. She was 20 when she was abducted. The boy who saw it happen said she was screaming for help, and that a 57-year-old farmer came to her aid. The armed men forced the old man to his knees, before he was thrown into a jeep along with Sherlyn and a student named Karen. The jeep was seen parked at the military headquarters in Iba, Bulacan.
Many things are said about Sherlyn Cadapan. They say she was a member of the New People’s Army, collecting revolutionary taxes from the people of Bulacan. They say she went under the name of Ka Tanya, or maybe Ka Lisa, or Ka Sierra. The university she attended says she was a student of Sociology, and demands that she be returned out of respect for the institution. Her mother says she was pregnant when she was taken, and was planning her wedding. In the more than five years she has been gone, she has been seen in many places, or so the story goes. In an army camp, wearing a soldier’s uniform. In Bulacan, appearing among relatives escorted by armed men and women. In San Miguel, playing maidservant to army officers. Some say she is dead, and so is her friend Karen Empeño, who was abducted with her in Hagonoy, Bulacan, on June 26, 2006 at two in the morning.
Yet it is the story told by a 23-year-old farmer in 2007 that caught the attention of both the court and the international community. He said he was abducted by the Armed Forces, and was interrogated, tortured, then shoved into a cage and forced to drink his own piss. He said he was met by a man the soldiers called “grandfather.” The grandfather’s name was Jovito Palparan. The grandfather told Raymond Manalo to be good, to take his vitamins, and promised he would see his mother, who last saw him being hauled off her farm on Valentine’s day in 2005 while an armed man held a gun to her head. In his testimony, Manalo said Palparan’s instructions were to tell his mother to remember that he was watching. Manalo, almost too crippled to walk, was brought home to see his mother. Soldiers took him away again, leaving her with the warning that she would never see her son again if she continued working with activists in her case against the military.
This is the same grandfather who once spoke of his kindness to his men. First, he told me, you establish your relationship with friendly gestures. And then you now lay down your policy. Then of course they would start behaving sometimes quite indifferent because when you set a policy, when you set rules, usually there are reactions. It’s normal, because people don’t want to be tied up, you know. They don’t want to be told, you know. So there will be reactions. So you remove the threat by your gesture of being friendly. And so, it is easy for them to follow you because they don’t want to break your relationship. In that way you are inspirational. They don’t want to offend you, because you are a friend.
Manalo said he was taken to Camp Tecson, where he slept with pigs and cooked for men he said were worse. In April of 2007, he said he met a girl. She said her name was Sherlyn.
This is the story the United Nations heard in Geneva, the story Philip Alston wrote about when he talked about impunity in the country, the story the Supreme Court believed when they granted Manalo the writ of protection, the same story I heard alone late one afternoon in 2008, on the day I finally found Manalo.
I saw Sherlyn lying on a chair, he said. The chair had fallen on the floor. Her wrists were tied. One leg was propped up. She was naked.
He saw soldiers hammer her with planks of wood, like they once did to him. They electrocuted her, and beat her, and dunked her head in water. They diddled with her body and shoved sticks into her vagina and a water hose up her nose. They amused themselves with her body, poked sticks into her vagina, shoved a water hose into her nose and mouth. He said he heard her admit, screaming, that Karen was planning to write a letter, to sneak it out. He saw Karen dragged out of her cell, saw them bind her by the wrists and ankles, saw her stripped and beaten and burned with cigarettes and impaled with pieces of wood.
He washed their clothes the next day. There were chunks of blood floating in the bucket of water. Sherlyn later told him she had been raped by Palparan’s men.
Manalo escaped. Even after his testimony, no charges were filed against Palparan, although the courts granted him the Writ of Amparo and called his account both harrowing and convincing. On July 7 of this year, after five years of campaigning by the mothers of Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño, Palparan appeared before the Department of Justice to face accusations of rape, serious physical injuries, arbitrary detention, maltreatment of prisoners, grave threats, grave coercion, and torture, among other charges. In court, Sherlyn’s mother screams for Palparan to return her daughter. Manalo sits quietly, and only laughs when the former general swears to tell the whole truth.
As of this writing, a warrant is in the process of being filed against Palparan and three of his men. Prosecutors approved the other day cases of kidnapping and serious illegal detention. Charges of rape have been dropped. The DOJ says Manalo’s claim that Sherlyn has told her of rape could only be considered hearsay. It does not count the instance Manalo witnessed, that of rape by sticks and fingers and various other implements. Perhaps the DOJ has another word for it. I do not.
In spite of this, the pending arrest is a milestone – the first time that a high military official under the government of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has been charged of human rights violations. It does not mean impunity is over. Many, many cases are still waiting to be considered, and the Cadapan-Empeño disappearance is less the rule than the exception, as the case has the benefit of years of media scrutiny. The girls, after all, were students of the premier state institution, and had the added weight of continued and relentless testimony by witnesses in spite of threats to their lives.
Many things are said about Palparan. The general, say his men, is a good soldier. He is incorruptible. He is fearless. He will do the job because the job has to be done. He stands against the evils of communism. He believes it is his duty to wipe it out of government. He is inured to criticism, because he does what he believes is right. His methods may be tough, but his results are unquestionable.
His name is Jovito Palparan, darling of the Arroyo administration, former congressman, candidate for the legislature, who claims he is not responsible for the slaughter of activists and the disappearance of young women who might be called Sierra or Sherlyn or Lydia or Tanya.
He may have inspired the guilty, he says, but he never held the gun.
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