Inept or just unwilling?
The Armed Forces of the Philippines, sounding aggrieved, recently challenged Human Rights Watch to name the military personnel the rights group has alleged are sheltering and coddling retired Army Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan, who has not been seen since Dec. 19, 2011. On that day, while attempting to flee the country via the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport at Clark Freeport, Palparan was prevented by immigration personnel from leaving on the strength of a hold-departure order. It wasn’t enough, though, to prevent the slippery general from fleeing. Without a warrant of arrest—which was issued only on the afternoon of that day in connection with the charges of kidnapping and serious illegal detention brought against him for the disappearance of University of the Philippines students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño in 2006—Palparan had time to leave the airport, decry his lot in interviews with news organizations, move around and apparently plan his disappearing act. A day later, he had vanished.
It’s been over six weeks, and Palparan now carries a P1-million bounty on his head, but he remains at large and both the AFP and the Philippine National Police seem nowhere near to apprehending him. Every day that he manages to evade capture chips away at the perceived capabilities of the government to hunt down and bring to justice fugitives like him who, unlike destitute and small-time crooks, can apparently bank on reserves of political power and influence to shield them from criminal prosecution. In particular, Palparan’s seeming ease in running rings around his pursuers is a black mark on the organization he was once an officer of, and that, incidentally, has hundreds of millions of non-audited funds at its disposal for so-called military intelligence operations.
The AFP simply has it backwards. It is not the duty of a civic organization like Human Rights Watch to answer for its publicly aired suspicion that certain members of the military might be aiding and abetting Palparan as he continues to defy the law. The rights watchdog is simply voicing what much of the public has come to believe—that the only way the former general has eluded arrest this far is because powerful people with connections and means have stepped in to lend him a hand. After his retirement from active duty, Palparan had reinvented himself as a party-list representative in Congress, but that stint has been brief and inconsequential compared to the lifetime he had spent in the military hierarchy, where he rose to become a much-feared commander. It’s not farfetched to assume that, in his hour of need, he’d run for succor to sympathetic members of the organization that, lest we forget, had stoutly and consistently defended him while he earned the tag of “The Butcher”—and proudly at that—for his ruthless campaign against activists and government critics, especially during the reviled administration of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Civic watchdogs and plain citizens alike are thus right to take the AFP to task for its inability to produce Palparan and haul him before the court. At this point, the onus is on the Aquino administration and its law enforcers to explain why, despite their vast resources and presumably functioning intelligence apparatus, the warrant of arrest against the rogue former general is still unserved. And if the military thinks it can fob off such continuing embarrassment with yet another meaningless pro-forma statement (“The Army, as a professional organization, respects the rule of law and our justice system. We practice transparency and accountability in our organization… If anyone can give the names of these alleged Palparan coddlers, we will promptly impose disciplinary actions and let them face criminal cases that will be filed against them.”), it should think again.
The longer Palparan remains scot-free, the more public suspicion will harden that his brothers in uniform are in fact not unable, but simply unwilling, to turn him in.