What Jollibee saw
On Dec. 20, 2011, five years after University of the Philippines students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño were abducted from Hagonoy, Bulacan, the Bulacan courts released a warrant for the arrest of retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr. and three other officers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. They were charged with two counts of abduction and serious illegal detention. It is the first time in recent history that officers of the AFP are being hunted down for human rights violations.
Of the witnesses who have stepped forward to point a finger at the military, the youngest is a Bulacan native previously referred to as Jollibee. He was 14 at the time of the abduction, and testified to the abduction of Cadapan and Empeño in spite of his own father’s refusal to stand by his statements.
Late in 2011, at the resumption of the Palparan et al. hearings, the boy called Jollibee pointed a finger at a man who appeared in court as Palparan’s bodyguard. Palparan claimed it was the first time he had met the man. After much reluctance, the AFP introduced him to the court as Staff Sgt. Edgardo Osorio. He is now in custody, along with Lt. Col. Felipe G. Anotado.
Almost three months after warrants for their arrest were released, Palparan and retired Master Sgt. Rizal Hilario are still at large. Jollibee, born Wilfredo Ramos Jr., is now 19 years old, and is happy to inform the gentlemen who once called him a liar that he is still waiting.
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This is Jollibee’s account as told to Patricia Evangelista.
They call me Jollibee, because my mother had me 19 years ago in the first Jollibee fast food restaurant opened in Bulacan.
At 2 in the morning of June 25, 2006, about 15 men from the AFP arrived at our village. They were in full uniform. They knocked on our door. They said if we didn’t let them in they would shoot us down. My father got scared. He opened the door fast, but they beat him anyway and shoved him to the ground. They hit him, behind the neck, and tied him down.
I was 14 when it happened. The girls were staying with us, researching the farmers in Hagonoy. As far as I know they were not members of the New People’s Army. I don’t think they were rebels. Activists, maybe. I knew them for years. They were almost family.
I saw the men bind my father. I went down the stairs. They grabbed me and hit me and shoved me down the hallway and tied me up, too. That’s when I heard the girls screaming for help. They were being forced out of our house and beaten. One of the farmers who lived with us, Manuel Merino, ran out to help Karen and Sherlyn. He was worried about them. They took him, too.
I don’t know how old he was. Maybe in his 70s. The girls kept screaming while they were being dragged away. They kept shouting for help, and they were calling for their mothers.
Hagonoy was a quiet place before the abductions. When they took the girls they started deploying more militia. They put up outposts, manned them with young people from my village. It was like the military declared martial law. They did whatever they wanted. They’d stop you on the road, demand your ID or your community tax certificate, and if you didn’t have it that’s when they harass you. That’s when they beat you.
I decided to testify. Sherlyn and Karen are like family to us. I did not want that to have meant nothing. When we were in the Court of Appeals, my father refused to identify his signature on our joint affidavit. He was afraid. Where we lived, they knew us as wanted men. They posted my picture and my father’s photo as men at large. They said we hid NPAs and supported NPAs and that we kept arms for the NPAs. I testified, anyway. I was not afraid, just nervous. I didn’t know what could happen to us. I wanted the case to end. I never thought it would take five years.
It was in the last couple of years that I said I wanted to give up. I was happy already. I had a family of my own. I never thought of the case much, didn’t think of the girls. Then they called us back again to court.
There was one hearing I didn’t want to attend. I told Karapatan, the group that’s helping the families of Karen and Sherlyn, that I didn’t want to go. We were outside the court gates and I wanted to stay outside. Our lawyer said that all the respondents would be present this time. He said it was important I came.
When I went in, that’s when I saw him. He was dressed in a blue shirt and wearing shades. I felt like crying, from all the anger and all the fear. It was like I was 14 again. He was one of the men who took Karen and Sherlyn, and he was the man who had beaten us and tied us down. It’s been five years but it all came back and I was sure.
I told my lawyer. The court didn’t allow us to point him out. They said we had to file officially first. I went out. Locked myself in the bathroom. I couldn’t go back in. I was scared, but angry, too. I was scared but not terribly, because I was mad, and I wanted to say, I am here, I am not backing down, I will finish the case I started. I wanted them to pay for what they did to the girls and to everyone else they tortured.
I’m happy now. I want Palparan in jail. I want them to pay. Every one of them.
If you ask me what I want to be, if ever I graduate, I want to be a soldier. I saw a lot of the sh-t the soldiers pulled. I want to show people that soldiers could do better. I don’t want a high position. I’m not that sort. I don’t want to be a hero. I want to be a soldier who knows right and wrong. When a soldier swears his allegiance to the country, he promises to be a man that people can run to in times of trouble. This is not what our soldiers did. I want to be the soldier who will help without demanding pay or support. I want to be an example of what makes a good soldier.
Whether we win or lose the case, I will not give up my dream to become a soldier. I admit I’ve met many people who are still members of the New People’s Amy. If people ask me, I can explain why those people decided to rebel. But I’m not one of them. I like my dream better. It’s true they fight for the right, but they’re still rebels, they still violate the law. If I become a soldier, and I’m in the middle of a clash between the military and the rebels, I’ll still stand by my principles as a soldier, and they can stand by theirs.
Maybe Palparan has forgotten who I am. General, my name is Jollibee. I am waiting. We’re all waiting.
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