The Association of General and Flag Officers want fairness. Jovito Palparan, they say, is being unduly subjected to trial by publicity. “Let him have his day in court and defend himself against his accusers. Our justice system presumes that he is innocent until proven otherwise in a court of law.”
Calling Palparan “berdugo” or “butcher” doesn’t contribute to the search for justice, they say. “We should not forget that the real enemies are those who resort to violence and intimidation to achieve their selfish political ends. Professional soldiers like Maj. Gen. Palparan faced hardships and risks, and had put his life on the line like countless Filipino soldiers in the service of the country, starting as a junior officer in the 1970s. His courage and leadership had saved lives and protected communities. His sacrifices should be taken into account.”
Well, the presumption of innocence is an entitlement only to freedom until such time as one can be proven guilty beyond a shadow of doubt and the terms set for their punishment. It is not an entitlement to being presumed pure as the driven snow. It is not an entitlement to bail particularly when there is a preponderance of evidence of guilt. Certainly it is not an entitlement to the public suspending disbelief when the crimes cry out to the heavens for the savage and brazen way they were done, such as those the Ampatuans and Palparan are accused of.
Alongside the presumption of innocence is an age-old legal adage, which diminishes it greatly, if not invalidates it completely. That is that flight is an admission of guilt. Lest we forget, Palparan dodged the law after a case was filed against him and a warrant ordered for his arrest. That puts him in the same category as Joel and Mario Reyes, the brothers accused of masterminding the murder of Gerry Ortega. They cannot be presumed to be innocent until proven guilty while in a state of flight. Lest we forget as well, Palparan did not give himself up, he was caught. Why should we extend him every possible accommodation after all that?
Why should calling him berdugo get in the way of justice? He didn’t particularly mind being called that when he was running Bulacan and environs like a concentration camp, presuming students and peasants guilty until they could prove themselves innocent. He reveled in the notoriety, being singled out by his commander in chief, Gloria Arroyo, for promotion precisely for it.
As to his being a professional soldier, that is an insult to the rank and file of the Armed Forces. Palparan was not alone to carry out the campaign against the communists, he was alone to be charged with committing atrocities, or crimes that cannot and may not be justified by being done in the line of duty. The charges weren’t just filed by the “communists,” they were filed by government. Abducting students like Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan is not doing things in the line of duty. Making students like Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan disappear is not professional.
You want to see professional soldiers who “faced hardships and risks and put their lives on the line,” cast your gaze on people like Danilo Lim, not on Palparan. Lim in particular was one soldier who took risks and underwent sacrifices, not the least of them foregoing becoming chief of staff during Arroyo’s time (he was the most senior then), not the least of them being incarcerated. All to do his duty as a Filipino soldier and oppose Arroyo’s tyranny .
Which brings me to something that seems to have escaped notice here, which is that it’s not just Palparan who ought to face retribution for his crimes, it’s Arroyo too. It was Arroyo who unleashed Palparan, it was Arroyo who made Palparan possible.
From the start I had been saying repeatedly that Arroyo unleashed a cynical war. That war wasn’t meant to end the communist insurgency—let alone in two years’ time, which was her vow, another one of those vows she had no intention of fulfilling—it was meant to give her a new lease on life, preferably indefinitely. She declared it in 2006 amid mounting protests about her legitimacy in the wake of the revelation of the “Hello Garci” tapes.
The point of the exercise was patent. It was to give free rein to the military, particularly those of it loyal, or at least closest, to her. The better to put the fear of God and/or her not on the communists but on the oppositionists. Especially with berdugos like Palparan at the helm of it. A cynical war naturally produces cynical, and vicious, methods. A cynical war naturally produces cynical, and vicious, butchers. Protest at your own risk: That was the message the putting of Palparan at the heart of the “counterinsurgency” campaign sent to the nation.
In the end, Palparan was just a blunt instrument, the one who wielded it was Arroyo herself.
But of course she never ended the communist movement, least of all in two years’ time, to no one’s surprise. She only ended the lives of scores, if not hundreds, of activists, along with dyed-in-the-wool revolutionaries, wide-eyed idealists along with narrow-eyed ideologists. No, it’s not just Palparan who ought to pay for his crimes here.
You want to see presumption of innocence, look at Concepcion Empeño and Erlinda Cadapan, the mothers of Karen and Sherlyn. To this day, they want Palparan only to tell them where their children are, hoping as they do that their children are still alive. That is the lot of the parents of the disappeared, that is the cruelty the act of making people disappear wreaks. They are compelled by the fact of being parents not to presume Palparan guilty of murder most foul. It gives the most bizarre twists to the presumption of innocence.
Which makes Palparan look guilty of even bigger crimes.
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