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Fear and fury

/ 12:35 AM August 22, 2014

Last Friday I was on my way back to my office when I received a text from my secretary telling me that “the mothers of Empeño and Cadapan” had dropped in with the student regent, asking to meet me.

The past week at the University of the Philippines, the names Empeño and Cadapan had become all too familiar after the fugitive general, Jovito Palparan, was arrested.

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Palparan and other military men had been indicted on Dec. 15, 2011, charged with the abduction of UP students Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan.

I braced myself, expecting to meet two very agitated women, as they had been depicted in newspaper, radio and television reports, but Concepcion Empeño and Erlinda Cadapan were very composed women, relieved that Palparan had finally been arrested, and looking forward to the trial. They were with representatives of the human rights group Karapatan.

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Long wait

It has been a long wait for the mothers and the families of Karen and Sherlyn, with several witnesses testifying in court to give a heartbreaking tale of appearances and disappearances.

Karen was a sociology major, working on her thesis.

Sherlyn was a human kinetics major, and was once a sprinter in the track and field varsity team. They were both working with farmers in Bulacan. There were witnesses who saw them—Karen, Sherlyn and a farmer Manuel Mireno—being abducted on June 26, 2006.

Another farmer, Raymond Manalo, was to testify later that he saw the two students and Mireno in safe houses, being tortured. Raymond and a brother, Reynaldo, had been abducted in February 2006, and moved from one military safe house to another before finally being able to escape, in August 2007.

Manalo testified that he saw Palparan, as well as Lt. Col. Rogelio Boac, Col. Felipe Anotado, M/Sgt. Rizal Hilario and 2nd Lt. Francis Mirabelle Samson in Fort Magsaysay and the safe house. His testimony in court was crucial, leading to the indictment of Palparan and the other military men for kidnapping and illegal detention, the Supreme Court observing that Manalo’s accounts were “clear, categorical, consistent and credible.”

It seems Karen and Sherlyn were also being moved from one place to another. Adoracion Paulino testified that in April 2007, Sherlyn, who is her daughter-in-law, came to see her, in the custody of two men and two women. The visit was clearly meant to intimidate the family. All Sherlyn could do was embrace her mother-in-law.

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Torture. Safe houses. Disappearances. These were terms I heard frequently during martial law. My activist friends would point out known safe houses right here in Metro Manila, with high walls. They always seemed quiet and peaceful. In contrast, reports of what happened within those compounds screamed out with graphic accounts of torture with names like the water cure, the San Juanico or “higa sa hangin,” where the victim is tortured while suspended in the air, the head on one chair, the feet on another, with nothing in between.

I do not want to include the stories about what was done to Karen and Sherlyn, out of deference to their families, but I must mention that Raymond Manalo did testify that he saw farmer Manuel Mireno being burned alive.

Manalo recalls being brought to three safe houses, in San Ildefonso, Bulacan, to Iba, Zambales, and finally to Bolinao, Pangasinan, reflecting the impunity of his captors and raising very serious questions about accountability on the part of civilian local government officials, and the military’s battalions and chains of command.

This whole saga has focused on two women, depicted as furious, pitted against a general, now an underdog. The Inquirer headline last Tuesday described “fear” in Palparan’s eyes. Palparan was asking not to be detained in the provincial jail because his enemies could get him there.

But I wonder how much fear there really was. Three years in hiding has consumed this once proud, even arrogant, general. He is emaciated, looking almost ill. I am sure he was anxious when arrested—but probably was relieved as well thereafter—hiding not just from the Philippine government but from many enemies made through the years, when he launched anticommunist military campaigns in various regions of the country. Wherever he was assigned as a commanding officer, reports of human rights violations would emerge.

If there has been fury in this unfolding saga, it is in Palparan, a true believer convinced he is in the right in fighting the communists, and without qualms about what methods to use in this fight. He was the party-list representative for Bantay, whose Facebook site describes themselves as a “union of pro-democracy advocates committed to save Philippine Republic against communist terrorism.”

I know many good military men, but worry about the likes of fanatics in the mold of Palparan in their ranks, driven by both fear and fury. A fear of communism that makes them see a communist in anyone who works with farmers or workers.  That fear is stoked by fury. The problem is that when the military’s true believers see red, they then believe they can do anything to the suspects, in the name of democracy, maybe even in the name of God. I recall conversations with young military men in the mountains, who believed that all student activists, especially from UP, are godless.

Human rights violations are always intentional, driven by a hatred in people reduced to becoming nonhumans, and meant to strike fear into the hearts of the “enemy.” But the military men who believe in such tactics need to learn that the violations can backfire. In a media interview, Manalo said that all his fears had been spent when he was under the custody of Palparan.

After Palparan was arrested I was asked by the university union, and the student regent, if they could have a bonfire to mark his arrest. I had to say no. What would prevent a rightist group from asking for a similar celebration if a New People’s Army commander were arrested?

They pushed through anyway and I asked our police to keep their distance. I also requested the ralliers to clean up afterwards, which they did.

I can understand the anger, and impatience, of the mothers, built up over eight years. Palparan, one of the mothers told me during our meeting, could have saved himself so much trouble by producing the two students shortly after the abduction.

I learned from newspaper accounts that Sherlyn had a son, who I estimate would now be 10 years old.

I assured the mothers and Karapatan that UP would monitor this trial, and invited them to help educate our students about their rights, what to do in case they are harassed, or when they see other people’s rights being violated.

Students have the right to learn about social realities, and social justice, without being held hostage by fear and fury.

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TAGS: Jovito Palparan, Karapatan, Karen Empeno, Manuel Mireno, martial law, Raymond Manalo, Sherlyn
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