CRIES FOR JUSTICE PURSUE PALPARAN
When he retired and after his appointment to the National Security Council fell through because of widespread opposition, Palparan has evaded media attention –- in contrast to his frequently hogging the headlines during his days in military service. He must have thought that by doing so, he could escape responsibility for the long lists of human rights abuses in his areas of assignment. Unfortunately for him, even in retirement, the cries for justice of his victims continue to pursue him.
BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
Shortly before he retired from the Philippine Army on Sept. 11, 2006, Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan, Jr. made statements to the effect that he would still want to participate in the government’s counter-“insurgency” program.
He was to be given a post at the National Security Council (NSC) after his retirement from the Army, but this did not push through because of widespread opposition. Davao Rep. Prospero Nograles was reported to have taken him in as a security consultant, but both he and Nograles have denied this. Early this year he was involved in armed takeovers of a mining site and a port in Bulacan and Zambales, respectively. Lately he has been managing a jathropa plantation located on part of the Fort Magsaysay Military Reservation (FMMR) –- the same camp where he served his last assignment, as commanding officer of the Army’s 7th Infantry Division.
Through all these, Palparan has evaded media attention –- in contrast to his frequently hogging the headlines during his days in military service. He must have thought that by doing so, he could escape responsibility for the long lists of human rights abuses in his areas of assignment.
Unfortunately for him, even in retirement, the cries for justice of his victims continue to pursue him.
The Supreme Court, in a ruling penned by Chief Justice Reynato Puno, recently upheld an earlier Court of Appeals decision linking Palparan to the abduction of brothers Raymond and Reynaldo Manalo, and found “convincing” Raymond’s accounts of how they were tortured by their abductors.
The Court of Appeals had ruled based on an Oct. 24, 2007 petition by the Manalo brothers for a writ of amparo.
The Manalo brothers were abducted by soldiers on Feb. 14, 2006 in San Ildefonso, Bulacan. According to Raymond, they were first brought to Fort Magsaysay. They were subsequently transferred to Camp Tecson in San Miguel Bulacan, and then to a safehouse in Zambales, before being brought to the headquarters of the 24th Infantry Battalion in Limay, Bataan. The last place they were kept in custody was a safehouse in Pangasinan, from where they escaped on Aug. 13, 2007.
“Habang nakakulong ako, kinakausap ako ni Gen. Jovito Palparan. Nakita ko na si General Palparan. dati sa telebisyon kaya ko siya nakilala at doon sinabi sa akin ni Palparan na sabihan ko sina nanay na huwag nang sumali sa mga rally ng mga grupong mga (karapatang) tao at huwag nang dumalo sa mga hearing sa Camp Tecson at Limay, Bataan (While I was detained, Gen. Jovito Palparan was talking to me. I have seen General Palparan on television, that’s how I knew it was him. Palparan told me to warn my mother against joining human rights rallies and that they should no longer attend the hearings at Camp Tecson and Limay, Bataan),” Raymond said.
Raymond also said in his account that he saw soldiers burning 54-year-old farmer Manuel Merino to death and that he saw them torture other detained activists –- including University of the Philippines (UP) students Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan, who were abducted together with Merino in Hagonoy, Bulacan on June 26, 2006 and remain missing to this day.
Palparan is haunted by his past even in retirement. And expectedly so, considering the kind of past that he has.
Trail of blood
His first assignment, as a 2nd lieutenant with the 24th Infantry Battalion stationed in Indanan, Sulu at the height of the revolutionary armed struggle waged by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in the 1970s, was already a foreshadowing of the path that he would take –- one on which he leaves a long list of human rights violations in his areas of assignment. In a July 2, 2006 interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s Fe Zamora, he admitted that among the victims of his men were children from the Tausug tribe -– whence hail most of the MNLF fighters. There, he said, soldiers saw Tausug children as “future enemies, so the thinking was to finish them off while they were still young” -– a mode of thinking reminiscent of an American general, Gen. Jacob Smith, during the Philippine-American War who ordered the killing of everyone capable of bearing arms -– including 10-year-old boys – in Samar.
The 24th Infantry Battalion was transferred to Central Luzon in the early 1980s, this time to fight Communist-led revolutionaries. There Palparan rose through the ranks, eventually assuming the post of battalion commander in 1989. He held the post until 1991.
A fact sheet released by Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights) in 2004 shows Sta. Cruz, Zambales to have particularly suffered the brunt of operations by the 24th Infantry Battalion in 1991. In September that year, while soldiers were stationed by a chapel there, about 100 townsfolk were arrested, interrogated, and forced to sign “affidavits of surrender”. From Oct. 13-18, 10 families were forced to evacuate as a result of shelling operations. Three days later, more than 1,000 residents of the same town were forced to attend a “peace rally”, in which Palparan claimed that they were “rebel surrenderees”.
Karapatan’s tally also lists at least seven extra-judicial killings, one incident each of massacre and assault, two grenade bombings, five harassment cases, and five cases of illegal arrest and detention in Central Luzon during Palparan’s first assignment there. He was also implicated in the abduction and torture of peasant organizers and other activists during his first stint there, Karapatan records show.
His next assignment was in the Cordillera region. One of the most prominent cases of human rights violations in the said region during his stint there was the torture of Marcelo Fakila, a leader of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) in Mountain Province and a village elder in Sagada.
Based on combined data from the CPA and Karapatan, in 1992 alone there were six cases of illegal arrest, five harassment cases, one case of disappearance, one summary execution, one case of wounding, and two cases of evacuations – all in Mountain Province during Palparan’s assignment in the region.
He was given a quick succession of assignments after his Cordillera stint. These included the command of Task Force Banahaw, which holds jurisdiction over Rizal and Laguna. One of the most prominent victims of human rights violations during Palparan’s Task Force Banahaw stint was a five-year-old child killed in Laguna in 2001. Karapatan-Laguna listed seven killings of civilians in the province in 2001 alone.
In May that year, Palparan was deployed to head the 204th Infantry Battalion, which is stationed in Oriental Mindoro. It is in Oriental Mindoro, under Palparan’s command, that some of the most shocking cases of human rights violations under the Arroyo administration were committed.
On April 8, 2002, Expedito Albarillo, 48, a Bayan Muna (People First) coordinator in San Teodoro was dragged by some 10 soldiers from his hut, with his hands tied behind his back. Clinging to him and begging the soldiers for mercy was wife Manuela, 45, also a Bayan Muna coordinator in the same town. Shots rang out some 200 meters away, and relatives who rushed to the scene found the couple lying on their faces, bathed in their own blood. Expedito’s left eye was drooping from its socket.
On May 20 that same year, the Apolinar family –- Ruben, 54, a retired policeman; his wife, Rodriga, 54, a teacher; and their adopted child Niña Angela, 8 – were gunned down also by soldiers. Ruben and Rodriga were Bayan Muna leaders in San Teodoro.
Eight days after, it was the turn of activist Edilberto Napoles, Jr., 26, to be killed. He was gunned down near the Bayan Muna office in Calapan City.
The cases of the Albarillo couple, the Apolinar family, and Napoles were among those that prompted a fact-finding mission into human rights violations in Oriental Mindoro in April 2003.
Among the leaders of the said mission were Eden Marcellana, secretary-general of Karapatan-Southern Tagalog; and peasant leader Eddie Gumanoy. They themselves would end up losing their lives in the hands of soldiers from the 204th Infantry Battalion. The photos of the two that were used for Terror in Mindoro –- a book on the Mindoro killings published by Justice for Eden and Eddie, Justice for All in cooperation with the Ecumenical Consortium for a Just Peace –- showed their bodies bearing marks of torture.
The killings of Marcellana and Gumanoy stirred public outrage enough to get Palparan relieved from the 204th Infantry Battalion and transferred to Rizal. His Oriental Mindoro record, based on Karapatan data, totaled 326 human rights violations involving 1,219 individual victims.
The same week he was transferred to Rizal, the chief of a barangay (village) security force was killed. Before that he was repeatedly questioned by the military on his alleged links with the New People’s Army (NPA).
In February 2004, Palparan was assigned to head an Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) contingent sent on a “humanitarian” mission to Iraq. He returned seven months later, was given a Medal of Valor, and appointed as the Army’s chief of staff.
The next year, he was called back to field duty as commanding officer of the 8th Infantry Division, which covers Eastern Visayas. The most prominent victims of human rights violations in the region during Palparan’s stint there are lawyer Felidito Dacut, youth organizer Marvin Montabon, and Rev. Edison Lapuz.
Dacut, 51, a leader of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) and Bayan Muna in Eastern Visayas, was on his way home aboard a jeepney when killed March 14, 2005. As the jeepney he was riding cruised along Arellano Street in Tacloban City, Leyte, two men aboard a motorcycle drove near the victim, and one fired a shot behind him. The bullet pierced through his heart and instantly killed him.
Earlier that day, soldiers had gone to Montabon’s home in Tarangnan, Samar and shot him before burning the house. The young man was burned inside the house.
Lapuz, Eastern Visayas conference minister of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) and chairman of Katungod-Sinirangang Bisayas, the Eastern Visayas chapter of Karapatan, had just come from the burial of his father when he was killed May 12, 2005. He was then busy organizing a mining conference for church people in the region.
Palparan’s record in Eastern Visayas shows a total of 570 human rights violations involving 7,561 individuals, 1,773 families, 110 communities and ten organizations all in a span of six months –- based on Karapatan data.
7th Infantry Division
In September 2005, Palparan was assigned to head the 7th Infantry Division –- an event that brought him back to Central Luzon more than two decades after he was first deployed there.
A Sept. 3, 2006 report by the Philippine Daily Inquirer cited Karapatan data pointing to 136 cases of human rights violations in Central Luzon under Palparan’s command from September 2005 to August 2006. Of these, there were 71 summary executions, five massacres, 14 frustrated killings, and 46 enforced disappearances.
The Manalo brothers, Merino, Cadapan, and Empeño are just a few of the victims of human rights violations in Central Luzon during Palparan’s stnt at the 7th Infantry Division.
Each time that Palparan exited from an assignment, he left behind a long list of human rights violations. Most of his victims are civilians –- with many of them aging men, women, and youths barely out of adolescence.
Palaparan was never called to account for the long list of human rights violations being attributed to him and the units under his command. He was even praised by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo during her State of the Nation Address in July 2006 during the height of extrajudicial killings happening in the country, especially in Central Luzon where he was assigned. But now that he is retired, the persistent pursuit of justice by the relatives of his victims may be slowly catching up with him, especially with the recent Supreme Court ruling. (Bulatlat)