MANILA (3rd UPDATE) - Retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan, wanted for the 2006 disappearance of two University of the Philippines (UP) students, has been arrested.
Palparan was arrested at a residential area in Sta. Mesa, Manila before dawn on Tuesday by a team composed of members of the National Bureau of Investigation - Anti-Organized Transnational Crimes Division (NBI-AOTCD) and Armed Forces of the Philippines Naval Intelligence and Security Force/Counter Intelligence Group.
Palparan, 63, was brought to the NBI headquarters in Manila at around 4 a.m. He will remain there while authorities are waiting for a commitment order from the court.
Palparan, who has a bounty of P2 million on his head, did not resist arrest, according to the NBI team.
The retired major general showed physical signs of aging. He is in stable condition but was complaining of joint pains. His blood pressure was 120/80, according to NBI doctors.
Palparan went into hiding in 2011 after a Bulacan Regional Trial Court judge issued a warrant arrest for him, Lt. Col. Felipe Anotado Jr., S/Sgt. Edgardo Osorio and M/Sgt. Rizal Hilario for the disappearance of UP students Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan on June 26, 2006.
Anotado and Osorio surrendered, while Hilario remains at large.
Cadapan, a senior Bachelor of Sport Science student, and Empeño, a senior BA Sociology student, were reportedly forcibly taken by armed men in Barangay San Miguel, Hagonoy, Bulacan, along with Manuel Merino in 2006.
Their abductors were identified by witnesses as elements of the Philippine Army based in Barangay Iba, Hagonoy, Bulacan under the command of then Maj. Gen. Palparan. The alleged abduction happened under the administration of then president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
A witness in the case, Raymond Manalo, claimed that he was abducted by the military along with his brother in 2006, and was eventually detained together with Cadapan, Empeño and Merino later that year at a camp in San Miguel Bulacan.
Palparan, dubbed ''The Butcher'' by left-wing and human rights groups for his alleged involvement in extra-judicial killings, is facing 2 counts of kidnapping and serious illegal detention.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said the NBI had been working on capturing him for about a year until he was sighted in Manila on Sunday.
De Lima said Palparan is facing other cases apart from those involving Cadapan and Empeño.
She said the court will have the final say where to detain Palparan, but she noted that the arrested retired general is a ''high profile'' personality that may require tougher security.
''Alam naman natin na mainit ang mga leftists sa kanya because of his records. Maybe we can hold consultations with the security forces and I will also ask the opinion of the NBI with respct to him so we can manifest before the court any suggestion we can have tungkol dyan sa custody ni Major Gen. Palparan,'' she told dzMM.
''But ang final decision would [come from] the court, and we will submit to the discretion of the court."
NBI-AOCTD head Rommel J. Vallejo told reporters that the NBI had been receiving information on Palparan's whereabouts but the latter had always managed to elude arrest.
''Marami tayong information na natatanggap, lahat naman vinalidate naman natin. Nakarating tayo as far as Zambales, Bataan, Pampanga, at ang naalala ko pa, January 1 itong taon nag-conduct kami ng operation, metro wide, 'di lang kami pinalad,'' he said.
Two companions of Palparan, Reynaldo Ladao and Grace Roa, were also taken into custody by the NBI. The NBI said they could be charged for harboring a fugitive and obstruction of justice. The two were allegedly Palparan's townmates in Cagayan de Oro.
I DON'T WANT SPECIAL TREATMENT
Palparan, meanwhile, said he does not need to be given special treatment and that he will not ask for hospital arrest or house arrest.
He, however, has one concern: that he not be killed by communist rebels.
''Kahit saan ako makulong. Ang foremost concern ko lang is security. Ayaw ko lang naman na mapatay ako ng kalaban, malaking advantage sa movement iyon ng Communist Party. Kahit anong condition, I don’t need special treatment,'' he said.
Palparan admitted he had moved from place to place in order to avoid arrest, but he denied ever leaving the country or staying in Camp Aguinaldo while he was a fugitive.
He also denied employing a private army. He, however, admitted that many personalities offered him help but he said he turned these down.
''Hindi na ako gumamit ng maraming tao. Kasi unang-una 'yung maraming ma-involve, kawawa naman sila. But they are willing, marami,'' he said.
After retiring from the military, Palparan won a seat in Congress through anti-communist party-list group Bantay. He ran in 2010 for senator but lost.
Palparan said he thought about surrendering and facing the charges but was prevented from doing so because of his own family's concerns.
''Nabanggit ko iyan minsan sa pamilya ko. Tiyak ko naman na kung magiging impartial ang court, then I can win that case. Pero ang concern talaga ng pamilya ko eh ang security ko. Kasi sabi ng anak ko, na kapag ako ay nahuli, helpless na ako, at mapapabilis ang buhay ko,'' he told dzMM.
He also said the NBI handled his arrest ''professionally."
MOTHERS WELCOME ARREST
The mothers of the two UP students welcomed the arrest of the retired major general.
Karen's mother, Concepcion, said she could not explain how she feels now that she is closer to achieving justice for her missing daughter.
''Tuwang-tuwa ako. Naiiyak ako, nanginginig ang pakiramdam ko dahil sa wakas bumagsak na rin sa kamay ng kapangyarihan si Palparan,'' she told ABS-CBN News' Umagang Kay Ganda.
Concepcion, however, said she fears Palparan may be given special treatment.
''Nagdududa din ako dahil sa wala siyang resistance, basta't sumama siya ng maayos. Ang nakikita ko po dyan, baka aapila na naman siya ng hospital arrest o house arrest,'' she said.
Eight years after her daughter's disappearance, Concepcion said she still hopes to see her daughter.
''Sana nga tunay na itong hustisyang makakamit. Sana nga po si Karen maibalik siya ng mayakap namin, makita namin ng personal."
Sherlyn's mother, Linda, also expressed happiness over the retired military official's arrest, but warned the latter against turning fugitive once more.
''Sana po ang dasal ko, huwag naman po sana siyang mapatakas o makatakas dahil siya, [na] dating kongresista, alam niya ang batas. Kaya dapat hindi niya tinakasan ang batas,'' Linda said.
Linda maintains that Palparan and his men are behind her daughter's disappearance, adding that his decision to hide is a sign of guilt.
Concepcion and Linda said the last hearing on the case, with respect to Palparan's co-accused, is supposed to take place this August 18.
LEFTISTS: NO TO SPECIAL TREATMENT
Renato Reyes, secretary general of militant umbrella group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), demanded that the Aquino administration avoid mishandling Palparan's case.
''There should be no special treatment for the ex-general. We look forward to a speedy trial so that justice can finally be rendered in the disappearance of our colleagues and friends Karen Empeno and Sherlyn Cadapan. Their families have been fighting for justice for years now,'' he said in a statement.
Reyes said that apart from the two UP students, Karapatan's Eden Marcellana, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas' (KMP) Eddie Gumanoy, Atty. Juvy Magsino, and teacher Leima Fortu, were also victims of Palparan.
Human rights group Karapatan said peasant leader Eddie Gumanoy, Pastor Edison Lapuz of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, Atty. Fedelito Dacut, Supreme Bishop Alberto Ramento of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, also suffered in the hands of Palparan.
''From 2005 to 2006 alone, when The Butcher Palparan was Commanding Officer of the 7th ID, specifically with the 24th IB known as the torture battalion under him, there were 71 victims of extrajudicial killings, 14 victims of frustrated killing, and five incidents of massacre,'' Karaptan secretary general Cristina Palabay said in a statement.
Karapatan called on all the alleged victims of Palparan to come out and file charges against him in court. The group also demanded that no special treatment be given to the retired general.
Another militant group, Anakbayan, argued that there is reason to fear that special treatment will be given to Palparan under the Aquino administration.
''Aquino has proven to be insincere in making those responsible for human rights violations responsible. Aquino has not condemned the fascist rampage under Arroyo. In fact, Palparan-style campaigns and human rights violations continue under Aquino's Oplan Bayanihan,'' the group said.
Meanwhile, Rep. Terry Ridon of the Kabataan party-list group, said the arrest of Palparan does not mark the end of the fight against extrajudicial killings and the culture of impunity.
Ridon added that also of particular importance is the search for the remains of Cadapan and Empeño.
Palparan's arrest comes at a time when left-wing groups are decrying the recent arrest of UP student Gerald Salonga and graduate Guiller Cadano in Nueva Ecija.
The military arrested Salonga and Cadano for their alleged links to the New People's Army.
''Indeed, Palparan's arrest is not the end all in the fight to defeat impunity. As long as there are youth activists like Gerald and Guiller who are illegally arrested in broad daylight, as long as Karen and She and hundreds of other desaparecidos remain missing, as long as political prisoners remain behind bars for their beliefs, impunity will remain,'' Ridon said. – with reports from Ricky Velasco and Noel Alamar, dzMM; Kori Quintos and Zyann Ambrosio, ABS-CBN News