Fall of the 'Butcher': Reckoning comes for Palparan after 12 years

Patrick Quintos, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 18 2018 04:41 PM | Updated as of Sep 19 2018 11:18 PM

From President's favored general to convict

MANILA - Labelled as a "butcher" by activists, retired Major General Jovito Palparan Jr. was a star in the anti-communist drive called "Oplan Bantay Laya" under then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. 

Palparan, who was then commander of the Philippine Army's 7th Infantry Division in Central Luzon, was even praised by Arroyo in her 2006 State of the Nation Address in front of high-ranking government officials and other dignitaries. 

"Hindi siya aatras hanggang makawala sa gabi ng kilabot ang mga pamayanan at makaahon sa bukang-liwayway ng hustisya at kalayaan," Arroyo said, as Palparan smiled from the audience.

(He will not back down until communities under the terror of darkness see the dawn of justice and freedom.)

The now Speaker of the House made this statement just around a month after two students were abducted by Palparan's men in Bulacan.

Karen Empeño, a UP sociology student, was then doing field work for her thesis, while Sherlyn Cadapan was a volunteer for a peasant group when they were abducted in Hagonoy on June 26, 2006.

Over the next 12 years, Palparan went on to represent an anti-left party-list group in the House of Representatives, run for senator, go into hiding, get arrested in 2014 before finally getting convicted on Monday (Sept. 17). 

Empeño and Cadapan, who witnesses said were tortured and even raped in captivity, remain missing. 

Retired Army Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr., nicknamed Berdugo (The Butcher) for his alleged human rights violations, is escorted by military police during the promulgation of the kidnapping case filed against him at the Malolos Regional Trial Court on Monday. Palparan and two other co-accused were found guilty in the kidnapping and serious illegal detention of UP students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño in 2006. ABS-CBN News

The Butcher's 'trail of blood'

Where Palparan was, deaths of activists followed, human rights group Karapatan said in a statement after the court handed him a guilty verdict. 

When Palparan was assigned in Mindoro and Romblon from 2001 to 2003, activists, including Karapatan leader Eden Marcellana and peasant leader Eddie Gumanoy, were killed in the town of Gloria.

They were in a fact-finding mission in Mindoro when they were killed. Complaints were filed against Palparan but these were dismissed by the Department of Justice. 

Karapatan claimed to have recorded at least 326 human rights violations by Palparan, which involved 1,219 victims in Oriental Mindoro alone. 

When Palparan was assigned in Eastern Visayas as head of an Infantry Division, Karapatan claimed to have recorded 570 human rights violations involving 7,561 individuals in just 6 months. 

Palparan was assigned in Central Luzon when Empeño and Cadapan were abducted 12 years ago. Karapatan claimed he was behind 71 summary executions, 5 massacres, 14 frustrated killings there.

These incidents earned him the nickname "butcher," although Palparan denied allegations connecting him to these human rights violations in areas where he and his men operated. 

Palparan's hate for communists, Leftists

Asked about how he felt whenever he was called a "butcher," Palparan told ANC in a 2010 interview that he had learned to live with the label and for him, "sometimes it's a compliment."

Pressed if he considered himself a butcher, he said: "Well, not really but in a way, against the bad elements of the society, especially the NPA or the communists."

Palparan not only hated communists, he also hated their supporters. In a 2006 interview, he called legal left-leaning organizations "conduits" of the rebels doing "illegal activities." 

For him, the whole communist movement must be "hated," "eradicated," and "eliminated."

"We have to act on the illegal activities of these groups. If these organizations basically act as conduits [of the NPA], then we will have to do it. I don’t know how," he told Newsbreak. 

Calling his campaign against communists "psychological warfare," Palparan also said in a separate interview in 2007 that he preferred scaring the supporters of communists rather than killing them.

Palparan once said that his statement calling on troops to shoot "armed rebels" in their homes and that it would just be "too bad if victims would be killed in the process" was only meant to scare. 

"Instead of killing them, why not scare them from supporting
[communist rebels], staging atrocities, spying. Which is better?
Killing them or scaring them?" he told the Inquirer.

"It's just right that these people are scared to stop the wrong that they are doing. That's the coercive power of the state," he added, justifying his pronouncements. 

The fall of Palparan

Palparan, a product of the Reserve Officers' Training Course (ROTC) and not of the Philippine Military Academy, got promoted twice by Arroyo and was a decorated soldier when he retired in 2006.

He was given the Gold Cross Medal and Bronze Cross Medal, among others. Arroyo also awarded him the Distinguished Service Star in 2006 despite allegations of human rights violations.

Palparan ran and won a seat in Congress in 2007, representing an anti-communist party-list group called Bantay, which was later disqualified by the Commission on Elections. 

He ran for senator in 2010 hoping to continue his "advocacy of peace and security," but lost.

Palparan went into hiding when the Malolos Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 15 issued an arrest order against him and his co-accused in 2011.

During the time of then President Benigno Aquino III, Palparan was tagged as one of the "Big 5" fugitives and he had a bounty of P2 million.

Palparan managed to elude law enforcement authorities but was arrested in 2014 by the National Bureau of Investigation in a residential area in Sta. Mesa, Manila.

While in detention in 2015, Palparan filed, through his son, his candidacy for senator, saying he wanted to push for progress in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. He lost in the 2016 polls.

On Monday (Sept. 17), the court sentenced Palparan and his two co-accused to reclusion perpetua. They were also ordered to each pay P300,000 in civil indemnities to the families of Empeño and Cadapan.

Facing life in prison, the now-aging Palparan tried to let out one more cry of anger, calling Malolos RTC Judge Alexander Tamayo a coward and hurling expletives against him.

""T******do ka! G**o ka, judge! Napakag**o mo!" he said in a tense courtroom scene. 

(Jerk! You're stupid, judge! You are very stupid!)

No closure yet for moms of missing students

The mothers of the Empeño and Cadapan couldn't help but cry in relief after the court handed down its ruling. Concepcion Empeño and Erlinda Cadapan said they finally got justice. 

However, for the mothers, this was just a first step towards closure as they have yet to see their daughters. They urged the people behind the abduction to surface the two students—dead or alive. 

"Hanggang hindi po nila nililitaw at hindi namin nayayakap ang warm body ng aming anak, I think there's no closure yet," Cadapan said. 

(Until they surface our daughters, until we are able embrace their warm body, I think there's no closure yet.)

"Tulad din ni Nanay Linda kailangan din namin na si Karen ay ma-surface. Kailangan namin makita ang katawan niya, maaaring buhay o patay," Empeño added.

(Like Nanay Linda, we need them to surface Karen. We need to see her body, dead or alive.)

Palparan will be detained at the maximum security compound of the New Bilibid Prison. But the mothers fear that Palparan may still be pardoned, now that Arroyo is back in power as House Speaker.

Cadapan appealed to Duterte to let Palparan remain in jail and serve his sentence for the sake of justice.