MANILA -- (4th UPDATE) Retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan and 2 other Army men on Monday were found guilty of kidnapping and illegal detention over the disappearance of 2 University of the Philippines students in 2006.
Palparan, Lt. Col. Felipe Anotado, Jr. and S/Sgt. Edgardo Osorio were sentenced to reclusion perpetua or up to 40 years in prison by the Malolos Regional Trial Court.
The three were also ordered to each pay P300,000 in civil indemnities to the families of University of the Philippines students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño.
Palparan called Judge Alexander Tamayo a coward as he read the ruling. The judge warned the former commander of the 7th Infantry Division that he could be cited in contempt.
Palparan shrugged this off, saying "Hindi siya matinong judge. Go ahead, kung ma-contempt ako, ano pa 'yung contempt?"
(He was not a good judge. Go ahead, if I'm cited in contempt, what would that do?)
The National Union of People's Lawyers (NUPL), which counseled Cadapan and Empeño's families, hailed the ruling as a warning to human rights violators.
"[Palparan's] conviction sends the message that cocky perpetrators of hideous human rights violations will meet their match in the fortitude of the mothers, the strength of the mass movement, the courage of human rights defenders, and the value of good lawyering for the people," the NUPL said in a statement.
Human Rights Watch called Palparan's conviction a "big blow against impunity in the Philippines." The international monitor said the ruling came after "a long and agonizing struggle for justice by the families and supporters of the two activists"
"It rekindles hope among the families of many other victims human rights violations, now and in the past. It should also serve as a reminder to state security forces that justice and the law will catch up with them sooner or later," researcher Carlos Conde said in a statement.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said Palparan's conviction shows that, "Justice may come a bit late, but it does come."
At the time of the abduction, Cadapan was a senior sports science student while Empeño was taking up sociology.
Palparan will be detained at the maximum security compound of the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa, where he will get no special treatment, said Bureau of Corrections chief Ronald Dela Rosa.
Palaparan's alleged cohort, M/Sgt. Rizal Hilario, remains at large. The court issued a warrant of arrest against him. -- With reports from Ron Lopez and Maan Macapagal, ABS-CBN News