MANILA - The conviction of retired Major General Jovito Palparan Jr. is just a first step towards closure for the parents of two missing University of the Philippines students, who after 12 years continue to long for their daughters.
A Malolos City court on Monday had found Palparan guilty for the abduction of Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan in 2006. But the mothers, Concepcion and Erlinda, still want the culprits to surface their daughters—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," the elder Cadapan told ANC a day after the court sentenced the retired Army official to life in prison.
"Para sa akin first step pa lang itong pag-convict kay Palparan na siya ay guilty. Tulad din ni Nanay Linda kailangan din namin na si Karen ay ma-surface. Kailangan namin makita ang katawan niya, maaaring buhay o patay," the elder Empeño added.
Karen and Sherlyn were abducted in Hagonoy, Bulacan in June 2006. At that time, Karen was taking up sociology in UP and was in Hagonoy for her thesis, while Sherlyn, a UP sports science student, was volunteering for peasant group Alyansang Magbubukid.
The students were branded as rebels, abducted, and tortured by Palparan's men during the height of then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's anti-communist insurgency drive "Oplan Bantay Laya, the mothers' lawyer, Josa Deinla, stressed.
"'Yung mga naging biktima nito di lang 'yung mga pinaghihinalaang sympathizers ng NPA. Even the unarmed, above-ground activists, kagaya ni Karen at Sherlyn. No distinctions whatsoever. Andaming nabiktima ng EJKs at forced disappearances," she told ANC.
Reckoning of the 'Butcher'
Palparan, nicknamed the "Butcher" by activists, was one of the leaders of the anti-communist drive, even earning the praise of his commander in chief, then President Arroyo, during her state of the nation address in 2006.
"Sa mga lalawigang sakop ng 7th Division, nakikibaka sa paglaban si Jovito Palparan. Hindi siya aatras hanggang makawala sa gabi ng kilabot ang mga pamayanan at maka-ahon sa bukang-liwayway ng hustisya at kalayaan," Arroyo said a month after the students were abducted.
Asked about how he feels whenever he is called a "butcher" by the activists, Palparan told ANC in a 2010 interview that he has learned to live with the label. "Sometimes it's a compliment," he said, especially when it refers to his drive against rebels.
Following the court ruling, Palparan will be detained at the maximum security compound of the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa.
The parents of Karen and Sherlyn still fear that Palparan may be given pardon, especially now that Arroyo, who is now the leader of the House of Representatives, is back in power, and is an ally of President Rodrigo Duterte.
"May fear ako ngayon baka sakaling, ayun nga. Guilty siya. Pero nandiyan na naman sa power si Gloria at ito pang ating Presidente, baka gagawa sila ng paraan para makawala sa krimen na nakaatang sa kanya," Empeño said.
"Sa nakikita ko ang ating Presidente, mas mahal niya ang militar kaysa ating mamamayan... Sa pagkakataong ito hihilingin ko sa Presidente Duterte na sana, itong nangyari, sana pagbigyan niya ang taumbayan na magdusa ang salarin na ito," said Cadapan.