BULACAN, Philippines – A decorated army general, once a distinguished service star awardee, retired major general Jovito Palparan admitted Monday, September 17, he is not prepared to spend the rest of his life in jail.
“No, I’m not prepared,” Palparan told reporters inside the courtroom of Malolos Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 15, shortly after he was convicted for kidnapping and serious illegal detention.
Palparan was sentenced to reclusion perpetua, which is up to 40 years. He is now 68 years old.
Palparan will be committed to the maximum security compound of the New Bilibid Prison (NBP), although his lawyer contested it in open court, citing a still pending case at another branch of the Malolos RTC.
Palparan has been in jail the last 4 years at the custodial center of Fort Bonifacio in Taguig as he was put on trial in Malolos. Before that, he spent 3 years in hiding and was arrested only in 2014 at an apartment above a bakery in Sta Mesa, Manila.
Asked if he wishes he was never arrested, Palparan said: “Of course.”
Ruling of the court
Palparan and two others – Lieutenant Colonel Felipe Anotado and S/Sgt Edgardo Osorio – were found guilty beyond reasonable doubt of abudcting and detaining University of the Philippines (UP) student activists Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño.
Judge Alexander Tamayo found that the eyewitness accounts were “replete with details that could not have been simply concocted.”
The most crucial witness is farmer Raymond Manalo who said he was abducted by military men in February 2006 on suspicions he was a communist rebel. Cadapan and Empeño were abducted in June 2006 and supposedly put in the same cell with Manalo.
Manalo described how Cadapan and Empeño were tortured and sexually molested, including being beaten while naked, cigarettes held against their skin, and items shoved into their vaginas.
Wilfredo Ramos, a farmer whom Cadapan and Empeño lived with during their immersion work in Hagonoy, claimed he saw the women forcibly taken from their home.
“This account of Raymond Manalo that dovetails with the narrative of Wilfredo Ramos, taken in conjunction with those of the other prosecution witnesses, constitute persuasive and unassailable proof that the three accused in complicity with each other committed the crimes imputed against them,” said Tamayo in his 31-page ruling.
“Another significance of the decision is that Gen. Palparan is probably the highest ranking military officer ever been criminally convicted for what are essentially human rights violations in the Philippines,” said Edre Olalia of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), which acted as private prosecutors in the case.
‘I don’t have them’
Outside the courtroom, Cadapan’s mother Erlinda wept as she said she still believes her daughter is alive.
“Habang buhay ako, may iaasa akong buhay ang aking anak, at dapat ibalik ng tarantado na ‘yun! (As long as I am alive, I will have hopes that my daughter is alive, and she must be returned by that stupid fool!” Cadapan said.
But Palparan maintained his innocence in a brief interview with reporters that he himself called “para malaman ng tao (so the people will know).”
“Ilabas nila! I don’t care! Hindi ko alam, I don’t care kung ilabas nila kung sino mang maglabas, don’t ask me on that. Paano ko ilabas, are you telling me na tinatago ko? No,” said Palparan.
(Resurface them, I don’t care because I don’t know. I don’t care if they will resurface, who will return them, don’t ask me on that. How am I supposed to return them, are you telling me I’m keeping them? No.)
Palparan said he made efforts to locate the two girls to prove his innocence, but once he was put in jail, he said he stopped and focused instead on his family. He also ran but lost as senator in the 2016 national elections. (READ: Jovito Palparan: The most wanted man in the country)
Palparan said Manalo never implicated him in previous statements, until trial came, when the farmer’s testimony suddenly pointed to him.
“When he was called as witness in this court, bigla na lang niyang sinabi na nakita niya ako one time noong pinasundo ‘yung mga babae. Ang original statement niya sinundo ‘yung babae nung tao ko daw, but after 9 years, sinabi niya nandoon ako,” Palparan said.
(He just suddenly said he saw me one time when the girls were fetched. His original statement was that my men fetched the girls, but after 9 years, he said I was there.)
Tamayo, however, found Manalo’s account to be believable because it was corroborated by the other witnesses like Oscar Leuterio, who was also with them in detention.
Palparan said Osorio was just picked by former justice secretary Leila de Lima as a fall guy to pin down the general.
Ramos said he saw Osorio, an aide of Palparan, as one of the men who forcibly took Cadapan and Empeño.
“De Lima wants to run as senator, she was taking advantage of the media,” Palparan said, adding that Osorio only became his aide when he asked for additional security after the controversy.
Because of this, Palparan turned on Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Juan Pedro Navera and shouted: “Napaka-gago mo! (You are such a fool)”
Palparan also hurled expletives at Tamayo, whom he accused of being “afraid of the communists.”
“The judge accepts money here, I have no proof, but that is the kind of judge you have here,” Palparan said, offering no evidence.
He said he will elevate the case to the Court of Appeals (CA).