MANILA, Philippines – Three days after being indicted for kidnapping, retired Army general Jovito Palparan tried to leave for Singapore on Monday, Dec. 19, 2011, but was stopped by immigration authorities.
“They stopped me, but I am not covered by a hold departure order,” Palparan told Rappler.com in a phone interview. “It’s my right to travel,” he added. “There is no case pending against me except for a news report. Who is supposed to question where will I go?”
Palparan said he was able to check in his luggage at the Clark international airport when immigration authorities blocked him. This was contrary to earlier reports that he had already boarded the plane when accosted by authorities.
The retired general, notorious for allegations of human rights abuses under the Arroyo government, was to take a 7.25 am Seair flight to Singapore. Under his command, Central Luzon was virtually wiped out of communist guerrillas and is now considered a “cleared” area by the military.
On Monday, prosecutors were scheduled to file the non-bailable charge of kidnapping against Palparan before a Bulacan court.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Friday, Dec. 16, 2011, approved two cases of kidnapping and serious illegal detention against the general and three other over the 2006 disappearance of students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeno.
In a press conference on Friday, De Lima expressed hope that an arrest warrant will be immediately issued against Palparan. The hold departure order against him expired last November.
Palparan said he has meetings and business transactions to attend to in Singapore. He also planned to spend Christmas eve in Singapore. He said he’s supposed to be back December 25.
Palparan maintained there is no basis for filing cases against him.
Palparan said he was treated well. The Bureau of Immigration officials, he claimed, were apologetic to him. They were supposedly only holding a letter from the DOJ to block any attempt by Palparan to leave the country.
Up to their abduction, Empeño was a member of the left-wing League of Filipino Students while Cadapan was a member of Anakbayan. Both were students of the University of the Philippines in Diliman. A 57-year-old farmer named Manuel Merino responded to their screams. He was abducted as well.
On July 7, after five years of campaigning by the mothers of Cadapan and Empeño, several military personal were called to appear before the DOJ to face accusations of rape, serious physical injuries, arbitrary detention, maltreatment of prisoners, grave threats, grave coercion, and torture, among other charges, against the University of the Philippines students.
The charges against the other respondents were dismissed, as well as charges of rape and enforced disappearance.
Palparan was twice on the DOJ watch list after he underwent preliminary investigation for rape, serious physical injuries, arbitrary detention, maltreatment of prisoners, grave threats, grave coercion, and torture in connection with Cadapan-Empeño abductions.
The first watch list order, issued by the DOJ on July 13 against Palparan and 4 others, expired after the standard 60-day period on September 10, 2011.
The lawyers of Cadapan and Empeño filed an application for extension, one that DOJ Chief State Counsel Ricardo Paras III found “meritorious.” The order was extended for another 60 days, and expired early November.
Lawyer Ed Olalia, counsel for the families of Cadapan and Empeño, confirmed there is no watch list order against Palparan. The families filed an application for extension on Dec 6. It has not been acted upon. Olalia said he was told the DOJ could not allow extensions, after the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order on the DOJ’s powers under Department Circular No 41 to enforce watch list and hold departure orders.
The TRO was issued on Nov. 15, 2011, after former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo attempted to leave the country.
“It’s a problematic situation,” DOJ Secretary Leila de Lima told reporters, adding that she is also in a bind on what to do regarding a request to have the watch list order against Palparan extended. – with reports from Patricia Evangelista and Purple Romero/Rappler.com