Finding Sherlyn Cadapan

Alex Evangelista
Finding Sherlyn Cadapan
Mother of disappeared UP student Sherlyn Cadapan speaks of her politicization in the 8 years since her daughter's disappearance. Even after Jovito Palparan's conviction, she hopes her daughter is alive.
(Editor’s Note: First published in 2014, we are republishing this story more than 4 years later after retired Major General Jovito Palparan was found guilty in September 2018, of kidnapping and serious illegal detention by Judge Alexander Tamayo of Malolos Regional Trial Court Branch 15.)
MANILA, Philippines ­– Sherlyn Cadapan was screaming on the day she was stolen. She was blindfolded and beaten, dragged into a jeep by men in army uniforms, tortured into confession, stripped naked, bound, and then raped with shards of bloody wood on the orders of a man called grandfather.
It is the story that witnesses have told, under oath, the same witnesses who have pointed fingers at Jovito Palparan Jr, retired major general, former congressman. It is the story Sherlyn’s mother believes. She imagines it, sees it in nightmares, a story she has accepted as truth.
Linda wept when she heard of Palparan’s capture. She did not know how to feel, only that maybe there was a chance for justice.
She continues to believe Sherlyn is alive. It is not easy to keep the faith, says Linda, but it is a matter of will. Her daughter is lost, not dead. It is what she chooses to believe.
This is what she says on the day Palparan was found hiding on the second floor of a wooden house in the slums of Sta Mesa, and what she has been saying in the 8 years since she last saw her daughter.
Sherlyn is alive, she says. Someday, she will come home. (READ: Jovito Palparan: The most wanted man in the country)
Leaning left
Linda is 65, a woman who clawed her way out of a one-bed hovel to graduate with the single university degree in her family. She wanted a better life, and when she married, she wanted it for her children. 
Education matters, she says. Good education mattered. Every single one of her children went to private elementary schools, even when she had to sign promissory notes at every enrollment. Money was always short, but the children went to school.
“I made my life better than it was,” says Linda. “I wanted my children to have better than I had.”  
THEY CALLED HIM BUTCHER. Jovito Palparan at the Department of Justice hearings in 2011, before he went into hiding. Photo by Geloy Concepcion.

Linda was proud when her daughter Sherlyn went off to college at the University of the Philippines. Sherlyn was a sprinter, on a varsity scholarship; the pretty, dimpled girl who brought home gold medals and prize money to her mother. It was Sherlyn who gave up school to make way for a younger sibling, Sherlyn who wanted to study medicine but knew the family couldn’t afford it, Sherlyn who later, much later, disappointed her mother when she decided to turn activist.

Linda noticed Sherlyn’s politicization slowly, and was angry when she found out. It was struggle enough to keep the family alive, and here was Sherlyn, going to rallies, howling about broken farmers, haring off to participate in activities her mother didn’t understand. Linda hated the activists whose screaming protest tangled traffic and got in the way of her husband’s jeepney route.

Once, Sherlyn wrote her a letter, explaining why she had to work among the masses. It was a treatise on rising fuel prices and students deprived of education, about land stolen from peasants and the abuses of the Arroyo government. Linda told her to find work. Help the poor all you want, she told Sherlyn, but stay away from the activists. 

Sometimes Sherlyn would call to tell her mother she missed her.

Don’t talk about missing me, Linda would say. You keep saying it, but you never come home.

On June 25, 2006, Sherlyn called home to say she was pregnant. She thought she was already two months along. Linda’s husband Asher spoke to Sherlyn. She did not speak to her mother, and her mother did not ask.

It was the last time anyone in the family heard her voice.

The lost girls

It was 4 in the afternoon on June 26, 2006, when Linda found out her daughter was missing. It was hours later when she knew for sure. She had heard Sherlyn and another activist Karen Empeño had been kidnapped, but Linda refused to believe that the military was responsible. Things like this did not happen, not to her daughter, not to anyone.

Linda believed it later, after witnesses told her the story.

She gave up her job; her husband lost his. His employers, she said, were afraid of harassment from the military. For 8 years Linda Cadapan traveled from Laguna nearly every day, cadging cab rides with reporters, taking tricycles and buses and the occasional hired jeep, the bottle of water in the voluminous black bag.

In the beginning, Linda was too proud to beg for the money it cost to travel into the city. It took P300 ($6.83*) every time she made the trip. She swallowed her pride and solicited money after the family’s ran out. Sherlyn needed her, and Linda would not let her down.

She went from court to court, interview to interview. She stood on the side of the road and shouted into a bullhorn under the waving flags of left-wing progressives. She found her way into hospital morgues to look into the faces of unidentified corpses. She watched men dig for her daughter’s bones, was glad every time they shook their heads.

Palparan has admitted two female communist rebels had been arrested in Hagonoy, Bulacan, but denies the two are Karen and Sherlyn. He says the left has manufactured all evidence, in an attempt to smear the success of his campaign to eradicate the evils of communism.

He is innocent, his men are innocent, and he will allow justice to take its course. When it did, on December of 2011, his men surrendered, and Palparan disappeared.

‘Show me the executioner’

After the announcement of Palparan’s arrest early in the morning of Tuesday, August 12, Linda traveled again, Laguna to Manila, to join activists in a rally outside the National Bureau of Investigation where Palparan was being held. She sat quiet in the jeep, surrounded by the familiar accouterments of protest – the Palparan effigy, the flags, the pamphlets, the posters.


NO REGRETS. Jovito Palparan Jr. addresses the media after his capture by the NBI. Photo by Patricia Evangelista / Rappler

This is the woman who once detested protesters and left-wingers, whose sympathies lay with the government and not with the New People’s Army; the meek, stoop-shouldered woman with graying hair who once believed people pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, who told her daughter to demand nothing from no one.It is a trip she has made many times, with the same people. She was smiling and calm, until she was handed the loudspeaker. Her voice was a scream to the sky.

“My political awakening came only after Sherlyn was kidnapped,” she said in a 2011 interview, 6 years after the disappearances. “I discovered these things happened, that those who spoke against government were attacked, stolen, even killed.”

She believes Sherlyn and Karen were never part of the New People’s Army. Had they been, the military would have had no qualms displaying them before the public, like all the others who had been presented to the media. Yet even if they were, the forum was the court, not the torture chamber. She believes in due process, in spite of the sometimes intolerable anger.

“From what I have seen now,” she said, “I would rather my daughter be a member of the New People’s Army, if the government were truly this cruel. I would rather Sherlyn became part of that life, and I would join her too if only my body had the strength. Even now I don’t understand armed conflict, but at my angriest there are moments that I want to my own revenge, in any way possible.”

It was Linda who leapt to her feet in court on the day Jovito Palparan raised his hand to swear his oath.

Liar, she screamed. You liar. (Watch the video below).

“He was swearing,” she explains later. “He was swearing that he would say nothing but the truth. I wanted to slam my water bottle at the hand he had raised.”

Although she is glad that Palparan has been captured, she says it is far from satisfying justice. Her daughter is still lost, as so many others are, and the price the butcher is now forced to pay is too low.

Were the choice hers, Jovito Palparan would not be in jail. She wants him tortured. She wants the skin peeled slowly off his flesh, to pay for the blood he stole.

She wants him to suffer, and even then, she says, it will not be enough. –

*$1 = P43.92

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