Philippine jails

Lawyers: Palparan has been getting ‘special treatment’ in Bilibid for 3 years

Lian Buan
Lawyers: Palparan has been getting ‘special treatment’ in Bilibid for 3 years

General Jovito Palparan inside his cell at Recreational and Diagnostic Center of the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City on 4 October 2018.


(2nd UPDATE) Palparan has a pending criminal charge in Bulacan, separate from the sentence he's serving in Bilibid. Why did BuCor act alone in granting SMNI an interview with him?

MANILA, Philippines – The two-hour on-camera interview with convicted kidnapper retired general Jovito Palparan done inside the New Bilibid Prison was just the latest of a string of special treatments extended to him by the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor), said the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL).

The NUPL, private prosecutors in the case that got Palparan convicted, wrote BuCor on Friday, April 1, and said the interview “clearly shows that accused Major General Palparan is enjoying special privileges and preferential treatment even as he is already serving sentence for the crimes of which he was convicted.”

The letter detailed past incidents of Palparan not immediately being transferred to the Maximum Security Compound where he was supposed to be incarcerated because he was sentenced to reclusion perpetua.

Palparan was convicted of kidnapping and serious illegal detention over the 2007 disappearance of student activists Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan. Malolos Regional Trial Court Branch 15 sentenced him to reclusion perpetua in September 2018, but was only transferred to Bilibid a month after.

In Bilibid, Palparan first stayed at the Directorate for Reception and Diagnostics (DRD) where all convicts are assessed for days to weeks before they are transferred to their respective compounds. According to NUPL, the maximum stay at the DRD is 60 days but Palparan stayed there “for more than a year.”

Only after prosecutors wrote a manifestation to the court that Palparan was pulled out of the DRD, said NUPL. But the lawyers said he did was not sent to the Maximum Security Compound.

“We received information that accused Maj. Gen. Palparan was transferred not to the Maximum Security Facility, but to the Minimum Security Facility of the New Bilibid Prison, the detention and holding area for prisoners who were given light sentences or are about to be released and/or already considered ‘living out’ prisoners,” said NUPL.

Palparan was a decorated general for his implementation of Gloria Arroyo’s counter-insurgency campaign. He gained notoriety from his assignments in Mindoro, Samar, and Central Luzon, and which earned him the byname Berdugo or The Butcher from human rights activists.

The SMNI interview featured Palparan with the  National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), part of the government’s publicity campaign against activists and progressives. SMNI has been used as a platform for red tagging. It is owned by self-styled Pastor Apollo Quiboloy who is wanted in the United States for sex trafficking of children.

What are the rules?

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the SMNI interview was done without the Department of Justice or DOJ’s knowledge or the Malolos RTC Branch 15. Guevarra sent his undersecretary to investigate.

Justice Undersecretary for Corrections Deo Marco went to BuCor on Friday and told Rappler that SMNI’s request was approved by BuCor Director General Gerald Bantag. Marco said he was still getting a copy of the letters to see if it followed protocol.

Can BuCor act alone in this instance? Guevarra said the “rule was not clear” since a convict is technically already under the BuCor and not the court.

We asked for a copy of the BuCor operations manual, but the DOJ is yet to give us one.

A 2000 version of the manual said the BuCor may deny a request for interview if the convict has a pending criminal case.

Palparan has a pending separate case for kidnapping and serious illegal detention and serious physical injuries filed against him by Raymond Manalo, who also served as witness that Palparan abducted Cadapan and Empeño. It is pending before the Malolos RTC Branch 19.

Guevarra also earlier said that if Palparan is appealing his conviction for the Cadapan and Empeño case, “it might have a bearing on jurisdiction.”

Rappler has confirmed that the appeal is pending before the Court of Appeals.

Asked what the implications of these pending cases were, Guevarra simply said: “Let’s wait for the BUCOR report on Monday.”

The pending cases raise questions on whether it should have been the sole discretion of BuCor to grant SMNI’s interview request.

For prisoners not yet convicted but are detained, the courts handling their trial issue the permission.

In contrast, Senator Leila De Lima – who is not yet convicted – was only granted permission by the courts to be interviewed on the condition that reporters bring in only pen and paper to jot down notes. To date, no cameras or other similar recording device had been allowed for an interview with De Lima, a sitting senator running for reelection.

De Lima was justice secretary when Palparan was indicted and brought to court. Palparan mentioned De Lima in his interview to accuse the former justice secretary of irregularities in the handling of his case.

In a dispatch from her cell in Camp Crame, De Lima said these were all lies, and added “I was already detained when Palparan was convicted of his crimes. So spare us the nonsense that I had anything to do with this politically.”

Reporters covering the justice beat go through tons of processes to be able to access detainees for stories; and at one point during the De Lima trial in Muntinlupa, had to write the Supreme Court because a judge had barred media from covering a public trial.

DOJ representatives were also present during the recent court-approved De Lima interviews to block questions they considered sub judice.-

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email or tweet @lianbuan.