BULACAN, Philippines – After the kidnapping conviction of retired army major general Jovito Palparan, the private prosecutor said on Monday, September 17, that they are planning to go after former president now House Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo next.
‘We are looking at the angle of command responsibility of Palparan’s commander-in-chief Gloria Macapagal Arroyo,’ said Edre Olalia of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), which acted as private prosecutors in the case.
Palparan was portrayed by human rights advocates as the face of extrajudicial killings under the Arroyo administration. (READ: Palparan says he's not ready for life imprisonment)
He was promoted twice under Arroyo, and given a key assignment in the former president’s counter-insurgency campaign. He was posted in Mindoro, Samar, and Central Luzon.
It was in Hagonoy, Bulacan in Central Luzon where Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño were abducted in June 2006. To this day, they have not been found.
The Malolos Regional Trial Court (RTC) found Palparan and two others guilty beyond reasonable doubt of kidnapping and detaining the two girls, 29 and 22, respectively, at the time and studying at the University of the Philippines (UP).
The Cadapan and Empeño disappearances were not the first human rights violations hurled against Palparan. In 2002, he was accused of involvement in the murder of a human rights activist in Mindoro. (READ: Palparan conviction sends strong signal to human rights abusers – CHR)
Photo by Darren Langit/Rappler
In 2007, the Melo commission – a fact-finding team led by retired Supreme Court justice Jose Melo – sent Arroyo a recommendation to investigate Palparan.
It’s the Cadapan and Empeño case that eventually brought Palparan to the judicial process, first at the Department of Justice then to the Malolos court that ordered his arrest and tried him for 4 years. (Trial began in 2014 because he went into hiding for 3 years.)
This won’t be the first time that the NUPL will try to pin down Arroyo for human rights violations committed during her time.
The human rights lawyers used the Melo commission report to implicate Arroyo in petitions for Amparo and Habeas Data over the detention of activist Noriel Rodriguez in 2009.
“Rodriguez anchors his argument on a general allegation that on the basis of the Melo Commission and the Alston Report, respondents in G.R. No. 191805 already had knowledge of and information on, and should have known that a climate of enforced disappearances had been perpetrated on members of the NPA,” says the decision of the Supreme Court in 2011.
In that decision written by ousted chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, the Supreme Court cleared Arroyo for lack of evidence of responsibility.
“Neither was there even a clear attempt to show that she should have known about the violation of his right to life, liberty or security, or that she had failed to investigate, punish or prevent it,” said Sereno then.
The human rights lawyers also sued Arroyo for torture in detention in February 2010 of 43 health workers in Morong, Rizal, called the Morong 43.The Office of the Ombudsman cleared Arroyo in that case in 2015, as the illegal detention case against the military officials went up to the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan.
“We will study it well,” said Olalia, adding that it is also meant to send President Rodrigo Duterte the message that he can be held accountable for human rights violations once he’s out of office and no longer enjoys presidential immunity.
"Palparan's conviction sends the message that cocky perpetrators of hideous human rights violations will meet their match in the fortitude of the mothers, the strength of the mass movement, the courage of human rights defenders, and the value of good lawyering for the people," said Olalia.
The NUPL has already built up a complaint against Duterte at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Duterte and Palparan
Palparan has been compared to Duterte for their hardline stance on crimes, except that the President – still only a potential presidential candidate then – castigated the general for going after communists.
Duterte called Palparan "the pathetic former army general who sees things red because of his bloodshot eyes."
Presidents can grant pardon.
But that seems to be far from Palparan's mind as of now, as he refused to address Duterte in his bid for vindication at the higher courts.
"The President has nothing to do with this, this is a different branch, but if he can do something then why not," he said, just before he was whisked away to Fort Bonifacio after which he will be committed to the New Bilbid Prison.