Under Arroyo, Palparan got away with it

Carmela Fonbuena
In 2007, the Melo Commission recommended to then President Arroyo that Palparan should be investigated.

MANILA, Philippines – Four years ago, a commission created by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo already recommended an investigation of retired Army Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan for his alleged involvement in the killing of a human rights activist in Mindoro Oriental in 2002.

The Melo Commission sent its recommendation to Mrs. Arroyo at the time. It was never acted upon.
On Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011, a Bulacan court issued an arrest warrant against the retired general over a different case.

This involved the abduction of two University of the Philippines students, Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño, in 2006.

(Below is a story that Newsbreak published on Nov. 9, 2007 about Palparan and the Melo Commission.)

The disbanded Melo Commission has recommended in its final report the investigation of retired Army Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan for his alleged involvement in the killing of a human rights activist in Oriental Mindoro in 2002, Newsbreak learned today.

The commission submitted its final report to President Arroyo two months ago, according to its chair, former Supreme Court justice Jose Melo. The report has not been made public, however. Even the Armed Forces of the Philipines (AFP) has not received a copy, according to AFP spokesperson Col. Bartolome Bacarro.

“It’s just a letter to the President… reiterating our recommendations [in the earlier report],” Melo told Newsbreak.

But according to a lawyer who had access to the four- or five-page final report, the Melo Commission recommended the investigation of Palparan, who gained notoriety for alleged human rights abuses under his commands. He retired last year.

Melo neither confirmed nor denied this. “We just reiterated our earlier recommendations,” he repeated. He said it was up to the President to release the final report.

The earlier report—which called on the government to create an independent civilian probe body to look into the killings—was also held from the public until the government was pressured by UN rapporteur Philip Alston to release it. Alston visited the country in February to assess the state of political killings here.

The commission previously held Palparan accountable—through command responsibility—for the killing of human rights activist Eden Marcellana in April 2002 in Mindoro Oriental. But it fell short of recommending his investigation. Palparan was the commander of the suspected killer, Army Sgt. Donald Caigas of the Army’s 204th infantry brigade based in the province.

Palparan told Newsbreak that he is not aware of the commission’s final report. “I am ready. I can face them anytime,” he said, noting that the police has finished its investigation of the Caigas case.

Civil courts

Since he is already retired, only civil courts can try Palparan. Bacarro said that the military can no longer hold a retired officer if no case was filed against him when he was still in active service.

An active officer facing charges of human rights violations can be tried in three courts. The military has two courts that try criminal and administrative offenses. At the same time, he can also be tried in a civil court.

According to Bacarro, at least 13 officers and enlisted personnel of the AFP are under pre-trial investigations for their alleged involvement in extrajudicial killings.

Leftist groups have lobbied before US lawmakers for reduced military aid to the Philippines (Read more about this here).

The US Senate increased the assistance instead—from US$11 million to $30 million. Yet, the Senate said an additional $2 million was contingent on the military’s implementation of Alton’s recommendations, a historic political statement.

The aid bill is still pending in the US House of Representatives.

In its earlier report, the Melo Commission had the following recommendations:
    •    Political will. “If extrajudicial executions are to be stopped, the political will to do what is right however great the cost must pervade all levels of government….”
    •    Investigation. “To ensure that all reports and complaints of extrajudicial killings against the military are investigated promptly, impartially, and effectively, the investigation must be conducted by… [a] civilian investigative agency… independent of, and not under the command, control, or influence of the Armed Forces.”
    •    Prosecution. “The Department of Justice must create a special team of competent and well-trained prosecutors to handle the trial of [cases of human rights violations.]”
    •    Protection of witnesses. “The Witness Protection Program created under Republic Act No. 6981 should be enhanced.”
    •    Special law for strict chain-of-command responsibility. “The President should propose legislation to require police and military and other government officials to maintain strict chain-of-command responsibility with respect to extrajudicial killings.”
    •    Enhancement of the investigative capabilities of the PNP and NBI. “The investigative capabilities of the PNP and NBI should be improved.”
    •    Proper orientation and training of security forces. “The AFP should be encouraged and supported to conduct intensive seminars, orientations, or trainings for mid- to high ranking officers to make them conscious of the prevailing doctrines of command responsibility.” – Rappler.com