The National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) joined human rights groups in welcoming the final conviction of a military general who was linked to the abduction of two university students.
“When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers,” said Bishop Reuel Norman Marigza, NCCP secretary general, in a statement on Monday, June 6.
The Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction of retired Army Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr. and two military officials for “kidnapping and serious illegal detention” over the disappearance of Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan in 2006.
In a decision promulgated on May 31, the appellate court sentenced Palparan to “reclusion perpetua” without eligibility for parole. The court also imposed a six-percent annual interest on the PhP300,000 civil indemnity and moral damages to be paid to the families of the students from the date of finality of the decision until full payment.
“This decision of the Court of Appeals is a testament to the untiring efforts of the Cadapan and Empeno families and fellow human rights advocates for justice,” said Bishop Marigza. He said the Protestant council has accompanied the families in their quest, “even in bringing their plight to the attention of the international community.”
“We are glad that Palparan, who earned the moniker ‘The Butcher,’ will remain in jail,” said the bishop.
He noted that the case against the general was at least decided in court, “unlike the countless people who have been victims of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearance, torture, warrantless arrests, illegal detention and other forms of human rights violations in the places where he was assigned during his heyday.”
Bishop Marigza also expressed NCCP’s hope that other human rights violators also face the bar of justice.
“It is critical for the dismantling of the culture of impunity that has become entrenched in our country, that there is justice and accountability for all perpetrators of human rights violations,” said the Protestant bishop.
Human rights groups, meanwhile, warned authorities who abuse their power that they can’t get away with justice.
“Let this serve as a warning that if you think you can get away with it, look at Palparan,” said lawyer Edre Olalia of the National Union of People’s Lawyers.
The human rights lawyer noted that only the subordinates “who were being used by those in power” usually are punished.
Palparan is the highest ranking military officer who has been criminally convicted for human rights violations.
Rights group Karapatan said the final conviction of the general “affirms the need to pursue justice and accountability through and through despite threats, harassment, reprisals, and patronage by those in power of these human rights violators.”
“This could not have been possible without the strength and perseverance of the parents of Karen and Sherlyn, the witnesses, families and friends of the disappeared, the lawyers and human rights groups, the international community and the Filipino people who kept watch and remained vigilant throughout the years,” read a statement released by the group.
In June 2006, Empeño and Cadapan were abducted by gunmen in a rented apartment in Hagonoy town, Bulacan province.
Empeño was a sociology student doing research on the struggle of Bulacan farmers while Cadapan, who was reportedly two months pregnant, was a human kinetics student and an organizer for the farmers’ group Alyansang Magbubukid ng Bulacan.
In 2011, Palparan was charged with torture and rape, serious physical injuries, arbitrary detention, maltreatment of prisoners, grave threats, and coercion before the Department of Justice.
For three years, the general went into hiding and was only arrested in 2014. – with a report from Marielle Lucenio