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Missing students' moms face their top suspect

He is a retired major general known as 'Berdugo', or Executioner, because of the killing and disappearance of student activists in his assigned areas. -Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN

Sat, Jul 09, 2011
Philippine Daily Inquirer/Asia News Network

The mothers of missing student activists Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan on Friday came face to face with the man they believe was responsible for their daughters' disappearance five years ago.

And their fear, as voiced by Concepcion Empeño, that Jovito Palparan (above) would only issue a denial proved true. The retired major general is known among militant groups as "Berdugo" (Executioner) because of the killing and disappearance of activists in areas where he had been assigned.

"Of course. Yes, I am strongly denying [their accusations]. What will you admit if you have done nothing wrong? So we have to tell the truth," Palparan told reporters shortly before the start of the preliminary investigation on the criminal complaints the mothers had filed against him and other military men in the Department of Justice.

Concepcion Empeño and Linda Cadapan had filed against Palparan et al. a complaint for rape, serious physical injuries, arbitrary detention, maltreatment of prisoners, grave threats, grave coercion and violation of the rights of detained persons, among other charges.

The other respondents are Lieutenant Colonels Rogelio Boac and Felipe Anotado, 2nd Lt. Francis Mirabelle Samson, Arnel Enriquez, Master Sergeants Donald Caigas and Rizal Hilario, and a number of John Does.

The panel who will determine probable cause is made up of State Prosecutors Juan Pedro Navera and Irwin Maraya and Prosecuting Attorney Ethel Suril.

No counteraffidavits 

The mothers asked the investigating panel to put Palparan and the other respondents on the Bureau of Immigration's watch list to "prevent them from leaving the country and making a mockery of justice."

But Palparan's lawyer described the request as "too premature."

As it turned out, Palparan and the other respondents were unable to present counteraffidavits to the state prosecutors for various reasons. Their lawyers said the documents would be submitted on July 19, the date of the next hearing.

Anotado is undergoing treatment for colon cancer at the V. Luna Medical Hospital, lawyers from the military's Judge Advocate General's Office told the prosecuting panel.

Palparan said he was working in Mindanao and received his subpoena only last week and was able to confer with his lawyer only on Friday.

State Prosecutor Navera asked the Armed Forces of the Philippines personnel office to confirm reports that Caigas had died.

"It wasn't me"

Enriquez, assisted by counsel from the Public Attorney's Office, begged the complainants to drop him from the list of respondents.

Standing in the aisle and wearing what appeared to be an old shirt, Enriquez told the mothers in Filipino in a tone of desperation: "Somebody just used my name. That person involved in your daughters' disappearance has a long scar on his thigh. I don't have that. What happened to your families pained me. But this hurts me more because I really don't have anything to do with this."

One of the mothers' lawyers, Jobert Pahilga, told reporters that he and his co-counsel were inclined to believe Enriquez, which was why they wanted him to submit a counteraffidavit.

Pahilga said one of their witnesses, Alberto Ramirez, would be able to say whether it was Enriquez or somebody else who were with those who abducted Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño five years ago in Hagonoy, Bulacan province.

Ramirez will attend the July 19 hearing, Pahilga said.

In full force

Sympathisers of Concepcion Empeño and Linda Cadapan came in full force, including former Bayan Muna Representative Satur Ocampo, Representative Neri Colmenares, Karapatan chair Marie Hilao-Enriquez and Edith Burgos, mother of missing activist Jonas Burgos.

Among the witnesses present was Raymond Manalo, who claims to have seen the missing activists and farmer Manuel Merino being detained and tortured in an Army camp in Limay, Bataan province, in 2007.

Colonel Domingo Tutaan, chief of the Armed Forces' Human Rights Office, and his staff were also present "to observe" the proceedings.

Tutaan told reporters that his office would cooperate with the justice department throughout the preliminary investigation. He said the military wanted to "just resolve" the disappearance of the activists.

Palparan appeared to have taken the "Berdugo" tag in stride.

"It won't be erased from [the militants'] minds," he said. "They will always sell that tag to the media and the public to put me down and so their accusations against me would be credible. That's also against the Armed Forces and the government, if it would be imprinted on the minds of the people that they have an executioner."

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