We in the Asia Pacific Coordinating Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (APCCHRP), a campaign network of human rights advocates in the region, welcome the arrest of former Gen. Jovito Palparan. Also known as “The Butcher” among human rights defenders, he had evaded arrest for many years after being charged with the abduction, torture and involuntary disappearance of student activists Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan in Central Luzon, Philippines.
At the same time, we voice concern that this showcased apprehension of such a high-profile human rights violator will be used as a smokescreen for the continuing extrajudicial killings and abductions under the government of President Benigno Aquino III.
Just last August 9, two student activists from the University of the Philippines (UP), namely Guiller Cadano and Gerald Salonga, were abducted by the police and military in the province of Nueva Ecija, and filed with trumped up charges. This illegal arrest, occuring in the same province where Empeño and Cadapan had been detained and tortured, signals the fact that abductions and the filing of trumped-up charges by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) continues to this day.
While Gen. Eduardo Año, chief of the Intelligence Services of the AFP (ISAFP) which led the manhunt for Palparan (who also carried a 2-million peso prize on his head) triumphalizes on the apprehension of his erstwhile military colleague, it must be remembered that he himself is being held to account for numerous human rights violations during his stint that followed Palparan’s reign of terror in Central Luzon, such as the involuntary disappearance of agriculturist Jonas Burgos. Even then, he was lauded and appointed by President Aquino himself to head the AFP’s intelligence wing.
We also cannot but be troubled by recent developments in the country’s human rights situation. In the first quarter of this year alone, 22 people have already fallen victim to extrajudicial killings and massacres. This includes William Bugatti, a staff-member of the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA), a member organization of human rights alliance KARAPATAN. Last August 6, Hildegardo Hernandez, a peasant organizer in Quezon province was shot by a motorcycle-riding man, a style of political assassination linked to the AFP’s “death squads” that proliferated during Palparan’s time.
As of June 30, 2014, KARAPATAN has documented 204 victims of extrajudicial killings under the Aquino government. There have also been 21 victims of enforced disappearances, 99 cases of torture, 664 illegal arrests and detention, and 39,800 victims of forced evacuation.
We believe that the apprehension alone of Palparan, while a positive first step, falls short of the redress expected by the victims’ families as well as the recommendations of erstwhile UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston. The culture of impunity that has been in place since Arroyo’s term has created military monsters such as Palparan, but it is also deeply entrenched in the dominant, US-influenced mindset of the AFP that is underpinned by the National Security doctrine. It is the same mindset that has led to the derailing of the peace negotiations between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GPH).
The APCCHRP is calling on the Aquino government to prosecute Palparan case rigorously, but even more importantly, to bring to justice other perpetrators of human rights violations under the Arroyo regime as well as those under his own watch. We also urge the Philippine government to return to the negotiating table with the NDFP and resume the stalled peace talks, a move that should significantly improve human rights prospects in the country.
Hong Kong Campaign for the Advancement of Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines
Hong Kong Campaign for the Advancement of
Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines
c/o ASA, No. 4 Jordan Road, Kowloon, Hong Kong SAR
Tel. (852) 98105070, 97585935 Fax. (852) 27354559