Palparan’s rise and fall

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Thursday, August 14, 2014


I CAUGHT “Dekada ‘70” on Cinema One while surfing the cable yesterday morning. The film, carried by veteran stars Vilma Santos and Christopher de Leon and which is based on the novel of the same title by Lualhati Bautista, transports viewers back to the Philippines under the Marcos dictatorship and the Martial Law years, a period that had families struggling to cope with government excesses.

As I watched that scene involving the torture of the Piolo Pascual character after his arrest for being a subversive, I was reminded of retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan and of his recent arrest. I am not saying Palparan is a subversive. Rather, he symbolized a period in our recent history that brought us back to the dark days of military rule.

I am referring to the years (2006 to 2010) under the administration of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo when police and military forces were unleashed on suspected insurgents and even militants in the open and legal mass struggle. The result was a “salvaging” orgy that ended only when a new government, that of President Noynoy Aquino, took over.

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Palparan was the poster boy of that campaign. The case he is facing is for the abduction of students Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan in Bulacan in 2006. But Empeño and Cadapan were just among the many people said to have been victimized wherever Palparan was assigned. Or wherever Arroyo’s forces upped their counter-insurgency drive.

Empeño and Cadapan has been added to the list of the country’s desaparecidos, but stories about their eventual fate—that they were tortured, raped and burned to death by some of the elements under Palparan—was Martial Law period-like. No wonder Palparan eventually earned the tag of “butcher,” although I would say that’s an exaggeration.

What Palparan actually did was to be the face of the impunity that reigned at that time. I could not remember the exact count of activists in the open and legal mass struggle who were killed during that period. But I recall that human rights groups did mount a count.

I could not forget that period because it got me into worrying for some of my activist friends. One time, I bumped into a local leader of a militant women’s group inside the fastfood section of a mall. I told her that she should not walk around alone, considering the situation. I didn’t know how she took that advice but she smiled awkwardly.

The activist husband of my former colleague in another newspaper (she is now abroad) was a friend when I was in Bohol several years back. He became a leader of a chapter in Bohol of a militant party-list group, among his many concerns. He was shot to death by an alleged military asset inside a public market in one of the town’s of that province.

Of course, those who presided over the extra-judicial killings were so enamored with their acquired power over other people’s lives that they forget the lessons provided by the Martial Law years. The truth is, power can be fleeting—or should I say has an expiry date. For Palparan, that came when he retired from the service and later when Aquino took over.

When Palparan was arrested, he did try to sound as defiant as before. But the person showed on TV was not the same ramrod general who went around his jurisdiction inspiring fear. What the public saw was a long-haired, frail old man who expressed worries about his safety. He no longer inspires fear but, for those who idolized him, only pity.

I hope present generation of military and police elements will heed the message wrapped around Palparan’s rise and fall.

(khanwens@gmail.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on August 15, 2014.

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