The knighting of Jovito Palparan
RETIRED Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan, former commanding general of the Philippine Army’s 7th and 8th Infantry Divisions, erstwhile army chief of staff, holder of Distinguished Service Stars and a Gold Cross Medal, known in various circles as alternately “The Butcher” and “Berdugo,” is a great believer of civilian involvement in executive issues. “I encourage people victimized by communist rebels to get even.”
The one-time party-list candidate of the True Marcos Loyalists—a “minority group” that promises “to implement the government’s national security program”—is not a particularly remarkable looking man, unless you count the eyebrows flaring into points over the sunken eyes, and the near-cadaverous hollows of his face. He was born in Cagayan de Oro on Sept. 11, 59 years ago, has five children—including a son named Bullet—and counts as an achievement “clearing eight provinces in Central Luzon and Cordillera of insurgents.” Within the term of President Macapagal-Arroyo, Palparan was promoted twice; in 2003 he made the step from colonel to brigadier general. In 2004, the President named him major general, just months after his previous promotion. In her 2006 State of the Nation Address, President Arroyo acknowledged Palparan for his offensives against “rebel terrorists.”
The President, self-proclaimed anti-drug czar, wants the streets clean of drug pushers. Last week, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said a search committee was considering Palparan’s appointment as a member of the Dangerous Drugs Board.
Ermita says that the government was “studying what would be the immediate utilization for him.” It may seem odd that the government finds itself responsible for the placement of former army officers in civilian positions, but with 25 other police and military officials sitting in plum government positions, including ambassadorships to Australia and the leadership of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office, this isn’t a strange phenomenon. What is strange is that this man, this particular man whose very name inspires images of blood and violence, who has been named, repeatedly, in acts of brutality that have caused grown men to soil themselves, and women to bleed chunks of blood into buckets of piss, is being rewarded for “his expertise.”
A Manila Times editorial says that the appointment of Palparan constitutes “good news, …precisely from the fact he is experienced in counter-insurgency.” Palparan’s reputation precedes him, says Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez. He is “painted as a devil,” and “that kind of reputation may be good for this campaign against drugs.” It is “unfortunate,” says incoming Press Secretary Cerge Remonde, that Palparan would come under fire for being “effective” against “communist terrorists.”
His name is Jovito Palparan, and there is a reason they call him the Butcher—although he was known as the torturer as early as 1981. Before his retirement in 2006, Palparan was linked to more than 500 cases of human rights abuse, mainly summary executions and disappearances, during his stints as commander of the 24th Infantry Battalion in Central Luzon, 204th Infantry Battalion in Mindoro and Romblon, and 8th Infantry Division in Samar and Leyte.
In 2007, a government-initiated commission headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Jose Melo 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. “General Palparan and perhaps some of his superior officers may be held responsible for failing to prevent, punish or condemn the killings under the principle of command responsibility.”
Last October, a Supreme Court decision upheld the findings of the Court of Appeals linking Palparan to the abduction of brothers Raymond and Reynaldo Manalo, both farmers in Bulacan who were taken under military custody for 18 months on suspicion of being NPA rebels. Manalo’s testimony detailed torture, multiple rapes, murder, and a variety of other crimes, and included a narration of a meeting with Palparan, dressed in shorts, who told a limping Manalo that his life depended on whether Manalo proves “you are now on our side.”
The Supreme Court upheld the appellate court’s findings in 2007 that “Palparan’s participation in the abduction [of the brothers] was established.”
Palparan denies all of these, and adds that Raymond Manalo is a proven member of the New People’s Army. “We have records of that. He’s an enemy of the Cafgu (Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit),” he said.
It is surprising why these records never made their way to the court. After all, if Manalo were a member of the NPA, guilty of murder and extortion, Palparan seems to have neglected his duties by failing to bring Manalo to court.
Yet even with Supreme Court decisions, even with international indignation, even with his own testimonies, the government has chosen to give Palparan and his crimes a wide berth. Denial and silence have been the usual defense, behavior that was ominous enough even without the Manalo decision. Today, this government does not stop at a shameful silence—today it celebrates Palparan’s “expertise,” submits his “methods” as effective, and calls his long crusade of blood proof that “he can deliver.”
“The killings are being attributed to me,” he says, “but I did not kill them. I just inspire the triggermen.” He was delighted at the disappearance of the students who were volunteering outside of Manila—“Their disappearance is good for us but as to who abducted them, we don’t know.”
It does not matter whether they pit Palparan against drugs, or prostitution, or corruption, or smuggling, or whatever new cause the President decides to crusade against. Wherever he is, he will strike fear, here comes Lord Death, here comes the law of the barrel of the gun. He will be effective, because people will die, whether or not they are guilty, for as long as Palparan believes they are. Whatever the government owes Palparan, it is not worth making this man a god.