By Ed Lingao
THE MAN WHO, by his own account, was once considered “a weakling” who would not survive in the real world, had thought of himself as the necessary iron fist that would clear the country, not just of the communist New People’s Army, but of all militant organizations.
Jovito Salvaña Palparan Jr. was arrested by operatives of the National Bureau of Investigation in a dawn raid in Manila Tuesday morning, putting an end to a three-year manhunt for the man dubbed by militant groups as the Butcher of Central Luzon and Samar because of the extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances in the jurisdictions he was assigned to. He was also perceived as the architect of the all-out war of the administration of then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo until his retirement as a Major General in September 2006.
Yet in separate interviews conducted with Palaparan at the height of the all-out war in 2006, Palparan painted himself as a curious study in contrasts, a man who was not afraid to be politically incorrect, and who was willing to put into words, in stark black and white, what some sectors in the military thought but would not dare say about the communist insurgency.
In those interviews, Palparan made no bones about his intention to “clear” his jurisdiction of all militant groups, “both armed and non-armed,” saying that these groups provided material and logistical support for an insurgency that has festered for more than four decades.
The man labelled by human rights groups as a butcher also said he is not even sure if he has personally killed any person in his 33 years in the military, even though many of those years were spent in some of the most bloody battlegrounds of the country. Palparan also claimed that he has never ordered the death of any specific person, although he acknowledges that his words provide the “guidance” that his men carry out.
“Kung ako lang ang masusunod, it should be a very decisive action against the movement,” Palaran said in an interview for the ABC-5 documentary State of War in 2006, when he was still commanding general of the 7th Infantry Division in Central Luzon. “There should be no militant organization existing in an area if it is already cleared, because they have no place na maloko nila ang tao.”
(If I had my way, it should be a very decision action against the movement. There should be no militant organization existing in an area if it is already cleared, because they have no place to fool people.)
Asked if he was responsible for extrajudicial killings of militant leaders in his area, Palaparan said he has no “direct responsibility.”
“Hindi ko aaminin ang direct responsibility,” he said in that interview. “Pero maari na because of my efforts and my aggressiveness and determination, at yung mga pronouncements ko, perhaps I could be responsible on that aspect.”
(I will not take direct responsibility. But perhaps because of my efforts and my aggressiveness and determination and my pronouncements, perhaps I could be responsible in that aspect.)
In another interview with Palparan by the defunct documentary show Frontlines on ABC-5 two months after his retirement in September 2006, Palparan expressed disappointment that he was not given a bigger role and a wider jurisdiction with which to practice what he preached.
“Kung nabigyan pa ako ng panahon na may command ako na malaki, sa tingin ko mas malaki pa ang magagawa ko,” he said. “I could have completely cleared Central Luzon. It took me six months to clear Samar.”
(If I had been given more time and a larger command, I think I could have done so much more. I could have completely cleared Central Luzon. It took me six months to clear Samar.)
Palparan is an advocate of aggressive, unequivocal, and determined action against perceived enemies of the state and their supporters, saying that this was actually the only way to minimize deaths.
“When you give all-out effort, ang result niyan is lesser casualties and lesser resources spent,” he said. “Ganyan ako, paspasan, todo-todo. Mas marami kang nasasave.”
(When you give all-out effort, the result is lesser casualties and lesser resources spent. That is my style, rush in, go all the way. You get to save more.)
Palaparan longed for the days when Republic Act No. 1700, the Anti-SUbversion Law, was still in effect, saying it allowed the government to be more aggressive in going after both armed and non-armed groups.
“Kung desidido sila, lahat ng involved, lahat ng cadre, pinagkukuha talaga yun, kinasuhan. They are punished. Both armed and non-armed. Yung educator nila, propagandist, kasama iyun,” he said.
(If they are determined, everyone involved, all the cadre would be picked up and charged. They are punished. Both armed and non-armed. They educators and propagandists are also included.)
Asked how government could possibly pick up and charge all militants, Palparan replied: “Then our coercive power of the state applies. We are the coercive power of the state. Kung loko-loko ka, matakot ka sa amin.” (If you are a troublemaker, be afraid of us.)
Palparan also expressed envy for other countries that have “complete control of the media,” saying it would have helped his cause.
“In other countries there is complete control of the media as far as terrorism and insurgency,” he said. “Bakit, nung time ni Marcos may complete control, It can happen.” (During the time of Marcos, there was complete control. It can happen.)
The man who redefined the image of the military in the Gloria Arroyo years was not even a graduate of the state’s military school, the Philippine Military Academy. Palaparan joined the military through the Reserved Officers Training Course or ROTC. Before that, Palparan relates, he was perceived by many as a weakling.
“Ang tingin kasi nila, parang weakling ako, parang hindi ako survivor,” Palparan says. (They saw me as a weakling, someone who is not a survivor.)
In his eyes, Palparan says the one event that truly defined his character and mindset was his experience in the battlefields of Mindanao.
In 1973, fresh off his ROTC, Palparan was given command of the 24th Infantry Battalion, the Wildcats, in Jolo, Sulu. It was the height of the Moro rebellion, and Palaparan and his men would be scarred by the things they saw and did in the jungles of Sulu. It was a camaraderie forged in fire. In fact, whenever Palparan would visit the housing compound for his old men from Jolo in Taguig city, his old soldiers would all come out to greet him and recall those hairy days.
“Yung radio operator ko, namatay katabi ko,” Palparan recalls. “Sigaw ng sigaw, Nanaaayy! Hindi na umabot ng umaga.” (My radio operator died beside me. He was shouting for his mother. He died before dawn.)
Palparan recalls losing an entire platoon, more than 30 men, in an encounter. Sometimes, he would have to kick or beat his men who would refuse to fight because they were terrified. For every five men he commanded, two would go home in body bags. Palaparan would spend the next eight years fighting in Jolo and Basilan.
During one such visit, Palparan and his old men talked about some of the atrocities committed in that conflict, apparently forgetting the videocamera that was there to document their reunion.
“Tinatanggal namin ang tenga, tinutuhog namin iyan,” one of Palparan’s old soldiers volunteered during that reunion. “Meaning, number ng patay iyan. Pero hindi namin kinakain.”
(We would remove the ears and string them up. That means the number of dead enemies. But we don’t eat that.)
Palparan said this was practiced because some commanders would cheat on the “body count” of enemy dead. He said the practice was eventually stopped. However, Palparan acknowledged that there was a time that they would even collect heads. “Kaya inaano ang tenga… pero hininto rin iyan! Dahil pag nagreport ng casualty, yung body count dinadaya. Pag may mga tenga kang dala… nung una nga ulo eh.”
(The reason we take ears… but we eventually stopped it! The casualty reports, the body counts were being rigged. If you have ears… at first, we used heads.”
In the end, Palparan said he was very conscious of the fact that there were many people after his head, especially from the New People’s Army. To this threat, Palparan displayed a mix of fatalism and bravado.
“Pag pumunta ako sa lugar, sigurado ako na walang papatay sa akin diyan,” he said. “Kasi siguro, ang papatay sa akin, patay na.”
(If I go to a place, I am certain that no one there will kill me. Maybe that is because the man who will kill me is already dead.)