Palparan and the counter-insurgency game plan
By Julius D. Mariveles
EX-ARMY general and former congressman Jovito Palparan has been accused of ordering the abduction, torture, and murder of civilians whom he suspected to be connected with or sympathizers of the underground revolutionary movement.
His arrest early morning Tuesday, August 12, 2014, in Santa Mesa in the capital Philippine city of Manila, ended his three years of hiding after a local court issued an arrest warrant against him for alleged kidnapping and serious illegal detention.
The victims were two students, Karen Empeno and Sherlyn Cadapan, reportedly abducted in 2006. They remain missing.
Activist organizations have called him “The Butcher of Mindoro” for leading what these groups call a vicious and ruthless counter-insurgency campaign during the administration of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo when he headed the Army’s 204th Brigade in Mindoro and, eventually, the 8th Infantry Division in Eastern Visayas. Before his retirement in September 2006, he was assigned to head the 7th Infantry Division in Central Luzon.
The court has yet to decide if Palparan is guilty or not. Aside from the case against him for the abduction of Empeno and Cadapan, human rights organizations also implicated him in the following cases:
- The alleged abduction and torture of brothers Raymond and Reynaldo Manalo;
- The abduction and killing of human rights worker Eden Marcellana and peasant leader Eddie Gumanoy; and
- The murders of Expedito and Manuela Abarillo, Ruben, Rodriga, and Niña Angela Apolinar; and Edilberto Napoles.
The Alliance for the Advancement of Human Rights (Karapatan) also released a record of Palparan showing the alleged atrocities that he committed dating all the way back to the 1980s when he was assigned in Central Luzon.
The cases include the alleged abduction of torture of peasant organizers and activists, the evacuation of several families in Santa Cruz, Zambals when the 24th IB conducted shelling operations, at least one case of summary execution, one disappearance, and several cases of illegal arrest and harassment in the Mountain Province.
Karapatan also claimed that they were able to document at least 61 cases of human rights violations including seven killings of civilians, one of them a five-year-old child, in 2001 when Palparan commanded the Task Force Banahaw in Laguna.
Like Palparan, former Army general Raymundo Jarque also went into hiding, publicly declaring in 1995 that he will be seeking refuge in the mountain lairs of the New People’s Army in Negros, the island where he led two major military campaigns during former President Corazon Aquino’s term.
Oplan Thunderbolt and Oplan Rolling Thunder were credited by the government for crippling the NPA’s backbone in southern Negros but it was also blamed for the evacuation of thousands of civilians, scores of whom died in cramped evacuation centers in the capital city of Bacolod.
“He went into hiding for a different cause, it is unlike what I did because I felt that I was a victim of injustice then,” Jarque told the PCIJ in reaction to the arrest of Palparan.
Jarque and several of his soldiers were ordered arrested for allegedly stealing prawns from the property of former Pulupandan town Mayor Magdaleno Pena, an influential lawyer and sugarcane planter. Jarque was also linked to the ambush of then Ombudsman Aniano Desierto who was hearing the case against him.
Like Palparan, Jarque also commanded a brigade during his stint in Negros. Asked how far a general can go in implementing the government’s counter-insurgency operations, Jarque said: “it depends on how you value your honor.”
Did Palparan act alone or were his alleged actions part of a systematic campaign?
In September 12, 2006, Professor Miriam Coronel Ferrer of the University of the Philippines’ Center for Integrative and Development Studies said during a forum “Violence Against Movements, Movements Against Violence” that:
“The unprecedented high number of killings of political activists associated with national democratic organizations… in (a) compressed time is part of this ‘collective punishment’ frame; the extra-judicial killings we have seen share the same features of rural community-based counter-guerilla warfare: indiscriminate or dismissive of the distinction between combatants and non-combatants, and clouded by ‘hate language’ and demonization of the enemy.”
The desired impact of the killings, she said:
“…is the same: fear, paralysis, scuttling of the organizational network, albeit not just in the local but the national sense. The goal is to break the infrastructure of the movement whose good showing in the past election (under the party list system) and corresponding access to pork-barrel funds and a public platform were, from the point of view of the anti-communist state, alarming.”
Before the nationwide killings went on an upsurge, then President Arroyo announced in June 2006 that the government has adopted a “new strategy” of all-out war against Maoist rebels represented by the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army.
“The CPP-NPA has done enough setting back peace and development for more than 30 years,” said then presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye. “The time has come to finally defeat this threat through a combination of military operations, law enforcement, and pro-poor programs.”
At least P1 billion was allotted by then President Arroyo for this campaign and thousands of soldiers were re-deployed to southern Luzon and Bicol region, two areas where the Communist movement is strong.
Joel Rocamora of the Institute of Popular Democracy, interviewed by Human Rights Watch in 2007, said that this declaration by Arroyo “to root out an insurgency that’s been going on for the last 30 years… creates an atmosphere within the military where the President says we have to get this done, and we can’t get it done on the battlefield, so let’s get at them by other means…(and) take shortcuts.”
The US-based HRW also said in its country report in 2007 that it was “concerned that the pressure of Arroyo’s declaration of a two-year deadline for the military to eradicate the communist insurgents has had a dangerous effect on civilians in areas targeted for counter-insurgency actions.”
INSIDE PALPARAN’S MIND: The general in his own words [Statements cited in the Human Rights Watch 2007 Report, "Scared Silent: Impunity for Extra-Judicial Killings in the Philipines"]
“(These are) being attributed to me, but I did not kill them. I just inspired (the triggermen)…We are not admitting responsibility here, what I’m saying is that these are necessary incidents.”
- “In his all-out war against the reds, this General dubbed the Butcher claims conscience is the least of his concerns,” interview by Fe B. Zamora, Sunday Inquirer Magazine, July 2, 2006
“It is my belief that these members of party lists in Congress are providing the day-to-day policies of the (rebel) movement.”
- “General Palparan: Leftist rebellion can be solved in two years,” Agence France Presse, February 2, 2006
“(They) provide materials and shelter (for the NPA)… (they) are legal but they are doing illegal activities.”
– “Make Communism Illegal Again,” Tonette Orejas and Norman Bordadora, Philippine Daily Inquirer, May 21, 2006
“We need to strengthen our legal offensive… There will be some collateral damage but it will be short and tolerable, (and in the end) acceptable… The enemy would blow it up as a massive violation of human rights, but to me it would be just necessary incidents compared to what happen really if we do not decisively confront the problem.”
– “General Palparan: Leftist rebellion can be solved in two years,” Agence France Presse, February 2, 2006
It remains to be seen if Palparan acted alone, inspired others, or was ordered to carry out a campaign like Operation Phoenix conducted by the American Central Intelligence Agency in Vietnam where civilians who were seen as part of the “political infrastructure” were deliberately targeted, and murdered.
Then Bulacan Gov. Josie dela Cruz, interviewed by HRW for its 2007 report, described Palparan during her meeting with him on numerous occasions: “In his terminology, there are no sympathizers, you are either with the NPA or not…As far as Palparan is concerned, once you deal with the NPA you are the NPA.”