Raymond Manalo uttered these words as he pointed at retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan as the high official who met with him while he and his brother were being illegally held incommunicado by the military. Palparan, Manalo said, talked to him and visited them several times.
Manalo narrated his ordeal before the Malolos Regional Trial Court Branch 14 at the hearing today, Feb. 16. His testimony, once hailed by the Supreme Court for its clarity and consistency, served as among the basis for the complaint against Palparan and his co-accused.
During the hearing, Manalo related that he first met Karen Empeno and Sherlyn Cadapan, along with farmer Manuel Merino, in Camp Tecson, in Bulacan province. In their brief, discreet conversations, the two students were able to share how they were tortured and raped.Julian Oliva Jr., lawyer of the families of the disappeared, said he is confident that Manalo’s eyewitness account alone could lead to Palparan’s conviction.
Apart from the disappearance of the two UP students, Manalo also narrated how he and his brother Reynaldo were tortured while they were in military custody.
The Manalo brothers were abducted at their home on Feb. 14, 2006. Soldiers, who came looking for their other brother Rolando, instead pounced on the two. They claimed the two were New People’s Army (NPA) members.
Both were brought from one military camp to another.
During their detention, he and his brother were beaten up, at times, with chains. At one point, Manalo added, soldiers poured gasoline on him and threatened to burn him alive.
The Manalo brothers were able to escape from the military on August 2007.
Emotions were high inside the courtroom as Manalo narrated in detail the harrowing experience of Karen and Sherlyn. He described how he saw them naked, shackled, as soldiers burned cigarettes on different parts of their bodies, and inserted a wooden stick in their sex organs.
At one point, the prosecution team asked for a five-minute break.
Mrs. Concepcion Empeno, mother of disappeared student Karen, bursted into tears as Manalo narrated how her daughter and Sherlyn were tortured.
Human rights activists were also in tears.
Mrs. Empeno said this is not the first time that he heard Manalo’s statement. But the pain it causes does not ease.
“I wanted to throw things (at Palparan). I wanted to hurt him. I could see him peeping behind his human shield. A person who is afraid is guilty,” Mrs. Empeno told the media.
Asked for her reaction on Manalo’s testimony, Mrs. Empeno believes that her daughter will return to them, “full of life.”
Palparan, for his part, remained stoic. He could hardly be seen behind the burly soldiers standing in front of him. At times, he would lean back and appear sleepy.
Not yet retired
Palparan’s lawyer Mallares told the media that Manalo’s testimony was inconsistent, especially where dates were concerned. He added that Palparan was already retired during the alleged disappearance of the two students.
Oliva said Manalo’s testimony remains consistent. He also belied Mallares’ claim that Palparan was already retired during the abduction, saying that the general retired from the military in September 2006.
Even if he was truly retired, Mrs. Empeno said, it would not absolve Palparan from the crime because his connection remained and he could influence orders, making an apparent reference to former police chief Alan Purisima, who led the Jan. 25 botched operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao while he was in preventive suspension.
Manalo has a separate case filed against Palparan and his men. It has been pending for review by the Office of the Ombudsman for more than six years now.