Philippines: Arrest of General must break down wall of impunity for torture

This morning’s arrest of a General accused of abductions and torture in the Philippines is an encouraging sign that the authorities are finally tackling a culture of impunity for serious human rights violations by the security forces, Amnesty International said. 

Retired Major General Jovito Palparan, 63, was arrested by the National Bureau of Investigation and members of the armed forces at around 3am in the Santa Mesa area of the Philippines’ capital, Manila.

Often referred to as Berdugo (“the executioner” or “the butcher”) by human rights activists, he faces charges of kidnapping and illegal detention of university students in 2006.  

“Today’s arrest of one of the Philippines’ most wanted alleged human rights violators must embolden the authorities to step up their efforts to bring to justice military and law enforcement officials who have reportedly abused their power through involvement in torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions,” said Rupert Abbott, Deputy Asia-Pacific Director at Amnesty International. 

“It is appalling that so many officials allegedly involved in human rights violations remain at large. General Palparan’s arrest brings hope that this is changing. He and others who are suspected of having committed human rights violations must be brought to justice in fair trials – the time has come to break down the wall of impunity, brick by brick.” 

During his military career, General Palparan led a unit in the Central Luzon region which was notorious for alleged human rights violations. Under his command, many activists and suspected supporters of the Communist Party of the Philippines were allegedly subjected to enforced disappearance, torture and extrajudicial execution.

In December 2011, Bulacan Regional Trial Court issued an arrest warrant for General Palparan, Lt. Col. Felipe Anotado, Jr., S/Sgt. Edgardo Osorio and M/Sgt. Rizal Hilario for the abduction of University of the Philippines students Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan on 26 June 2006, which reportedly occurred in a house in Hagonoy, Bulacan, just north of Manila. 

Anotado and Osorio have voluntarily surrendered to the authorities, but Hilario remains at large. 

Widespread use of torture

Amnesty International has received numerous harrowing reports of the widespread use of torture and other cruel and inhuman practices by the Philippine security forces. The organization has been campaigning for years to end impunity for torture by military and law enforcement agencies in the Philippines.

Raymond Manalo, an escaped detainee, detailed the torture he and others allegedly endured after being abducted and held in secret by men under General Palparan’s command. In a video interview with Amnesty International in 2010, he described meeting the General while in a detention camp. After escaping, Raymond Manalo survived to accuse his tormentors in court, in a case that reached the Philippines’ Supreme Court. He also brought his case to the UN Committee against Torture.

“Although it is rarely talked about, torture is endemic in the Philippines and is the country’s dark, open secret. Even though banned in national law, and while the country has signed up to international treaties on ending torture, this has often amounted to little more than paper promises,” said Rupert Abbott.

“All complaints of torture must be thoroughly and impartially investigated. The courts, the Department of Justice and government agencies mandated to ensure accountability for the abuse of power must be told that it is time to stop torture and hold torturers to account.”