This story was taken from Bulatlat, the Philippines's alternative weekly newsmagazine (http://www.bulatlat.com/, http://www.bulatlat.net/, http://www.bulatlat.org/).
Vol. V, No. 17, June 5-11, 2005


HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH

‘Where’s My Father?’
4 children among 20 missing persons in Samar

Four children are among some 20 persons reported missing in Samar; 22 others have been summarily executed – all in just four months. Behind these alleged atrocities is Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan whose latest military promotion is under intense questioning in Congress.

BY DABET CASTAÑEDA
Bulatlat

Seated across each other, Cristina Abalos and 2Lt. Wilbert Basquiñas traded irate glances throughout the congressional inquiry on May 31. When it was her turn to speak, Cristina could not prevent her emotion from exploding and, in tears, asked one question directed at Basquiñas: “Where is my father?”

Cristina, 36, was the surprise witness presented to the inquiry of the House committee on  defense headed by Rep. Catalino Figueroa (Samar, 2nd District) last week. She is the daughter of 62-year old Patricio Abalos who was abducted reportedly by Philippine Army soldiers under the command of Basquiñas on March 28. He has been missing since.

Mistaken identity

In an interview with Bulatlat later, Critina said soldiers started to make rounds in village in Quindaponan, South Road, Km. 2, Catbalogan, Samar in early March. “Nag-survey sila. Sabi sa amin gusto lang daw makipagkaibigan” (They conducted a survey. They said they just wanted to make friends), she recalled.

But the soldiers proved to be unwanted visitors rather than friends when at around 8:30 p.m. of March 28 while Patricio was watching the evening news on TV, Cristina noticed a dark-colored Revo parked in front of their house. Patricio went out to check the vehicle but as he stepped out of the house, four armed men alighted from the Revo and took the old man at gunpoint.

Cristina said she and relatives followed the Revo as it headed toward the Military Intelligence Battalion (MIB) at Camp Lucban, the headquarters of the 8th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army (ID PA) under the command of Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan.

Denials

The following day, Cristina and her mother, Rosa, went to the camp to visit Patricio but they were denied entry by the guards. They then tried to ask assistance from the local Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) but were turned down because according to the lawyers, they were also being harassed by soldiers. Going back to the camp on March 30, the two were again blocked from entering.

At the House hearing, General Palparan, who was present, denied he had any knowledge of Patricio’s whereabouts.

Confirmation

Cristina also recalled that on March 31, six soldiers led by Basquiñas forced their way into the Abalos home and searched their house without showing any warrant. “Nasa amin ang tatay mo. Makikita nyo lang sya pag may baril kayong nilabas” (We have your father. You’ll only see him if you can show us the firearm), Cristina quoted Basquiñas as saying.

Kung hindi nyo ilalabas ang baril, ikaw na ang susunod na dudukutin” (If you can’t show us the firearm you will be the next to be seized), Basquiñas supposedly told Rosa while poking his gun at her.

The soldiers insisted that Patricio is a member of the New People’s Army (NPA) and that his gun was hidden inside a baul (wooden trunk), she said.

Finding the trunk, the soldiers inspected it but found no firearm inside. The soldiers then took some of Patricio’s clothes and other belongings, including his medicines, put them inside the trunk and took it with them.

Before they left, Basquiñas left his mobile phone number to Cristina and told her to call him if she needed anything.

Cristina also told Bulatlat that in a separate meeting between Figueroa, Cristina and Rosa Abalos and Palparan on April 7 in the congressman’s house in Samar, Palparan had confirmed that his soldiers had her father in their custody.

Aminin mo na misis na NPA asawa mo, para matulungan ko kayo” (Just admit that  your husband is an NPA so I can help you), Palparan supposedly told Rosa to which she replied, “Nahihirapan na ngang maglakad iyon eh” (He could even hardly walk).

Palparan also supposedly told the Abaloses that he already gave a “go signal” to let them visit Patricio but Cristina said they have yet to see her father.

20 missing

The Abaloses are not alone looking for a loved one. Since Palparan took over the EV military command on Feb. 10 this year, 20 persons have been reported missing in the region – four of them children. Liza, 8, Marissa, 7, Charisse, 5, and Kulot, 3, were reportedly abducted together with Noni Fabella and Rina Balais-Fabella, a member of the Advocates for Women’s Actions, Rights and Empowerment (AWARE) on March 30 in Barangay 13, Catbalogan, Samar.

One of those missing is Narciso Parani. Narciso’s wife, Helen, was together with her five-year old son, Gilbert, when they attended the same House inquiry. Her husband was taken allegedly by soldiers belonging to the 63rd Infantry Battalion  (IB PA) under the command of Col. Mauel Usi.

Narciso was reportedly taken by the soldiers on the same day along with Jovito Velasco, 32 in Barangay (village) Sinantan, Calbayog City in Samar.

At around 2 a.m. of April 22, soldiers forced their way into the homes of the Paranis and the Velascos in Sinantan. Elena was able to follow her husband and the soldier-abductors until they reached the army detachment at the elementary school in Barangay Hamorawon, a 30-minute ride from Barangay Sinantan.

Helen passed out when the soldiers dragged her husband into a multicab that brought him to the same detachment.

That was the last chance that the two aggrieved wives saw their husbands.

In a separate interview with Bulatlat, the two men’s wives Helen Parani and Elena Velasco, 38,  said both Jovito and Narciso were also suspected as NPA members. “May nagturo daw na NPA yung mga asawa namin” (Somebody reportedly fingered at our husbands as from the NPA), the two told Bulatlat.

Denying the military allegation, Helen said her husband is a farmer while Elena’s husband is a construction worker. In fact, Elena said they had lived in Manila for almost eight years and only went back to Samar in June 2004 for the town fiesta.

Alarming

The cases of disappearances have reached alarming proportions in Samar. The human rights group Katungod-SB (Alliance for the Advancement of Peoples’ Rights-Eastern Visayas) has documented at least 20 cases of forced disappearances since February.

The desaparecidos include Oscar Cabacang, Anakpawis party-list group provincial coordinator; Amy Cabarles and a certain Ejercito, both employees of the Samar Provincial Supply Office (SPSO) in Catbalogan; Roberto Babas, 43, barangay captain of Biri, among others.

Worsening situation

Katungod-SB has also documented 22 cases of extra-judicial killings covering the period Feb. 10 to May 12. The report noted that six of these cases involved officers of party-list groups Bayan Muna (people first) and Anakpawis (toiling masses) including the murder of lawyer Felidito Dacut and Rev. Edison Lapuz.

The report said “the rest were farmers killed in their communities and were later alleged of being members of the NPA.”

Likewise, there have been 36 victims of strafing, bombing and indiscriminate firing; 13 victims of torture; 16 victims of physical assault and arbitrary arrest; and 17 individuals arbitrarily detained.

Meanwhile, 979 individuals have been victims of forcible evacuation affecting 21 communities in the towns of Calbiga, Tarangan, Motiong, Jiabong, Catbalogan and Paranas.

Disappointing

In a sworn statement given to the House inquiry, Alex Lagunzad, Katungod-SB secretary general, put on record the organization’s opposition to Palparan’s impending promotion and his continued deployment in Eastern Visayas, saying that these would signal further that the state’s military and police forces enjoy impunity.

The denunciation of Palparan’s human rights record has reached Congress too. Two congressmen from Samar have vowed to throw the controversial army officer out of the province and block his confirmation at the Commission on Appointments (CA).

It was a privilege speech given by Rep. Figueroa Samar on the deteriorating human rights situation in the province that prompted the House to begin an inquiry into this matter.

Meanwhile, another Samar congressman, Reynaldo Uy (1st District) submitted to the CA his strong opposition to the promotion of Palparan from brigadier general to major general. (Palparan was promoted from colonel while assigned in Oriental Mindoro to brigadier and then to major general by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in two years.)

In his sworn statement, Uy called Palparan a “notorious and a remorseless human rights violator.”

With the rate human rights violations are perpetrated in Samar, the congressman added, Palparan could surpass his record during his two-year stint as brigade commander of the 204th Infantry Brigade of the PA (IBPA) in Oriental Mindoro.

Uy assailed the CA for promoting Palparan despite accusations against him when he was still in Mindoro. “The promotion of Palparan would send the wrong message that human rights violations are rewarded with promotion,” Uy said in his statement.

The two Samar representatives also said they themselves have received threats for trying to expose the military’s abuses in the province. Figueroa specifically said he had received reliable information he and three other high officials from Samar are marked for liquidation or assassination by military elements for their alleged leanings with the NPA.

Palparan’s defense

Facing the House committee on national defense, Palparan seemed not worried at all the accusations hurled at him. Clad in his moss green army officer uniform and black jacket, Palparan came to town ready for the inquiry.

He started his testimony by attacking Bayan Muna for “launching a smear campaign against his person” and “demonizing” him even before his deployment to the 8th ID in Eastern Visayas. “This was done obviously to block by assignment to the region,” he said.

When asked about his alleged human rights violations, Palparan said he was into counter-insurgency campaign which entails “great sacrifices foremost from the soldiers and to many affected people especially those involved in the insurgency.”

Palparan added that these sacrifices are persistent because the insurgency in Samar is at a more advance stage than in anywhere in the country. He said around 50-60 percent of the people in the region are either involved or influenced by the NPA. Those influenced, he said, included soldiers from the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

The top army officer said NPA guerrillas can “roam freely” in the communities even in the presence of the military. To date, he said there were 17 soldiers transferred because of suspicions of collusion. One was discharged while another is under investigation.

Rep. Prospero Pichay who joined the committee hearing chided Palparan his unfounded statement and irresponsible accusations about soldiers’ connivance with the NPA.

“If you want to win the war, first you have to win the heart of the people in Samar. Now, probably you are making the wrong approach,” Pichay told Palparan. Bulatlat 

 

© 2004 Bulatlat  Alipato Publications

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