ALL the years of hard work and painstaking intelligence gathering by an exclusive unit of military operatives under Task Force Run Away were finally rewarded yesterday morning with the arrest of the elusive fugitive, retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said he ordered a few years back the formation of Task Force Run Away, a unit under the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), which was solely dedicated to the manhunt and capture of Palparan.
The controversial general was spotted withdrawing cash in an automated teller machine, hours before he was arrested by combined elements of the AFP and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) on Tuesday.
Gazmin, likewise, confirmed that Palparan sent surrender feelers last year on condition that he would only give himself up to President Benigno Aquino 3rd.
But he reportedly rejected Palparan’s condition and had not heard from him again thereafter.
AFP chief of staff Gen. Catalino Pio Catapang said he would order an investigation to determine if some active members of the military had coddled Palparan as a fugitive.
He pointed out, though, that they have no jurisdiction on retired military officers and personnel.
Catapang said he had known Palparan since the time they were young officers.
“He was really an aggressive officer, an anti-communist and he really did his job well,” Catapang said, even as he pointed out that under the rule of law, Palparan is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
AFP spokesman Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, meanwhile, disclosed that the New People’s Army (NPA) has a standing “shoot to kill” order against Palparan.
“The CPP-NPA has already declared him guilty and the standing order against him is ‘shoot on site’,” he added.
Palparan and three other Army personnel are charged with the 2006 kidnapping of University of the Philippines students Karen Empeno and Sherlyn Cadapan.
State Prosecutor Juan Pedro Navera said there are eye witnesses who can pin down Palparan, who is facing criminal raps at the Bulacan Regional Trial Court Branch 14.
“Of course, of course, [the evidence against Palparan is strong], based on the testimonies of Raymond Manalo and the other eye witnesses,” Navera told reporters.
Navera said Palparan’s arrest will expedite the resolution of the case.
Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) challenged the administration of President Benigno Aquino 3rd not to give special treatment to the retired major general, who is also known as the “notorious butcher,” after he was arrested by the NBI agents early on Tuesday.
But KMU Vice-Chairperson Lito Ustarez said Palparan should rot in jail.
“The handling of his [Palparan] case will be a test for the Aquino government and the justice system,” Ustarez said in a statement.
“We are calling on the Filipino workers and people to continue the struggle to make
Palparan accountable. Let us continue the struggle for human rights and justice,” he added.
Meanwhile, Vencer Crisostomo, Anakbayan chairperson, said the arrest of Palparan reminded them of the disappearance, torture, abduction and murder of the victims of counter-insurgency program Oplan Bantay Laya 1 and 2, a project of Palparan during the Arroyo presidency, where militant students, youth leaders, peasants and workers like Empeño, Cadapan, Cris Hugo, Ambo Guran and Farley Alcantara were arrested or abducted.
Crisostomo added that the campaign against militants continues even today under the Aquino administration’s Oplan Bayanihan.
Meanwhile, the Philippine Chapter of the International League of Peoples’ Struggle (ILPS-Phils) cheered Palparan’s arrest.
They said Palparan led the US-backed counter-insurgency program Oplan Bantay-Laya during the nine-year rule of Arroyo.
Under the program, human rights group Karapatan has documented at least 1,206 cases of extra-judicial killings and 206 victims of enforced disappearances who remain missing to this day.
Fulfillment of a promise
In Malacañang, Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said the former military general’s downfall was a “fulfillment” of Aquino’s promise.
“President Aquino promised that those who evade the law will be found. That promise to capture General Palparan has been fulfilled today,” Lacierda said.
“Today, this resolute determination has paid off, the long arm of the law has finally reached Mr. Palparan,” he stressed.
WITH ROBERTZON F. RAMIREZ AND JOEL SY EGCO