By Nuel M. Bacarra
I interviewed Raymond Manalo early in the morning of the promulgation of his and brother Reynaldo’s kidnapping and illegal detention with serious physical injuries case against retired Major General Jovito Palparan last Friday, October 6. He was excited and, as was the mark of his 16-year narrative against “The Butcher” and cohorts, he was straightforward and hopeful. “GUILTY!” Raymond blurted when I asked him what he thought the verdict would be.
Raymond was justifiably confident as he presented generally the same testimony he provided in the case that convicted Palparan of the same charges involving missing University of the Philippines students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño in 2018. He added that his testimony was even stronger this time as he was no longer a simple witness but he was testifying on his and his brother’s own abduction and torture in the hands of Palparan’s men.
Meeting the general and other victims
Raymond had always been consistent in his revelations against the accused. He and Reynaldo were abducted on February 14, 2006 from their home in San Ildefonso, Bulacan by the paramilitary under the 7th Infantry Division then commanded by Palparan. They were brought to various military camps throughout Central Luzon for 18 months but eventually escaped from a chicken farm somewhere in Pangasinan province where they suffered forced labor in the hands of their captors.
Raymond told the Court that after their abduction Palparan himself ordered the brothers brought to the barangay hall in Sapang, San Miguel, Bulacan where the most notorious general of the Gloria Arroyo regime personally gave him P1,500 to give to his parents. Palparan instructed Raymond to give the amount to his parents and tell them it was “his income from his new boss.” Palparan also told Raymond to tell his parents not to “attend hearings or join rallies and that he already joined Palparan.” In addition, The Butcher also told Raymond that, “If he attempted to escape, his family will be massacred and he and Reynaldo will also be killed.”
In a Philippine Army camp in Limay, Bataan, Raymond testified that he witnessed the torture of Karen and Sherlyn, as well as the the murder of farmer Manuel Merino who was kidnapped with the students. Merino was stabbed and his remains were burned. Raymond added that he saw the fire burning in the distance the entire night. Afterwards, Raymond and Reynaldo were brought to a resort in Iba, Zambales. But when they were brought back to Limay, Karen and Sherlyn weren’t there anymore.
Raymond’s testimony in Karen and Sherlyn’s case was so strong that the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court upheld Palparan’s conviction.
Raymond himself was severely manhandled by the soldiers. He still sports a scar on his forehead that came from a blow with the butt of a gun. His back became an ashtray of the troopers during a drinking spree and he also became their punching bag. He also underwent sessions of “water cure” from his captors.
But the Malolos Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 19 under Judge Francisco P. Felizmenio acquitted Palparan last Friday afternoon.
We saw Raymond rushing down the courthouse after the promulgation to join his supporters gathered by the curb. Crying, he shouted: “Walang katarungan dito! Ang katarungan ay para lang sa mayayaman, hindi para sa mahihirap! (There’s no justice here! Justice are only for the rich, not for the poor!)
Karapatan secretary general Tinay Palabay immediately embraced Raymond to console him and asked water for the crying victim. Edith Burgos, mother of involuntary disappearance victim Jonas Burgos, also embraced and comforted him. It was Atty. Julian Oliva Jr. who fielded the reporters’ questions about what happened inside the courtroom. I hardly understood the questions and answers as I could not take my eyes of Raymond. He was heaving with grief as he covered his face with a towel.
What followed were indignant speeches about the Court’s decision. When Raymond had somewhat recovered, the group decided to go back to Manila. At six in the evening of the same day, a rally was held at the Boy Scout Rotunda in Quezon City for more indignant speeches against the verdict. Human rights and progressive groups said they could not reconcile Felizmenio’s decision with the fact that Raymond’s testimony that convicted Palparan earlier—one that was upheld by superior Courts—was junked. They agreed with the victim when he shouted, Takot ka, Judge!” (You’re scared, Judge!)
Raymond was himself the last speaker at the indignation rally. Composed this time, he said the pursuit for justice in his and his brother’s case will continue. He assured the media and his supporters that a new round of battle in the courts and in the streets will soon commence. Palparan would not escape accountability, he said.
Covering the promulgation had been one of the longest for me since I became a reporter for Kodao. My advancing age tells me there should be few of this kind of coverage, but my tiredness was overshadowed by Raymond’s determination and strength. What could a reporter do when he has compelling stories and strong subjects like Raymond Manalo but accompany him (and others like him) in their journey?
Yes, I was sad for Raymond and his brother last Friday. But I ended my coverage with the same hope that he asked everyone who accompanied him that day: “Justice will be served as long as we don’t give up.” #