The exit from the military service of Brig. Gen. Jovito Palparan is becoming as controversial as his watch in Mindoro, Samar and Central Luzon. Palparan, whom human rights and militant groups nickname “the butcher” for the record number of murders and abductions of political activists in those places, retires on September 11 when he turns 56.
The New People’s Army has condemned Palparan to death as “a war criminal” allegedly responsible for some 70 murders and 50 abductions in Central Luzon alone, where the population has been so terrorized by military abuse many towns are as quiet as graveyards after dusk.
In response to the NPA vow to hunt Palaparan down for “crimes against the people,” Malacanang has announced through Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita that it will provide Palaparan security if he asked for it. The statement marked the first time ever that Malacanang has singled out a retiring military officer for special protection. Military officers after all retire every now and then without much fuss. Many are appointed to other government posts, while others withdraw to their farms to tend orchids, or to retirement homes to be with their grandchildren.
The Malacanang assurance follows at least one instance in which a smiling Palparan was photographed with Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo during some Palace function, and Mrs. Arroyo’s profuse praise for him during her July State of the Nation Address. It’s also a given that upon retirement Palparan will be appointed to a juicy government post, in a more concrete–and more lucrative–demonstration of Malacanang approval of his methods.
Although his regime depended for survival on the military’s bayonets, not even Ferdinand Marcos ever paid special attention, or praised, any military officer no matter how loyal, brutal or unscrupulous. He did share some amount of power as well as loot with some. But except in the last days of his rule, he never publicly implied, much less declare, that he owed the military anything. One of Marcos’ most notorious killers, for example, was a middle-level military officer about whom Marcos never said a word, and whose existence in fact he never acknowledged.
In contrast, Palparan, and whatever it is he stands for, has always had Malacanang’s open blessings, and is likely to continue to have it in the near future. Much like the Marcos regime, the Arroyo government is choked with former military and police officials manning civilian posts, among them Executive Secretary Ermita himself, who’s a retired Army general active during the Marcos period. But there is talk that whatever appointment Palaparan will get is likely to be suited to his special talents as well as especially profitable. It’s a standing joke in the Cabinet, said Ermita, that Palparan’s skills could be best used for “salvaging” the tanker leaking bunker oil into Guimaras waters.
The special attention Palparan is getting can only mean that he has earned a special place in the regime’s heart–assuming, of course, that it has one. But what his retirement doesn’t mean is that it will end the reign of terror the regime has unleashed in much of the country. Palparan may have transformed most of the towns of Central Luzon, his current place of assignment, into the literal and figurative graveyards of cause-oriented politics. But that’s only Central Luzon.
All over the archipelago, from Southern and Northern Luzon to the Visayas, down to Mindanao, the killings and abductions are continuing, with practically one leader or member of a sectoral, militant or human rights organization being victimized each day.
In Central Luzon itself, we have the pledge of Palparan’s possible successor that the same military policies will continue. As of the other day, with only five days remaining till Palparan’s retirement, the rush for Community Tax Certificates or cedulas had spread to Nueva Vizcaya, as the military in that province began checking not only the cedulas of local residents but also those of motorists.
There is indeed no sign that the international attention the killings are getting–and the Philippines’ fast developing reputation not only as “the most murderous place in the world for journalists” (according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists) but also as a country whose government cannot protect its citizens and “whose word is meaningless” (according to the Asian Human Rights Commission)–is having any effect at all in stopping or even diminishing their number. Over the last two days there has instead been a palpable increase in abductions, illegal detention and political killings from north to south. It is almost as if someone were eager to meet a deadline or a quota.
In these times a sense of history may be appropriate. Palparan may be the most visible and most controversial military officer of the Arroyo regime. He may fancy himself a mover and shaker. But he is, after all, only a tool, an instrument in achieving the goals of limitless power for which the architects of the current policy terrorizing Filipinos already burdened by poverty and the myriad ills of life in this inferno are working. Like many others before him, he too will pass from the scene. He too will pass from memory.