Activists stage a protest outside the Supreme Court building in Manila in this 2011 file photo to call for the arrest of army Major General, Jovito Palparan, who was then in hiding. (Photo by Vincent Go)
A decorated Philippine army general was sentenced to a life in prison on Sept. 17 for the "kidnapping and illegal detention" of two university students who went missing in 2006.
A regional trial court in a province north of Manila found retired army Major-General Jovito Palparan guilty of kidnapping university students Karen Empeno and Sherlyn Cadapan.
Human rights groups have called Palparan "The Butcher" and accused him of being behind dozens of extra-judicial killings in areas where he was assigned.
Among those allegedly ordered killed by Palparan were human rights defender Eden Marcellana, Protestant pastor Edison Lapuz and Bishop Alberto Ramento of the Philippine Independent Church.
The general's co-accused Lt. Col. Felipe Anotado and S/Sgt Edgardo Osorio were also found guilty. They were also each ordered to pay the families of the victims about US$5,550 in damages.
As the sentence was being read, Palparan shouted to the judge: "You're a coward, Judge! You are such a coward! You're such a fool!"
Priest welcomes guilty verdict
Father Edwin Gariguez, head of the social action secretariat of the Philippine bishops' conference, said the retired general deserved the sentence.
"The guilty verdict is justice served. He should be made accountable for his crime," said the priest who claimed he was a target of the former general's henchmen.
The priest, who was in Mindoro province while Palparan was serving there, had volunteered to be a prosecution witness during the trial.
He said he was able to gather evidence about Palparan's activities in Mindoro where many killings of activists took place while the general was there.
"We were able to document [the crimes] including how they were done," said the priest. "Some of the bodies were even mutilated," he added.
Military respects court decision
In a statement, the Philippine army said it respected the court ruling.
Palparan was the commander of the army's 7th Infantry Division at the time of the student kidnappings in the town of Hagonoy, Bulacan province, in June 2006.
The general retired three months later and later won a seat in Congress. He ran for the Senate while in detention during the 2016 elections but lost.
"The military will not tolerate acts detrimental to the well being of everyone, as we always advocate the protection of human rights," said army spokesman Lt. Col. Louie Villanueva.
In a statement, the lawyers representing the families of the missing students said they "were extremely elated that justice has finally caught up" with Palparan.
"The law and evidence is not only on our side this time around, but we are on the side of truth and justice," the lawyers said.
Palparan's conviction should be "a signal to all other human rights violators, especially of the worst kind, that rightful retribution will come in time."
Human Rights Watch said the conviction "rekindles hope among the families of many other victims of human rights violations, now and in the past."
"It should also serve as a reminder to state security forces that justice and the law will catch up with them sooner or later."