It’s become a national security truism: One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. This is the prevailing dichotomy that makes fugitives and revolutionaries invisible to the police, said Sen. Gregorio Honasan, a famous fugitive from 1987 to the early 1990s. This also explains why, he continued, it took the United States 10 years to track down Osama bin Laden, and why seven months into the manhunt, the 80-man tracker teams from the Philippine National Police (PNP) have yet to bag retired Major General Jovito Palparan.
Palparan has been charged with two counts of kidnapping and serious illegal detention in the abduction of University of the Philippines student activists Karen Empeno and Sherlyn Cadapan who both disappeared in 2006. He fled before a warrant of arrest could be served him and remains at large since December 2011.
The ability of a fugitive/revolutionary to evade capture depends on the support he gets from the populace, Honasan explained. “If a significant section of the people supports his cause, he will be given sanctuary,” he added, stressing that the situation is not unique to the Philippines or to alleged offenders like Palparan “who is presumed innocent until proven guilty in court.”
A man-on-the-run needs more than sectoral support if he intends to leap ahead of his pursuers, Honasan pointed out. “The main weapon is to remain anonymous, and that requires discipline,” he said.
Honasan is an authority on escape and evasion. After leading the coup d’ etat against President Cory Aquino in 1987, he went “underground,” while invariably keeping his lines open to media. How Honasan managed to remain “anonymous” despite a high-profile status remains a mystery to this day.
Another “famous fugitive,” Senator Panfilo Lacson slipped out of the country just days prior to a court indictment that tagged him as the alleged mastermind in the murders of Bubby Dacer and Emmanuel Corbito in January 2010. He sneaked in 14 months later via Cebu City.
Asked how Palparan could have managed to elude the police, Lacson replied via text: “This is my personal opinion and based on what I hear from AFP and PNP sources: They do not want to accommodate the CPP/NPA and other left-leaning militant groups by giving them the pleasure of seeing Palparan rot in jail. It’s in their mindset, having seen or known some of their comrades in arms being killed and wounded in ambushes perpetrated by the NPA guerillas (so) that arresting Palparan would be tantamount to giving their enemy aid and comfort.”
Harking back to the dichotomy, Lacson explained: “Palparan is as much a terrorist to the left as a freedom fighter to the right.” Quoting his sources from the intelligence community, Lacson said operatives have “some idea” of Palparan’s whereabouts, “but don’t have the motivation to pounce on him in spite of the offered reward. As in, ’What for?’”
But if he were to advise law enforcers on how to track down the officer labeled “The Butcher” by leftist groups, Lacson said he’d urged them to use the selfsame methodology applied in manhunt operations in general. “To be consistent, I’d tell them to eat Palparan for breakfast, eat Palparan for lunch, eat Palparan for dinner, and eat Palparan for merienda.”
By some fluke, a team of Palparan-fed policemen tailed a man who bore an “exact likeness and build” to Palparan in Aurora province one day last summer. Senior Superintendent Keith Singian said police investigators looked at “Palparan” from all angles and photographed him to compare his face with existing photographs of the missing Army general. The finding was conclusive. “Look-alike lang talaga,” Singian declared.
A week after the “Palparan” sighting in Aurora, another team tracked down a Palparan of the Philippine Army in Binalbagan, Negros Occidental. Singian said it turned out to be ex-Sergeant Emil Palparan, who was wanted for the murder of a security guard in 2010. Singian said a warrant was served on the 52-year-old sergeant, who reportedly admitted killing the security guard to avenge his brother.
Singian admitted to snafus in the search for Palparan. He blamed it on a dire lack of “good leads” and a surfeit of misinformation intended apparently to mislead the tracker teams. But Singian debunked any suggestions that the PNP is not looking for Palparan. “Mahirap lang tukuyin. Marami siyang resources, marami syang kaibigan [He’s hard to pinpoint. He has a lot of resources and a lot of friends],” Singian heads the Task Force Big Four, the CIDG special unit hunting down Palparan as well as three other high-value fugitives, namely former Surigao Representative Ruben Ecleo, who is wanted for parricide, and former Palawan Gov. Joel Reyes and his brother, Coron Mayor Mario Reyes Jr.. The two were named masterminds in the murder of environmentalist Dr. Gerry Ortega in Puerto Princesa. Singian confided they’re getting more “leads” on the Reyes brothers, than on Palparan and Ecleo combined.
A seasoned “operator” who was involved in high-profile manhunts in the last 40 years offered sympathy for Singian and his men as well as other units tasked to bring Palparan to the bar of justice. A retired general, he asked to remain unnamed for peace in his new career as consultant to various companies. He empathized with Palparan, though. “I’ve never worked with him. But he seems to know where to hide. He appears to be very careful. He is not reckless, and that shows his experience.”
He also noted that Palparan appears to be “protected by people who believe that there is a need for Palparan in counter-insurgency and other fields.” Pinning down Palparan, he said, would require focused sleuthing combined with good analysis.
“The lead is important,” Singian added. “In fact, the reliability of the lead can determine the accuracy of the mission. Then it’s also possible to have many leads, but it could be intended to confuse. The logical step is to contact people who can corroborate. But who can corroborate?”
Words, empty words come cheap as far as Renato Reyes is concerned. Said the secretary general of the leftist partylist group Bayan: “The government has failed to get Palparan. Malaking kahihiyan na nga na [it’s a big embarrassment that] he is still out there!”
Reyes has reasons to fulminate. He said the case against Palparan prospered because it was doggedly pursued by Connie Empeno and Linda Cadapan, the mothers of the two missing activists. A Bulacan court has charged Palparan and three others with kidnapping and serious illegal detention in the case, but before he could be arraigned, Palparan disappeared without a trace.
Reyes confided that most people suspect that “uniformed men” have a hand in hiding Palparan. He noted that they gathered tips about Palparan hiding in a mining community, to name one place. “All these info is being passed around. What’s the government doing with these? The government says it’s sure Palparan has not left, but where’s the proof? If he has slipped out of the country, has Interpol been alerted?”
Already, Palparan’s anomalous disappearance has provoked the involvement of the Communist Party of the Philippines. In a statement to the Sunday Inquirer Magazine, the CPP confirmed that it has ordered the New People’s Army (NPA) to track down, arrest and try Palparan before a people’s court for war crimes. The CPP however admitted it would be a tough order, considering the vast resources and formidable obstacles provided by the fugitive’s friends and connections within the Armed Forces.
“We must put pressure on the AFP and its officers to reveal and surrender General Palparan,” the CPP said, adding that it was pinning its hopes on the “idealists” in the AFP… who share in the people’s aspirations for justice and (are) willing to risk their life for such a cause.”
Where in the world is Jovito Palparan?
Rather than bank on this fugitive being found anytime soon, you might be better off singing the theme from the popular videogame “Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?” with lyrics changed to suit this case:
Well he sneaks around the country from Abra to Zamboanga.
He’s a slimy eel slipping past CIDG nets from Bongabon to Bukidnon.
He’ll take you for a ride on a slow boat to Puerto Galera,
Tell me where in the world is Jovito Palparan?…
Well he glides around the PH and he’ll flimflam every police station
Called a double-dealing butcher with a taste for the blood of a communist