AFP should release Sherlyn Cadapan, Karen Empeño and Manuel Merino

The Families of Desaparecidos for Justice (Desaparecidos) today called on the Armed Forces of the Philippines to release the two abducted University of the Philippines students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño and peasant Manuel Merino, whom they have detained and kept hidden one year to this day.

“Sherlyn is alive, and is being kept captive against her will. We hold Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr. and his men responsible for their abduction and disappearance, and we call on the military to release Sherlyn and her companions immediately, and face punishment to their deeds,” said Ghay Portajada, Desaparecidos spokesperson.

Several witnesses in Bulacan and Bataan had informed the local chapter of the human rights group Karapatan in the province that Sherlyn went to a witness’ home in early April of this year. Sherlyn was accompanied by two women and four burly men in civilian clothes who were apparently meant to keep her from saying anything. Karapatan is keeping secret the identities of the witnesses for their protection.

One witness said Sherlyn came to her house and said she was going to get her clothes. The witness tried to ask what happened to her, but Sherlyn just kept silent and went inside the house, closely followed by the six. The witness said Sherlyn and the six others left in a red car. The witness described one of the two females as appearing to be a “tomboy”.

Portajada said that Sherlyn’s appearance had raised hopes for most families of desaparecidos that their loved ones may still be alive. “We are heartened by Sherlyn’s momentary appearance, although we know she remains in danger. It shows that the relentless search by the families and human rights workers is the path that will eventually lead to justice.”

Desaparecidos and Karapatan accompanied the Cadapan family on a search in Bataan camps yesterday.

In November 2006, witness Oscar Leuterio, a former security guard who was abducted in Doña Remedios Trinidad in April that year, said he saw two women who looked like Sherlyn and Karen inside a safe house in Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija where he was kept captive. Leuterio took the witness stand at the habeas corpus petition hearing for Sherlyn and her companions at the Court of Appeals.

Leuterio said he was abducted by military and CAFGU men and was first held captive inside Camp Tecson in Bulacan, but was later transferred to Fort Magsaysay where he saw other victims being kept in cells. He said he was being forced by the military to be their informer if he wanted to keep alive. Leuterio was released in September 2006.

The Court of Appeals had denied the habeas corpus petition despite its findings that the soldier-respondents were “not telling the whole truth as they appeared evasive in their declarations.”