Retired Major-General Jovito Palparan swears in at a commission set up by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to investigate hundreds of killings and disappearances in Manila, on September 26, 2006.

© 2006 Reuters

A Philippine court on Monday convicted retired army Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan and two others for the highly publicized enforced disappearance of two female student activists from the University of the Philippines. The court sentenced Palparan, Lt. Col. Felipe Anotado, and Staff Sgt. Edgardo Osorio to life imprisonment for the kidnapping and illegal detention of Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan in 2006, who remain missing.

The verdict is an important step for justice in the Philippines, where serious abuses by the military and police are rarely punished. Palparan is possibly the highest ranking military officer convicted in a human rights case. The extrajudicial killings of political activists became commonplace during the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship, which ended in the 1986 “people power” revolution, and continue to this day.

For years, Palparan, 68, was a celebrated figure in the Philippine in the Philippine military’s campaign against the communist New People’s Army. He was known as “The Butcher” because of the bloodshed that ensued wherever he was assigned. Prosecutors originally charged Palparan in 2011 for the abduction of Cadapan and Empeño, but he evaded authorities for years and was arrested only in 2014.

In 2015, a witness, Raymond Manalo, testified that he saw Palparan along with Cadapan and Empeño inside a military camp in Bulacan province where he, too, had been detained for being a suspected communist rebel. Manalo alleged that the two women had been severely tortured and raped while in Palparan’s custody. Another witness, Wilfredo Ramos Jr., also testified in court that he had seen the abduction of the two women by Sergeant Osorio and other armed men. In its decision, the court said Ramos's testimony "dovetailed" with that of Manalo’s, constituting “persuasive and unassailable proof that the three accused in complicity with each other committed the crimes imputed against them.”

The guilty verdicts and long sentences came after a long and agonizing struggle for justice by the families and supporters of the two activists. It rekindles hope among the families of many other victims of human rights violations in the Philippines. And it serves as a reminder to state security forces that justice and the law will catch up with them sooner or later.