Philippine ex-general arrested over missing women

MANILA - A retired Philippine general implicated in multiple political assassinations was arrested in a rundown house in the nation's capital on Tuesday after nearly three years on the run.

President Benigno Aquino's aides hailed the arrest of Jovito Palparan as proof his government was committed to tackling an infamous "culture of impunity", in which the powerful routinely avoid being brought to justice.

"They say if you do not arrest and charge the likes of General Palparan, it means you are not serious in fighting the culture of impunity. We have proven them wrong," Justice Secretary Leila de Lima told reporters.

Palparan went into hiding in late 2011 after being charged with the kidnapping and illegal detention in 2006 of two female university students linked to leftist activist groups.

The women, then aged 27 and 20, have never been seen since. Palparan could face life imprisonment if found guilty, although he denies the charges.

Human rights groups accuse Palparan of being behind the killing of leftists when he was a top military officer battling communist guerrillas in rural areas of the impoverished archipelago.

Then-president Gloria Arroyo praised Palparan, a former counter-insurgency chief, for standing up to "terror" in 2006, but critics tagged him as "the butcher" for his alleged abuses.

The Philippines has been battling communist and Islamic insurgencies for decades, and the conflicts have claimed tens of thousands of lives.

The military has been accused of carrying out hundreds of extra-judicial killings of opponents.

A government commission which investigated political killings said in 2006 that Palparan was a key suspect in many murders of people deemed "enemies of the state".

"(He) left a trail of blood or bodies in his wake wherever he was assigned", the commission report said.

But it also said there was only "circumstantial evidence" linking him to the killings.

De Lima told AFP she would investigate the possibility of filing charges over the cases mentioned in the commission's report, but at this stage Palparan would go on trial just for the disappearance of the two women.

Palparan was arrested before dawn in a run-down, two-storey house in Manila that authorities said was owned by one of his friends. He surrendered without incident.

He told reporters afterwards he was innocent of the abduction charges, and and had gone into hiding because he did not believe he would get a fair hearing.

Arroyo had celebrated and protected Palparan when she was in power.

But Aquino has earned a reputation as a determined anti-corruption fighter during his four years in office. He has had Arroyo jailed on graft charges and made the arrest of Palparan a top priority.