A retired army general accused of being behind the killing of dozens of leftist activists in the Philippines has been sentenced to life for kidnapping two university students in 2006.
Jovito Palparan, nicknamed "The Butcher" for his deadly campaign against communist rebels, was found guilty of the disappearance of two university students Karen Empeno and Sherlyn Cadapan.
Judge Alexander Tamayo also convicted two of Palparan's co-accused, an army lieutenant and a sergeant, and ordered the three to pay 300,000 Philippine peso ($5,500) each in damages to the family of the two students.
Palparan protested the conviction, shouting at the judge: "You're a coward, judge! You're such a coward!"
Tamayo warned Palparan that he would be cited for contempt, but the former general shouted: "It doesn't matter. We will be jailed anyway. You're such a fool."
Empeno and Cadapan were kidnapped from a rented home in the town of Hagonoy in Bulacan province, 36 kilometres north of Manila, in June 2006 by people believed to be soldiers.
Empeno, who was then 22, was doing research on the plight of farmers in the province, while Cadapan, then 29, was a community organiser for a leftist farmers group in Bulacan.
The two were believed to have been raped, tortured and later killed by soldiers, but their bodies have not been found.
When charges were filed by the parents, Palparan went into hiding and was only found three years later in Manila.
Local and international human rights groups welcomed Palparan's conviction, which came seven years after the case was filed against him in 2011.
The National Union of People's Lawyers (NUPL), which counseled Cadapan and Empeno's families, welcomed the ruling, saying that "human rights violations will meet their match".
"[Palparan's] conviction sends the message that perpetrators of hideous human rights violations will meet their match in the fortitude of the mothers, the strength of the mass movement, the courage of human rights defenders, and the value of good lawyering for the people," the NUPL said in a statement.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) also hailed the verdict as "a big blow against impunity in the Philippines".
"This ruling by a Philippine court came after a long and agonising struggle for justice by the families and supporters of the two activists, who remain missing," Carlos H. Conde of HRW said in a statement sent to Al Jazeera.
Conde said the decision should serve as a "reminder to state security forces that justice and the law will catch up with them sooner or later".