Failing to strip off Sgt. Medardo Dumlao Baretto’s status as state witness, defense lawyer Lorna Kapunan’s questioning this week proceeded to probe and try to cast doubt on his memory, motives, and the truthfulness or consistency of his sworn statement and testimony in court.
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – When former Air Force Col. Eduardo Kapunan’s lawyer, Lorna Kapunan, cross-questioned state witness Sgt. Medardo Dumlao Baretto for the first time this week at the Antipolo City Regional Trial Court Branch 98, she first reminded him that forgery is a crime. Then she questioned his being a state witness. She argued that Baretto, as participant to the crime (Olalia-Alay-ay double murder), who was there from start to finish, “appears the most guilty,” so “he’s not qualified to become state witness” and as such, “his testimony should be stricken off the record.”
For the record, Baretto said, he became a state witness because he has personal knowledge of what happened – he was part of “the incident” or the “work on Olalia,” but “not in all stages.”
File Photo: Former Air Force Col. Eduardo Kapunan at Antipolo Regional Trial Court, Oct 24, 2012. (Photo by Marya Salamat / bulatlat.com)
As he had told the court in past three hearings, Baretto’s participation in the Olalia-Alay-ay crime included “surveillance because of the order of Col. Kapunan; actual abduction of Attorney Olalia; bringing him to safehouse and turning him over to Col. Legazpi, Maj. Wong, Capt. Dicon and Cecil Arillo.” After that, “Commander Layson ordered us to follow the group to Antipolo,” and then, “under Col. Kapunan’s order, to clean up the mess regarding the job on Olalia.”
Baretto said he had no part in the actual killing of Olalia or Alay-ay.
Lawyer Kapunan asked the court for reconsideration of the ruling on Baretto’s status as state witness. But the court, under Judge Maria Consejo Gengos-Ignalaga, said there was a prior decision already that Baretto is qualified to become a state witness. He has, in fact, been under the Witness Protection Program since 1998.
Crime disclosure influenced by conscience, pushed by circumstances
Failing to strip off Baretto his status as state witness, lawyer Kapunan’s questioning this week proceeded to probe and try to cast doubt on Baretto’s memory, motives, and the truthfulness or consistency of his sworn affidavit and testimony in court.
In 1986, the Special Operations Group under the Defense department was dissolved after it came under fire in the investigations on the Olalia-Alay-ay double murder. Baretto was returned to his mother unit in Camp Crame. “I just continued my service with the Philippine National Police (PNP),” he said. He worked as member of the police force from 1986 to 1993; he used to be a member of the Philippine Constabulary before he became part of the Special Operations Group under Col. Kapunan.
In 1993, Baretto said, he was detailed as trainer of the security group of the Witness Protection Program. It was while working at the Witness Protection Program that he started to consider coming out as a state witness. In the program, he got to know the program director at the time, Ronaldo Olalia, one of the sons of the labor leader whose disappearance in 1986 Baretto had participated in.
Because of his “magandang pakikitungo” to us (the court decided not to translate this to English), “my conscience was awakened,” Baretto said. He recalled an instance when they were together with Olalia’s son in Baguio City, and Col. Kapunan was also there. That was a time when, Baretto recalled, he and Col. Kapunan could still smile at each other.
But, if his conscience was awakened in 1993, why did he wait five years before he sat alone in front of his computer in his house and wrote, tuldok-system style as he described it, his 14-page sworn statement regarding what he knew of the abduction and murder of Olalia and Alay-ay?
Baretto said he “still needed to weigh his situation.” He explained that just because he had met Ka Lando’s son didn’t mean he would immediately make an affidavit.
“I thought of what would happen to me. I studied if I would qualify as a state witness,” Baretto said.
Although Baretto’s 14-page sworn statement was signed in 1998, he had written its main content or body (minus the formal legal heading and last part) two years earlier, in 1996.
What pushed him to finally do it, as he said in reply to lawyer Kapunan’s question, was his realization that it’s time to disclose the truth on the Olalia murder. “Reliable sources” in 1996 told Baretto that after he parted from the Rebolusyonaryong Alyansang Makabansa (RAM) that year, even he was being targeted for assassination by the group of Col. Kapunan. RAM is known as an ultra-rightist group within Armed Forces of the Philippines, that had waged bloody coups in late 80s.
In July 1996, Baretto left his job at the Witness Protection Program. He went to see Ronaldo Olalia in his private office at the Philippine Stock Exchange. The young Olalia was then no longer the director of the Witness Protection Program.
Baretto said he disclosed to Olalia what he knew about the killing of his father. Olalia, he said, was shocked to learn “that we who worked with him had been responsible for the loss of his father. He cried for a long time.”
Baretto said he asked the Olalia family for forgiveness and offered them his cooperation.
When “Ronaldo Olalia thanked me for what I did – disclosing to them what happened – and he accepted my apologies, my chest was like cleansed. A burden was lifted from my chest,” Baretto said.
Kapunan’s ‘endgame’: state witness’ recantation
In 1996 after leaving his job at the Department of Justice, Baretto said, he wrote down by himself the entire body of what later became his sworn statement. He denied lawyer Kapunan’s charge that he got the Olalia lawyers’ help in drafting it, since he had written it already in 1996, before he came clean to Ronaldo Olalia. He also denied lawyer Kapunan’s charge that in return for this testimony, he had asked for some financial or security assistance.
It was in 1998 when the case for prosecuting the accused in the Olalia-Alay-ay double murder was filed with the Department of Justice. In the same year, Baretto was accepted as state witness.
But the trial was delayed for 14 years, as all the accused filed appeals up to the Supreme Court to void the murder case, citing the amnesty they received for the coup d’état they had launched. It was only in 2009 when the Supreme Court finally rejected this and remanded the case for trial. This trial, in turn, began only this year.
In 2009, Baretto said he had to hire a lawyer, Apolonio Padua, to draft another affidavit. “I approached him for help to make an affidavit as security measure in my decision to play with the endgame of Col. Kapunan and all the accused.”
File Photo: Lorna Kapunan approaches protesting members of progressive groups after Col. Red Kapunan, her client and brother-in-law, pleaded not guilty at his arraignment, Oct 17, 2012. (Photo by Marya Salamat / bulatlat.com)
Four-page long, “the contents of that affidavit were written by Atty. Padua, I was not with him,” Baretto said. He added that he had shared with Padua his predicament: that Col. Kapunan and ex-Mayor Maligaya had approached him and demanded that he retract his first statement, “because if I recant the first affidavit, there will be no more case against them.”
Baretto had admitted in past hearings that yes, after trying to delay signing it for as long as he could, he later signed this affidavit which, he said, was written not in front of him, was read and approved first by both Kapunan and Maligaya. He said he was not in a position at the time to oppose the demand of the two – he was then physically weakened by a stroke, and his relationship with the Witness Protection Program director at the time was “not good.”
Before the hearing closed for the day, lawyer Kapunan alleged that the state witness had asked P3 million ($US 73,418) for this second affidavit. Her allegation drew cheers from relatives of Kapunan and the two accused in custody, and jeers from the members of the Kilusang Mayo Uno in the courtroom.