A good soldier’s predicament: having to obey ‘wrong’ commands

By MARYA SALAMAT
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – The failed 1987 and 1989 coups d’état were often mentioned at the trial of former soldiers accused in the Olalia-Alay-ay double murder. According to the plan, the murder of Olalia was carried out to generate massive protests, which the Reform the AFP Movement (RAM) would ride on to launch a coup d’état. RAM was pressuring the people power-installed government of Corazon Aquino to remove all perceived leftists in the government.

State witness Medardo Dumlao Baretto sought amnesty for his participation in the 1987 and 1989 coup d’état. He understood this amnesty as “a way for government to give soldiers a chance to be legally forgiven.”

Asked what he understood by coup d’état, he said it is a military uprising. Later he added that a coup d’état is a “political action to bring down the government.” He himself now thinks it is not right that they had launched those coups d’état. “I think it’s a violation of the law, and some lives were lost.”

At the time the coups were launched, Baretto told the court last week, “I was not in position to refuse to participate in operations carried out by my group.”

In subsequent questioning on why he had taken part in the military uprising, Baretto replied “It’s not important for us to believe in causes then. What matters is the order or command to us.”

He agreed with lawyer Kapunan’s seeming assessment of him as she cross-questioned him: “Yes, I am a good soldier.”

In their line of work, Baretto said “there are times when lying is authorized.” But he said he had told the truth when he applied for amnesty.

At first his request for amnesty was denied, but later the amnesty commission changed their decision and granted him amnesty. “It was turned down at first because they said I was not a member of RAM-SPF-YOU. All I know is that the organizers of RAM were my direct superiors. They were Col. (Eduardo) Kapunan and Col. (Gringo) Honasan.”

Baretto’s name was not in the list first submitted by RAM, the commission reportedly told Baretto. His name was later included in the list.

SFP is Soldiers of the Filipino People. Baretto said he does not know its composition but they were with SFP in the conducted military exercise (in the 80s).

YOU, another group that launched the coup, is the Young Officers’ Union.

What is RAM?

“The Reform the Armed Forces of the Philippines Movement is an association of active members of AFP with grievances in the leadership of the AFP,” Baretto said. He did not know the complete military operation plan. “All I know was the work they assign to us,” he said.

Of these tasks or work, the “Olalia job” was one. But as lawyer Kapunan once reminded the state witness, part of their task in the SOG (Special Operations Group under the Defense department) was to do surveillance on and apprehend communists.

Capt. Ricardo Dicon had “operational control” of the operatives involved in “the Olalia job,” meaning it was he who led the operatives involved in that particular job on labor lawyer Olalia, the state witness said.

Baretto did not know who in particular was or were giving directives to Dicon, but he said he knew these were coming from Dicon’s superiors, which included Col. Kapunan, Col. Honasan, and Col. Legaspi.

Baretto said he did not have to inform these three superiors of the order to kill Olalia. “I know that the order came from Col. Honasan, Kapunan and Legaspi.”

Lawyer Kapunan told him though that it was just his “interpretation” of Kapunan’s command.

“Finish the job on Olalia” means ‘kill him’

Lawyer Kapunan maintained that her client’s directive to Baretto’s team to “help” another team to “finish that job on Olalia,” covered only “surveillance.” She cited the state witness’ answers to her cross-questioning last month, where she zeroed in on Baretto’s statements about the part of his team, what he called the “augmentation team.”

But according to Baretto, the whole work covered surveillance, abduction and killing of Ka Lando Olalia.

Asked why he did not report to Kapunan when they were on Olalia’s tail already, or when the “operational command” told them the order had been given to seize Olalia and his driver, Baretto replied that “Col. Kapunan’s command was clear, ‘help Sumido finish that job on Olalia.’ It (tailing Olalia) was within the scope of that command. “There was no need to repeatedly report it to him.”

Although Col. Kapunan did not say outright in his command that the operatives were to go out and kill Olalia, “In our language as operatives, that was already in the scope of his command, to ‘finish the job.’

As part of the augmenting team who took part in the surveillance and abduction, Baretto said their purpose (in surveillance) was just to know the vehicles Olalia used, places he went to. “Our mission is only to know those things because we are only operatives. “Only the higher-ups know the entire mission.”

The higher-ups, he said, were officials directly giving them commands, such as Col. Kapunan, Col. Honasan, Col. Legaspi.

‘Unofficial’ tasks, RAM soldiers in the DOJ

After the SOG was dissolved in the late 80s, then Col. Kapunan was transferred to an anti-terrorism unit, his counsel said in earlier hearings. Baretto went back to the Philippine National Police (formerly Philippine Constabulary, where he came from).

In early 90s, Kapunan also became a “consultant” of the Department of Justice (DOJ). Baretto, meanwhile, was tapped as training cadre for the then newly-formed security group for Witness Protection Program.

Under cross-questioning by Oscar Martinez, lawyer of two of the accused who are in government custody – former marine sergeant Dennis Jabatan and Sgt. Desiderio Perez – it was revealed that other members of RAM was with Baretto to comprise the then newly formed security group of the Witness Protection Program under the Department of Justice in 1993. Lawyer Kapunan said Baretto’s assignment there was facilitated by Kapunan.

These RAM members included Jabatan, Jose Bacera, Amado Pagon, Sumido, and others, who Baretto cannot immediately recall. He said they were still there when he left in 1996. Jabatan’s “tour of duty” in the DOJ, he said, was repeatedly “broken” because Jabatan would disappear from time to time. Jabatan had allegedly stabbed at Olalia “to make sure he was truly dead.”

Aside from Baretto’s official function in his job at the DOJ, he disclosed that there were requirements asked of them by Col. Kapunan, “which are unrelated to our official function in the DOJ.” Unofficial means not related to their job in the witness protection program.

Although Baretto was group leader of the newly formed security group of the Witness Protection Program, lawyer Oscar Martinez suggested that Jabatan might be higher in rank in RAM compared to Baretto.

Martinez asked Baretto if he, technically Jabatan’s direct superior in the DOJ security group, had reported to Jabatan as Baretto’s superior. Baretto said he had not. ()

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