“It takes too long to process cases where the complainants are poor and the suspects are rich and it almost always decides in favor of the latter.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – “We feel as if our comrades have been murdered again,” said Elmer “Bong” Labog, chairperson of Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), on the acquittal last June 1 of Eduardo Kapunan, the highest-ranking Army officer among the accused in the double murder case of KMU leader Rolando Olalia and companion Leonor Alay-ay.
Four years ago, KMU had expressed fears that “a legal charade” seemed about to begin on the then 26-year old celebrated murder case. Now it has been nearly 30 years since the double murder, and they are still nowhere near seeing all of the 13 accused behind bars. Only three are in jail, the two since 2012, and the other one only since last week. Kapunan himself was never jailed for the murder case — he surrendered on October 2012 to the Philippine Army, which protected him, and he was eventually transferred to the custody of National Bureau of Investigation citing health reasons.
For the KMU, Kapunan’s acquittal is just the latest addition to the long list of injustices committed against their comrades, their families and friends, and the Filipino workers and people.
“We recall that the case against Kapunan was revived after a fake KMU press release was circulated in the media in January 2012 calling for the reopening of the case, on the basis that “the wind of justice is finally blowing in the country,” Labog said.
That spurious press conference followed the fact that for the former soldiers accused in the Olalia-Alay-ay double murder, the legal steps they can take to hinder the proceedings of the murder cases have all been exhausted by 2011.
Elmer “Bong” Labog, KMU chairperson, concluded that “Aquino only used the case to make it appear that he was indeed pursuing Daang Matuwid under his regime.”
But Kapunan’s acquittal, said the KMU, only further exposes the anti-worker and anti-poor nature of the country’s so-called justice system – “it takes too long to process cases where the complainants are poor and the suspects are rich and it almost always decides in favor of the latter.”
Both workers’ and human rights groups strive to bring justice to the murdered labor leaders through what the KMU calls as the country’s “so-called” justice system.
Timeline: Olalia-Alay-ay double murder case in PH justice system
The quest for justice for Olalia and Alay-ay took decades of investigation and generated headlines yet no arrest was ordered and done except for one hastily freed captain in 1998, when at last the first murder case was filed against the accused soldiers.
In 1998, warrants of arrest were issued against 13 accused. Aside from Eduardo Kapunan, Jr., it included Desiderio Perez, Oscar Legaspi, Filomeno Maligaya, Cirilo Almario, Jose Bacera, Fernando Casanova, Ricardo Dicon, Gilbert Galicia, Dennis Jabatan, Gene Paris, Freddie Sumagaysay and Edgar Sumido. All were members of rightist group Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) responsible for bloody coup d’ etats during the Cory Aquino administration.
The murder case was postponed, though, and the warrants of arrests were withdrawn in 1998. From 1998 to 2009, the accused exerted efforts to get out of the murder case by asking first the Court of Appeals, and then the Supreme Court, to confirm that they could not be charged with crimes that, they said, were covered by the amnesty granted to them.
In 2009, the Supreme Court ruled with finality that the Olalia-Alay-ay double murder was not part of the coup-related crimes the 13 accused soldiers owned up to and were given amnesty. The Amnesty Commission also said the 13 accused had not admitted that the double murder was part of the coup for which they were given amnesty. This paved the way for their trial at last.
But the murder case did not immediately start following the Supreme Court’s remanding of the case to Regional Trial Court in Rizal in 2009. The accused soldiers led by Kapunan delayed it by at least three years more by trying to have the charges quashed in the Regional Trial Court, using the same amnesty argument that had been rejected by the Supreme Court. Eventually the judge inhibited from the case.
In 2012, following a fake press conference and press release ascribed to KMU calling for the reopening of the murder case, another judge in Rizal Regional Trial Court took the case and issued warrants of arrest.
But no one from the 13 accused was arrested. Instead, based on what an elite police officer in Rizal told Bulatlat, they were negotiating with the accused to have them surrender “so the case can move on.”
On July 24, 2012, Desiderio Perez, one of the accused, surrendered to the elite police unit of Rizal amid “mysterious circumstances,” the KMU said. Another accused, Dennis Jabatan, soon joined Perez in jail.
On October 6 of the same year, Eduardo Kapunan surrendered to the Philippine Army, which refused to turn him over to the Rizal Provincial Jail.
Eventually, Kapunan was held in custody by the National Bureau of Investigation, until he was allowed to post bail in July 2014.
Kapunan’s complicity in the Olalia-Alay-ay double murder was largely revealed by state witness Medardo Barreto, team leader of the “augmentation team” who was commanded by Kapunan to help another team on an operation involving labor leader Olalia. Barreto named Kapunan as his commanding officer in the Special Operations Group (SOG) under then Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile.
During the hearings from 2012 to 2013, it was revealed that the SOG conducted operations to keep tabs on and apprehend communists and leftists. They apparently maintained safehouses outside of military camps, where they brought their apprehended subjects for interrogation and torture.
The state witness and former operative insisted that the Olalia operation extended from surveillance to abduction, murder and clean-up (of the crime). (Read: Witness recounts ‘clean-up’, cover-up of Olalia, Alay-ay murders by soldiers.)
Kapunan denied his role in the Olalia murder, insisting his command to state witness Barreto merely covered surveillance. From the operative’s account of what happened, another team working with them directly abducted, interrogated and later killed the labor leaders.
Kapunan secured his acquittal largely on the ground that the state witness did not directly hear from him or report to him about the abduction and murder.
Even so, Kapunan had bribed the same state witness to recant, according to Kapunan’s lawyer herself during one of the hearings. The witness denied taking the bribe, but admitted he recanted and then disowned it because he was afraid of Kapunan. (Read: ‘Endgame’ of Kapunan et al to avoid trial, conviction, revealed in court)
“It is revolting that Kapunan was set free while the soldiers whom he ordered to commit the crime – Desiderio Perez, Dennis Jabatan and Fernando Cassanova – remain behind bars,” said Labog of KMU. (Read: How Kapunan tried in court to extricate himself from Olalia-Alay-ay murder.)
Labog scored the impunity being granted to top military officials by the Philippine government.
“We have every reason to believe that Kapunan was acquitted to prevent him from implicating the masterminds, who are known to the public – Juan Ponce Enrile and Gringo Honasan,” Labog added. They believe as well that President Aquino “only used the case to persecute his political opponents Enrile and Honasan, and not really seek justice for Ka Lando and Ka Leonor.”
The labor group called on President-elect Rodrigo Duterte, who, they said, has been promising to rid the military of bad elements and to uphold the law. “The Olalia-Alay-ay murder case is a landmark case of injustice that serves as a yardstick in measuring presidents’ commitment to justice, or lack thereof as has been the case so far,” Labog said.