MANILA (UPDATE)- An Antipolo court on Tuesday convicted three members of the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) for their role in the killing of labor leader Rolando Olalia and union worker Leonor Alay-ay 35 years ago.
Soldiers Fernando Casanova, Dennis Jabatan, and Desiderio Perez were sentenced to reclusion perpetua or up to 40 years in prison after they were found guilty for two counts of murder by Antipolo Regional Trial Court Branch 97 Judge Marie Claire Victoria Mabutas-Sordan.
The three were among 13 people charged for the murder in 1986 of Olalia, then head of Kilusang Mayo Uno, Bayan and Partido ng Bayan, and Alay-ay.
The two were abducted in Pasig City on Nov. 12, 1986, and then taken to a safe house in Cubao, which, according to a witness, was a resthouse of then-Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile.
Former soldier Medardo Barreto, one of the perpetrators who later testified for the prosecution, said Olalia and Alay-ay were tortured and eventually taken to Antipolo where they were gunned down.
Their bodies were found the next day, bruised with stab wounds and a gunshot in their heads.
Barreto said in his affidavit that the killings were supposedly intended to incite KMU to hold protests, which would justify RAM seizing power and toppling then newly installed President Corazon Aquino.
Enrile and other high-ranking officials of RAM were never charged for the crime.
Aside from Casanova, Jabatan and Perez, the following were also charged with two counts of murder, but they remain at large:
- Col. Oscar Legaspi
- Capt. Ricardo Dicon
- Sgt. Edgar Sumido
- Sgt. Gene Paris
- Sgt. Freddie Sumagaysay
- Sgt. Jose Bacera
- Cirilo Almario
- Filomeno Maligaya
- civilian informer Gilberto Galicia
Perez surrendered and Casanova and Jabatan were arrested only in 2012.
The 13th accused, then RAM leader Col. Eduardo Kapunan, was acquitted in 2016 after Mabutas-Sordan granted his demurrer to evidence, essentially a motion to dismiss the charge on the ground of insufficiency of evidence. Kapunan is now an ambassador.
The ruling detailed the participation of each of the acused.
“Perez and Jabatan were present during certain states of the abduction and killing of the two victims,” the court said, quoting its own October 2013 order, which went on to cite witness Barreto’s testimony identifying Jabatan at the scene of the killing.
Another witness, Eduardo Bueno, saw Perez and Jabatan at the safehouse where Olalia and Alay-ay were blindfolded with hands tied behind their backs. The two were also identified during the abduction.
As for Casanova, both Barreto and Bueno identified him to have taken Alay-ay from the vehicle he was driving to their own vehicle. He was also at the safehouse and at the scene of the murder.
Jabatan and Perez tried to cite the amnesty granted to them by the National Amnesty Commission but the court said the amnesty did not cover the Olalia and Alay-ay murder cases.
Each of them also presented their own denials and alibis which the court rejected.
“[T]he Court is not persuaded by the evidence presented by the accused in their defense. Suffice it to say that ‘defenses of denial and alibi, such are inconsequential. Alibi and denial are inherently weak defenses and must be brushed aside when the prosecution has sufficiently and positively ascertained the identity of the accused as in this case…’,” it said.
The court ordered the three to pay the heirs of Olalia P1.2 million in civil indemnity and damages and the heirs of Alay-ay P900,000.
Barreto’s testimony also mentioned at least 2 instances of Kapunan’s alleged involvement — first, on November 13, 1986 when he allegedly ordered them to clean up everything connected with the “last operation” and in a 1987 meeting where he supposedly reminded members of their group to take care of the group’s secrets.
“The sin of one is the sin of all,” Kapunan was quoted as saying.
But these were no longer discussed in the ruling of the case because the murder case as against Kapunan had been dismissed in 2016.
In a statement, the family of Olalia, represented by his son Rolando Rico, said their "fight for justice is not over," noting that some implicated in the crime are still walking free.
Rolando Rico, who is now a lawyer and a private prosecutor in the case, said the conviction of his father's killers "restored belief in our judicial system" but it is also "a day of loss and a day of remembrance."
"For the longest time, our family has been languishing in a pit of despair brought on by the glacial pace of justice. Now we are climbing out, but we cannot let go unacknowledged the help and sympathy our family has been the grateful recipient off for almost forty years," he said.
Edre Olalia, a second cousin of the slain Olalia and president of NUPL, said that with respect to Kapunan's 2016 acquittal, conspiracy should have been appreciated so that the act of one is the act of all.
The NUPL, along with the Public Interest Law Center and some private prosecutors, represented the Olalia family during the trial of the case.
Edre noted that some of the co-perpetrators have been "silenced" while a prosecutor has been killed.
Nevertheless, he welcomed the guilty verdict, describing it as a "relief". But he lamented that 9 other suspects are still at large.
"Others who are allegedly involved – based on the disturbing testimonial evidence of the prosecution – remain off the hook and are in our midst. Nine of those formally charged are still at large despite 35 years on the run," he said.
But they are "consoled" that the court's findings were based on facts and testimonies.
"On the other hand, we are consoled by the court’s findings based on the facts, law and evidence that those in present custody should be held to account for the consequences of their odious acts. We acknowledge the role of the public prosecution in seeing this through," he said.
For other groups, the decision only punished the foot soldiers.
"This verdict, while it is welcome, it is too little, too late,” Bayan’s Teddy Casiño said, pointing out thtat the Olalia and Alay-ay murder is just one of the few extrajudicial killings to have reached the courts and it took 35 years to secure a conviction.
KMU, on the other hand, said the situation at the moment, remains bleak.
“While we rejoice in this ruling, we point out the current similarly bleak situation of trade union and human rights in the country. Fifty-six of our fellow workers and unionists have been victims of extrajudicial killings over the past five years under Duterte,” it said.
“Moreover, we are still expecting the masterminds to be prosecuted. Justice will only truly be served if they are named and judged,” it added.
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