It was on November 13, 1986 when labor leaders Rolando “Ka Lando” Olalia and Leonor “Ka Leonor” Alay-ay were killed in Antipolo, after they were abducted in Pasig and were tortured. However, their families would have to wait 35 years before three of their killers were finally sentenced.
This October 12, Fernando Casanova, Dennis Jabatan, and Desiderio Perez, three members of Reform the Armed Forces of the Philippines Movement (RAM), were finally sentenced to reclusion perpetua by Judge Marie Claire Victoria Mabutas-Sordan of the Antipolo Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 97.
Besides a guilty verdict of two counts of murder – or up to 40 years in jail without possibility of parole – the three men, who were also former Philippine Navy sergeants, were ordered to pay the heirs of Ka Lando and Ka Leonor more than P2 million in damages with 6% interest. However, these will still not be paid, as the ruling is still subject to appeal.
Based on the 1998 affidavit of former technical sergeant and witness Medardo Dumlao Barreto, the three that were convicted belong to 28 soldiers who were only part of a group that were ordered to surveil Ka Lando and other progressives.
Barreto added that retired Lieutenant Colonel Eduardo “Red” Kapunan was the mastermind behind the crime. Kapunan, who admitted in 2013 that he ordered surveillance on Ka Lando, was eventually cleared in 2016 and was even appointed as ambassador to Myanmar in February 2017.
Nine more people were accused for the murders of Ka Lando and Ka Leonor: Cirilo Almario, Sgt. Jose Bacera, Capt. Ricardo Dicon, Gilberto Galicia, Col. Oscar Legaspi, Filomeno Maligaya, Sgt. Gene Paris, Sgt. Freddie Sumagaysay, and Edgar Sumido. However, their “whereabouts are still unknown today”, said Atty. Rolando Rico Olalia, son of Ka Lando.
In a statement that he released after the verdict last October 12, Atty. Rolando said, “Our family declares for all to know that our fight for justice is not over. Only when … all the other unnamed principals – who have managed to evade the long arm of law have been found and brought before the courts to be held accountable for their crimes, will justice finally be served.”
Meanwhile, National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) President Atty. Edre Olalia expressed in a press statement the victims’ families’ exasperation over the delay of justice.
“For the families of the victims, the judicial proceedings from one court to another were too protracted, the legal tactics were over-utilized, and twists and turns at different junctures, levels and fora were exasperating,” Atty. Edre, the cousin of Ka Lando and a private prosecutor on the case, said in a press statement released last October 12.
Ills of the justice system
“For the longest time, our family has been languishing in a pit of despair brought on by the glacial pace of justice,” Atty. Rolando shared in his statement.
In an exclusive interview with the Perspective, Atty. Edre shared his insights on why the case spanned 35 years before there were people who were finally convicted.
“Mabagal, makupad, marumi, masalimuot, komplikado, hindi accessible sa mga walang kapangyarihan, sa mga mahihirap […] ‘Yan ang trademark ng justice system [Slow, sluggish, dirty, complicated, inaccessible to the powerless, the poor […] That is the trademark of the justice system],” Atty. Edre emphasized.
In addition, there was no strong evidence for the case until two witnesses – who were themselves involved in the abduction, torture, and murders – finally testified in 1998, 12 years after the crime.
Since 1998, Atty. Edre said that from his recollection, around four to six judges have handled the Olalia – Alay-ay case.
“[Dahilan din ng mabagal na pagproseso ng kaso] ay ang reluctance and even fear ng mga huwes na hawakan [ang kaso] at maghatol [sa mga may sala] [Part of the slow proceedings on the case was the reluctance and even fear of judges to handle the case and pronounce the verdict on the murderers],” he added.
Atty. Edre also shared that another factor contributing to the slow progress of the case was that for a time, it went out of “public radar”. He compared it with the case of Gen. Jovito Palparan, who was found guilty in 2018 of kidnapping and serious illegal detention over the disappearance of UP Diliman students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño in 2006.
“Relatively [compared to the Olalia – Alay-ay case], hindi ganoong katagal [bago nahatulan si Gen. Palparan], kasi matindi ang public attention, ang media coverage, ang international pressure [Relatively, compared to the Olalia – Alay-ay case, it did not take too long before Gen. Palparan was convicted, because there was intense public attention, media coverage, and international pressure],” Atty. Edre said, emphasizing the importance of media coverage on human rights cases.
Where power resides
“May peculiarity doon sa kaso [nina Ka Lando at Ka Leonor] dahil ang kalaban ay malalakas, armado, RAM ‘yan e – mga colonel, mga kapitan, mga sarhento, na mga bata ng makakapangyarihan din [There is peculiarity in the Olalia – Alay-ay case because the accused are powerful, armed, they are part of RAM – colonels, captains, sergeants, henchmen of powerful people, too],” Atty. Edre said, explaining the power held by those accused of the crime.
RAM, as described in a Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) piece, is a group of “rebellious military officers” that planned to overthrow the Marcos dictatorship. They also “staged bloody coups” during the Corazon Aquino administration. Ex-Sen. Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan II served as the group’s leader in the past.
Atty. Edre added that RAM was also responsible for the surveillance on former Labor Minister Augusto “Bobbit” Sanchez, and even on Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founder Prof. Jose Maria Sison. Atty. Edre says that from his personal knowledge, the Olalia – Alay-ay case was by far the worst, as it reached brutal torture and even murder.
Atty. Rolando said that Ka Lando and Ka Leonor were “first taken to a safe house” in Cubao that, according to witnesses, was a rest house by then-Minister of National Defense Juan Ponce Enrile.
“A short time after, both were blindfolded, bound and tortured before being shot and stabbed multiple times,” Atty. Rolando continued.
Atty. Edre asserted that the lawyers of the RAM members used and even abused the “holes” of the legal procedure, which further led to the delay of the case development. He said that arrests only began taking place in 2012.
“Nabinbin sa Korte Suprema nang 11 taon yung kanilang petisyon na ibasura – partikular kay Colonel Red Kapunan – na ibasura yung mga asunto. 11 years, can you imagine? [Dahil ito] sa isang isyu lamang na whether or not yung amnestiya na ginrant sa kanila ni President [Fidel] Ramos ay depensa para hindi ituloy ang paglilitis,” Atty. Edre added.
[“Their petition to junk the case stayed with the Supreme Court for 11 years – particularly with that of Colonel Red Kapunan. 11 years, can you imagine? It is simply because of an issue as to whether or not the amnesty granted to them by then-President Fidel Ramos was a defense to discontinue the trial.”]
Fight amidst the dangers
Atty. Edre also lamented the dangers that were faced by those who followed the case.
“[May] mga peligro sa’min – abogado, sa mga witnesses, sa mga nagko-cover – may media kami na hinaharas – sa piskal, mayroong piskal na napatay, bagaman hindi namin alam kung konektado rito sa kaso,” he continued.
[“There are dangers to us – to lawyers, witnesses, to those covering the issue – part of our media was harassed – the prosecutor, there was a prosecutor who was killed, although we are not sure if the murder was connected in the Olalia – Alay-ay case.”]
To date, there have been 65 lawyers killed under the Duterte administration, after human rights lawyer Juan Macababbad was shot dead in front of his home in South Cotabato. Meanwhile, in 2020, the Philippines ranked as the third “deadliest country for journalists”. It can be recalled that last July, radio blocktimer Renante “Rey” Cortes was shot dead outside of their station.
Meanwhile, labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) emphasized in a statement that the current situation of workers has barely changed since the dangers that Ka Lando and Ka Leonor faced, which eventually led to their deaths.
“While we rejoice in this ruling, we point out the current similarly bleak situation of trade union and human rights in the country. 56 of our fellow workers and unionists have been victims of extrajudicial killings over the past five years under Duterte,” KMU said.
Under the current administration, several labor leaders and unionists have also experienced harassment. For instance, among numerous other cases, Wyeth Philippines Progressive Workers Union (WPPWU) have been constantly “visited” by state forces to ask them about personal details. Then, last October 7, 21 Wyeth unionists were illegally “dismissed without warning” (READ: Mga grupo ng manggagawa, nanawagan sa DILG na tigilan ang panghaharas, pananakot sa mga unyonistang Wyeth; 21 Wyeth unionists illegally dismissed after being lured to ‘team building activity;’ labor groups call for immediate reinstatement).
KMU also aired their hopes that the favorable ruling on the Olalia – Alay-ay case would also be similar to that of the cases of other slain workers, including Manny Asuncion and Dandy Miguel, who were murdered in the bloody month of March 2021 (READ: 5 patay, 7 arestado matapos ang ‘Bloody Sunday’ sa Timog Katagalugan; Lider manggagawa Dandy Miguel, patay matapos pagbabarilin sa Calamba).
Meanwhile, Atty. Edre emphasized that the delay of justice goes far beyond the lawyers and judges who handle the case. Justice is dictated by the political climate.
“Kailangan mo ring isama ang political climate. Sino ba ang nakaluklok? Sa justice department – sino ba ang nakaupo? Sa presidente, sino ba ang nakaupo? [You also have to consider the political climate. Who is seated in the government? Who is seated in the justice department? Who is seated as president?]”
Atty. Edre expressed that it is “unbelievable” that the government, in all its resources and power, cannot arrest and locate the nine remaining accused individuals.
Pertaining to the three that were convicted, he said, “Gamitin niyo yung pagkakataon para makapag-set ng examination at makapagmuni-muni at tanungin ang sarili, ‘Bakit narito ako sa loob pero yung iba kong mga kasamahan at mga mastermind ay nasa labas? [Use the opportunity to set an examination and think and ask yourselves, ‘Why am I here inside, and yet my colleagues and the masterminds are outside?]”
A face of the labor movement
“[Si Ka Lando] ay respetado, kinikilalang lider ng kilusang masa at ng kilusang manggagawa [Ka Lando is a respected, recognized leader of the mass movement and labor movement],” Atty. Edre said of his late cousin.
Ka Lando was appointed as the head of National Federation of Labor Unions (NAFLU), chairperson of KMU and Pambansang Koalisyon ng mga Manggagawa Laban sa Kahirapan. He also became a chairperson of Partido ng Bayan, an organization that he formed after the fall of the Marcos dictatorship, as well as head of militant alliance Bayan.
“Nakibaka si Ka Lando para sa malaya, mapayapa, at demokratikong Pilipinas. Bilang unyonista, paniniwala niyang makabuluhan ang papel ng mga manggagawa sa pagpapalaya ng lipunan […] Mahigpit niyang pinanghawakang hindi kailanman uunlad ang bansa hanggang hindi nagtagumpay ang pakikibaka ng mga manggagawa,” KMU shared in a Facebook post.
[“Ka Lando struggled for a free, peaceful, and democratic Philippines. As a unionist, it is in his belief that workers play a major role in liberating the society […] He held onto the belief that the country will never progress so long as workers do not succeed in their struggle.”]
In fact, before Ka Lando and Ka Leonor were abducted on November 12, 1986, they had just finished attending a union meeting.
“[Bago siya ay dukutin,] kagagaling niya lang sa isang pulong sa Pasig, sa isang unyon, Ajinomoto yata iyon. Alam ko ‘yan dahil bahagi ‘yan ng salaysay noong testigo namin sa pagdukot sa kaniya,” Atty. Edre shared.
[“Before he was abducted, he just came off a meeting in Pasig, for a union, I think it was for Ajinomoto. I know that because it is part of the narrative of our witness regarding his abduction.”]
KMU added in their Facebook post that the death of the two unionists was met by the masses with agony and rage. Over 25,000 people protested in Camp Aguinaldo to condemn the killings, and over a million individuals joined the 12-hour march after the funeral of Ka Lando and Ka Leonor.
Following the guilty verdict, Atty. Rolando said, “Our victory has only stiffened our resolve to never abandon our search for the remaining 9 men involved in our father’s brutal killing.”
KMU’s Nitz Gonzaga, who was a friend of Ka Lando, echoed the victims’ families’ continuous call for justice, placing her faith in the defenders of human rights.
“Mahigpit pa rin ang aming paniniwalang sa pamamagitan ng ating mga tagapagtanggol ngayon ay ipagpapatuloy natin ang ating paghahanap ng katarungan para kay Ka Lando at Leonor Alay-ay. Napakahuhusay nilang mga lider na naging panganib sa mga dambuhalang walang hiya. Naging panganib sila kaya sila ay pinatay,” she lamented.
[“We strongly believe that through our current defenders, we can continue the search for justice for Ka Lando and Leonor Alay-ay. They were great leaders who were dangers to shameless monsters. They became too much of a danger, which is why they were killed.”]
KMU also hopes that the powerful people behind the crime will also be convicted just like their henchmen were.
“We are still expecting the masterminds to be prosecuted. Justice will only truly be served if they are named and judged […] They must also be sought and convicted,” the labor organization said.
As the nine individuals accused for the murder remain at large, Atty. Edre reminds that it is justice itself that will come seeking for the rest of the suspects.
“Bagaman hindi kayo mahabol sa hinaharap na mga taon, aabutan kayo. In time, lahat kayo. Kung hindi man sa law of man, sa law of God or divine justice or even karma. Maraming porma ng katarungan,” Atty. Edre said.
[“Even if you cannot really be taken in the near future, you will be caught, in time, all of you. If not under the law of man, then under the law of God or divine justice or even karma. There are numerous forms of justice.”] [P]
Photo from Kilusang Mayo Uno / Facebook
Layout by John Michael Monteron
Additional reports by Marilou Lorzano and Maan Curioso