The accused and powerful personalities backing them have used political influence, legal wrangling, and even veiled threats to elude justice.
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – One of the 13 accused in the brutal murder of labor leader Rolando Olalia and bodyguard Leonor Alay-ay was finally arraigned in court this week, 26 years after the crime. Desiderio Perez, the only one formally held in custody at the Rizal provincial jail after he surrendered last month, pleaded ‘not guilty’ to the murder charge. His pre-trial will start Sept 5.
Although the upcoming trial was a welcome development in the double murder case, it is still viewed as a very delayed and very limited development in the pursuit of justice for the killing that had shocked so many. Olalia and Alay-ay were abducted and brutally murdered at a time when the Philippines was still basking in the afterglow of the first Edsa people power.
Hours after Perez’s arraignment last Wednesday, some lawyers not involved in the case but acquainted with relatives of Rolando Olalia expressed surprise that the case is still at this very early stage after so many years.
Justice impeded by influential coup leaders?
The case against the accused in the Olalia-Alay-ay double murder was first filed in 1998 following years of investigation. It was only in 1998 when warrants of arrest were thus issued against the 13 accused. It caused the arrest of one captain, Ricardo Dicon, who was released quite soon. Their trial had since been thwarted reportedly by influential members of the military who have turned politicians.
According to Rolando Rico Olalia, son of the murdered labor leader and now a lawyer also, as soon as the courts issued warrants of arrest against the accused in 1998, Col. Gringo Honasan issued veiled threats. One of the leaders of Rebolusyonaryong Alyansang Makabansa or RAM which staged bloody coups in the 80s, Honasan warned of further unrest among RAM members if its members were tried for murder. Honasan asserted that there was no longer a case against their members after they received amnesty.
Rolando Rico Olalia told Bulatlat.com that the leaders and some members of RAM also went to Malacañang in 1998 and had a dialogue with the then regarded as ‘little president,’ Ronnie Zamora. Sometime after the meeting in Malacañang, the Antipolo Regional Trial Court recalled the warrants of arrest it had issued for the 13 accused, citing a pending appeal of the accused. At the Court of Appeals, the 13 accused were questioning whether they ought to be tried for charges that they claimed had been revoked through the amnesty.
But the young Olalia recalled that later, the Court of Appeals ruled that the crime leveled against the accused is not part of the coup. 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.
“After the CA denied their appeal, to buy themselves more time, the 13 accused elevated the appeal to the Supreme Court,” Olalia said. It was in 2009, some 11 years after murder charges were filed against these members of RAM, when the Supreme Court denied their appeal with finality.
Alleged murderers still free
Despite the SC order, the murder trial of the 13 accused still did not start immediately in 2009, owing to additional legal wrangling by the accused. According to Olalia, the Supreme Court had remanded the case to the Regional Trial Court in Antipolo, Branch 71. Here, the accused filed a motion to quash the case, “using the same grounds rejected already by the Supreme Court,” said Olalia.
Before that motion to quash was decided, the judge inhibited himself, thus transferring the murder case to another branch of Antipolo Regional Trial Court, to Branch 98 which is in Taytay, Rizal. And so, it was this court that issued new warrants of arrest in February 2012. That was some three years after the SC remanded the case there, or about 14 years after the murder case was first filed in that regional trial court.
“We’re thankful that Judge Maria Consejo Gengos-Ignalaga seems intent to pursue the case,” Olalia told Bulatlat.com. But he added that no matter how sincere the judge is, without most of the accused behind bars, the case will not prosper.
A lone judge working on it cannot cut it – you need the force of the government, Olalia said. To serve the warrant of arrest, for example, you need the full backing of the government. He added that there is no assigned team of public prosecutors as well. Considering the number of the accused, a lone prosecutor assigned to study the case cannot do it all, Olalia said.
Where are the 12 of the 13 accused? They are still in hiding, said Olalia, who shared that they hoped the government would issue hold departure order covering the 13 accused. But before they can file a motion for that, Olalia mentioned the “stiff requirement’ involved. “We have to furnish the court with personal data of the 13 accused.
Aside from Desiderio Perez, also accused are Eduardo Kapunan, Jr., Oscar Legaspi, Filomeno Maligaya, Cirilo Almario, Jose Bacera, Fernando Casanova, Ricardo Dicon, Gilbert Galicia, Dennis Jabatan, Gene Paris, Freddie Sumagaysay and Edgar Sumido – all members of the ultra-rightist Rebolusyonaryong Alyansang Makabansa or RAM.
Olalia feared that even before they hoped to gather the personal data of the accused, they would have escaped already.
Aside from the seemingly lackadaisical moves in finally arresting all of the accused, another likely hindrance to the holding of a fair trial, Olalia added, is the fact that the director of the Witness Protection Program was once the lawyer of one of the 13 accused, Eduardo Kapunan, Jr. The witnesses to the murder case are under custody of witness protection program. “If the director or leader of this program was once the legal counsel of one the masterminds, the security of the witnesses could be compromised,” the young Olalia explained.
“After all these years, I thought I had moved on,” said Feliciana Olalia, widow of Rolando Olalia. But having to listen to the circumstances of the killing again, and realize that not one of the suspects pointed to by the investigation had been brought to justice, makes it even more painful today, she said. She told Bulatlat.com that she wished the case would be finally over, with justice served. But she admitted that the trend does not invite optimism.