The state witness revealed that the killing of labor leader Rolando Olalia and his companion Leonor Alay-ay was meant to ignite protests that would be used by the RAM to launch a coup d’état.
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – In the recent two consecutive hearings within a week of the long-delayed trial of former soldiers accused in the Olalia-Alay-ay double murder, Filipino workers heard once again from the state witness the circumstances of how the labor leader and his companion were abducted and slain by state forces in 1986. But add to that, this time, as the lawyer of one of the accused cross-examined the state witness, is the supposed link of the slaying of the labor leader to the coup d’états being staged then by the organization of the 13 accused, the RAM, against the Cory Aquino government.
The RAM is Reform the Armed Forces Movement, a known ultra-rightist group within the Armed Forces of the Philippines, which launched a series of bloody coup d’états in the late 80s, supposedly to supplant or flush out the ‘leftists’ in the Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino administration.
“Ka Lando is with the KMU (Kilusang Mayo Uno). After we seized him, Capt. (Ricardo) Dicon and those who ordered us to do the job on Ka Lando expected the KMU to launch protest actions and those will be used by the RAM to justify the ‘military exercise,’” state witness Sgt. Medardo D. Baretto said. Baretto said he got the impression from Capt. Dicon, after they “turned over” Ka Lando and Alay-ay to them in their safehouse in Cubao, that RAM’s planned “military exercise” was quite imminent. His impression was bolstered when a certain Cecil Arillo handed him a camera and asked him to take pictures of the ‘military exercise.’
Dicon described their planned military exercise as “ala-Edsa,” or similar to the first Edsa people power uprising. In the first Edsa uprising, soldiers led by Juan Ponce Enrile and Fidel V. Ramos were reportedly about to hold a coup d’état when preempted by the forces of the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos. They were saved from the late dictator’s wrath by the throng of people, including unionists from the KMU, who had been conducting strikes and protest actions against martial law way before the soldiers’ planned coup d’état.
The state witness’ testimony on the abduction and slaying of KMU leader and lawyer Rolando Olalia and his companion, labor organizer Leonor Alay-ay, identified soldiers from the lowly rank of sergeant up to captains and colonels as co-conspirators. But it also revealed aspects of the pecking order and relationship of the higher-ups and the lowly operatives within the military. The state witness detailed the activities of the lowly “operatives”, yet admitted to not knowing personally who their commanding officers report to.
Some of the members of Philippine Army guarding the door to Antipolo City Regional Trial Court Branch 98 while trial of the accused former soldiers in Olalia-Alay-ay slay is ongoing (File Photo by Marya Salamat / Sept 2012 bulatlat.com)
To lawyer Kapunan’s questions about the likely involvement of Col. Gringo Honasan and then Defense Sec. Juan Ponce Enrile, state witness Sgt. Medardo Dumlao Baretto told the court he does not know that because he had not seen them. That was way up my level, he said.
“Higher-ups” in the military are present in his testimony only as the unnamed ones giving general orders, but they themselves did not take part in the nitty-gritty or actual tasks involving their job order on labor leader Ka Lando Olalia.
“I didn’t know who those higher-ups were but the posture appears it may be Col (Eduardo) Kapunan, Col. (Oscar) Legaspi, Col. (Gringo) Honasan, or maybe somebody higher,” said Baretto.
Lawyer Lorna Kapunan told him that “In the hierarchy, that higher-up was then Defense Sec. Juan Ponce Enrile.”
“If we follow the logic, it was him,” Baretto agreed.
Abduction, torture and murder of labor leader part of military exercise?
The rest of lawyer Kapunan’s cross-questioning of state witness Medardo Baretto centered on making the witness reiterate every now and then how former Air Force Col. Eduardo Kapunan was not physically there during the surveillance and abduction operations, and brief incarceration (and likely torture) of Olalia and Alay-ay at the Special Operations Group’s safehouse and their eventual slaying by midnight of Nov 13, twenty-six years ago.
Lawyer Kapunan added details to Baretto’s testimony. After she learned from Baretto that Capt. (Ricardo) Dicon was under Col. (Gringo) Honasan, she told him that “in fact, it was Honasan who brought Capt. Dicon to the unit working on Olalia.” Baretto did not know that.
Based on Baretto’s testimony, at least three groups of operatives “worked” on Olalia. Baretto’s group is called as an ‘augmentation group,’ as they only augmented the team of Sumido “to do the job on Olalia so it would be finished,” as Col. Kapunan had told them more than 26 years ago.
Lawyer Kapunan said her client’s order was just for the team to do surveillance on Olalia.
Two other teams of soldiers taking orders from Dicon joined Baretto’s group as they tailed Olalia that fateful day of Nov 12 in 1986. It was then Dicon who assumed “operational command” of all the operatives, according to Baretto.
Asked what Baretto’s group had made of Dicon’s statement that at any time from the time Olalia was brought to the safehouse, ‘the higher-ups might give the order to kill Olalia,’ Baretto replied “I just accepted the order.” He added that “we did not do anything but accept Capt. Dicon’s directives.”
He said “another group was used by Capt. Dicon to kill Ka Lando Olalia.”
Olalia murderers still free, and accused Kapunan’s exit looms?
The last two hearings, in which lawyer Kapunan cross-examined state witness Medardo D. Baretto, produced the information, first supplied by lawyer Kapunan, that Col. Kapunan’s orders on the Olalia job had involved “only surveillance.”
Former Air Force Col. Eduardo Kapunan escorted by members of the Philippine Army, Oct 17, 2012, Antipolo City Rizal Regional Trial Court (File Photo by Marya Salamat / bulatlat.com)
That it turned into another operation which led to the slaying of Olalia and Alay-ay was now made to look like due to the deeds and orders of other military colonels. But these others and all those named in the actual killing, except for Sgt. Dennis Jabatan who was seen stabbing at Olalia, were still at large.
Lawyer Kapunan further tried to extricate her client from the murder case, saying he was “no longer head of SOG at the time; he was transferred already to an anti-terrorist unit.” Baretto replied “yes, there were news like that.”
As for Col. Kapunan’s order to Baretto’s team to clean up the mess created in the Olalia job, lawyer Kapunan asked the state witness whether it was standard operating procedure to use “clean plates” in surveillance jobs.
Baretto replied that “clean up” in this case does not just refer to surveillance, because at the time Olalia and Alay-ay had been slain, the problem was already there and the plate number BBB 678 was already identified and reported (as involved.) Baretto said he and Sabalza had thought Kapunan’s clean up orders meant they should just be careful that the vehicle was not linked to the Special Operations Group under the Defense Department.
RAM problem and coup d’état
After the Olalia-Alay-ay murder, Baretto and some of the soldiers and officers he mentioned as involved in the abduction and slay continued to work in the military or the government.
RAM launched a coup d’état in 1987, almost a year after the murder of Rolando Olalia, and again in 1989. Baretto said the 1987 coup d’état was RAM’s attempt to take over the government. He said he was part of that coup.
“Our group was tasked to ignite or start action by bombing, then to proceed to Nichols and hold hostage Gen. Sobelo.”
Baretto’s team by that time had been “turned over” to the command of the “same Col. Legaspi, who is also being mentioned in the Olalia incident.” Legaspi and Kapunan were classmates at the Philippine Military Academy, the state witness said.
The 1989 coup d’état, just like that of 1987, was also “an attempt by RAM to take over the government,” Baretto said.
Baretto and other members of RAM applied for amnesty after it was offered by the government, but Baretto’s application was denied by the Amnesty Commission. “They said I did not belong to the RAM or to any group,” Baretto said.
Other RAM members were given amnesty under the Ramos administration in 1994.
The year before that, in 1993, Baretto, as member of the police force, went to work “as cadre in the security group then being formed for the Witness Protection Program.” He apparently had advance knowledge of this would-be job because as early as 1992, he was already lining up possible personnel for the security core group.
Although in past hearings Baretto said RAM co-founder Victor Batac had recommended him for the job, in last week’s hearings, he agreed with lawyer Lorna Kapunan that he was brought as cadre to the Witness Protection Program “by Col. Kapunan.”
At the time, Kapunan was a consultant to the Department of Justice, which oversees the Witness Protection Program.
In 1996, Baretto resigned “irrevocably” from his job in the Witness Protection Program. That year, too, he left RAM. And based on his earlier testimony in court, that year, he also wrote the body of what became his sworn statement on the abduction and slay of Rolando Olalia and Leonor Alay-ay.
Baretto returned to the Witness Protection Program in 1998 no longer as a police security cadre but as a state witness. He was under its protection from 1998 to 2001, when he had to leave to reconstitute papers concerning family-owned properties in Cubao, Quezon City.
He returned to the Witness Protection Program in 2003, when he confirmed threats to his life, after he learned that Angelito Pensinabis, a marine captain also with the RAM, was recruiting informants for an operation to silence him. Baretto stayed with the Witness Protection Program till 2009.
In 2009, he was approached by (former Col. Eduardo) Kapunan and (former Mayor Filomeno) Maligaya and, he said, he was forced to recant his earlier statement. He returned to the Witness Protection Program in 2012.
“We didn’t need to say it but his intention was to kill me,” Baretto said, referring to the RAM marine captain. He disclosed that in revealing what he knows of the Olalia-Alay-ay slay, he has become “a problem for RAM… “If I were gone, they (RAM) won’t have a problem anymore.”