A state witness said then colonel Gringo Honasan headed the Special Operations Group, under the Defense department, that abducted and killed labor leaders Rolando Olalia and Leonor Alay-ay in 1986.
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – Along with former Air Force Col. Eduardo “Red” Kapunan, former colonel Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan, now a senatorial candidate, was named by a state witness as one of the commanding officers of government soldiers who abducted, interrogated and then murdered labor leader Rolando Olalia and companion Leonor Alay-ay in 1986. But while Kapunan is under the custody of the National Bureau of Investigation, and two other accused, both of lower rank, are at the Rizal Provincial Jail, Honasan is not yet listed with the thirteen accused in the double murder case.
Under questioning of defense lawyers of Kapunan, former sergeant Desiderio Perez and former marine sergeant Dennis V. Jabatan, former sergeant turned state witness Eduardo Bueno added details to the still unsolved double murder case that took place under the Cory Aquino administration. Asked in court who gave them orders to conduct operations, such as that on labor leader Olalia, Bueno replied that orders emanated “from the commanding officer of the SOG” (Special Operations Group, then under the defense department headed by Juan Ponce Enrile, now also a senator).
Asked who the commanding officer of the SOG was then, Bueno replied that it was Gregorio Honasan, now a senator, and Lt. Col. Eduardo Kapunan, who was commanding officer of “Group 56” in which Bueno said he belonged.
Lawyer Lorna Kapunan reiterated to the court that her client was no longer CO (commanding officer) of SOG on November 1986, when the Olalia-Alay-ay double murder case took place.
How does the order of SOG’s commanding officer reach the operatives? asked Oscar Martinez, the lawyer of accused former sergeants Perez and Jabatan. State witness Bueno replied that it proceeded from higher-ups down to their officers. “Following the chain of command, that is, from CO down to officers, then to team leaders, then to operatives.”
Asked later who gave the order to conduct an operation on Olalia, Bueno told the court that he does not know. As an operative, Bueno was down the line away from the commanding officer. But he said there were times when they (commanding officers) directly gave him an order.
After killing Olalia and Ala-ay, clean-up and further killings
Lawyer Oscar Martinez asked the state witness who were left to stay at the safehouse on the evening of November 12, 1986. Bueno replied that he was left to stay there with Master Sergeant (Juan) Matango, Cpl. Caliyog, and civilian Gil Galicia.
The team who brought out Olalia and Alay-ay included Capt. Ricardo Dicon, Technical Sgt. Dennis V. Jabatan, Staff Sgt. Amado Pagon, Cpl. Jose C. Bacera and Staff Sgt. Florante Viana, Bueno said. He told the court that the first time he learned that Olalia and Alay-ay had already been killed was hours later after the team left. “When they returned at around 4 a.m., when (Rodolfo) Sabalza returned to the safehouse, he said the ones murdered were Rolando Olalia and Leonor Alay-ay.”
Asked why the state witness thought there were threats to his own life, Bueno said his fears were based on warnings such as those given to him by a batchmate (in Group 56). He was told, he said: “Take care of yourself, or what happened to John may happen to you.” John refers to Juan Matango.
“When Florante Viana was still alive, he warned me to take precautions so I won’t end up like Master Sgt. Juan Matango, who was abducted by unknown persons and his body has not been found since.”
Asked if his fears have other basis, Bueno said yes. He told the court about the killing of Master Sgt. Dionisio Ramirez. At this revelation lawyer Kapunan reminded the court of their continuous objection to the citing of Ramirez’s death, but the court this time allowed the state witness to elaborate.
What is special in Ramirez’s death? asked lawyer Oscar Martinez. Bueno told the court that Ramirez had wanted to surrender to then Congressman Jose Peping Cojuangco and divulge all he knew (about the Olalia-Alay-ay double murder). He was stopped by the group and strangled to death, Bueno said.
At lawyer Kapunan’s questioning, Bueno said Ramirez was pressed down to the ground by his fellow soldiers. While Ramirez was being strangled, Cpl. Danilo Pacino was pressing him down by holding his waist; Staff Sgt. (Edger) Sumido was holding down Ramirez’s legs.
Lawyer Lorna Kapunan asked the state witness if Col. Eduardo Kapunan was there when Ramirez was killed, Bueno said he did not see him there. Lawyer Kapunan also directed the witness to remember what he wrote in his affidavit, where she quoted him as saying that in Nov 1986, Team 56 changed commanding officers and Kapunan was replaced by Col. Legaspi.
Bueno also admitted he did not see Col. Kapunan in the safehouse where Olalia and Alay-ay were brought for questioning before they were murdered. Another state witness, Medardo D. Baretto, a team leader in SOG, had said in earlier hearings that the “higher-ups,” which included Kapunan, Honasan and Legaspi, were giving directives and the go-signal even if they were not visible to mere operatives.
In the next hearing for the Olalia-Alay-ay double murder case, the (fourth judicial) Regional Trial Court Branch 98, under Judge Ma. Consejo Gengos-Ignalaga, is set to issue a ruling on whether to accept or not the three documents, including the testimonies of state witnesses, submitted so far by the team of private prosecutors from the National Union of Public Lawyers and public prosecutors from the justice department.