Accused former Air Force Col. Eduardo Kapunan admitted in court that he ordered the surveillance of labor leader Roland Olalia, who was later found brutally murdered with companion Leonor Alay-ay, in 1986.
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA — The military operation on labor leader Rolando Olalia in 1986 was a covert one, said former Air Force Col. Eduardo Kapunan, Tuesday May 14, as he was cross-examined by prosecutors during the hearing at the Rizal Regional Trial Court. One of the accused masterminds in the double murder of Olalia and companion Leonor Alay-ay 27 years ago, Kapunan is in government custody under the National Bureau of Investigation since he surrendered late last year.
Not only was the military operation on Olalia a covert one, Kapunan said, it was also “a RAM job”. RAM or Reform the AFP movement is an ultra-rightist group of soldiers that launched bloody coup d’états in the late 1980s against the Cory Aquino government, which, they believed, had links with “leftists” or communists. Kapunan said he was with the executive committee of RAM, and that the military operation he ordered targeting Olalia was discussed and approved by the said committee.
He told the court that under his command, the operation (on Olalia) involved only surveillance activities. Kapunan denied that he had ordered the murder. Asked whether he had suspicions as to who killed the two, given that they were the same targets of his surveillance operations, he said he had “no inkling.”
“It’s not automatic that you do surveillance, you do the killing also,” Kapunan added.
Kapunan told the court, the order for the military operation (involving only surveillance, as he said) came from him. “Nobody higher than me gave the order, (but) it was consulted to persons higher than me,” he said.
Surveillance on perceived members or linkages to CPP
Why order a military operation, a surveillance as Kapunan insisted, on labor leader and lawyer Olalia, and government officials like then Labor Secretary Augusto ‘Bobbit’ Sanchez? Kapunan said that at the time, they “wanted to verify if indeed there was a link between the Cory government and leftists.” He admitted that they suspected Olalia to be a member of the Communist party of the Philippines (CPP).
The Special Operations Group, as it had been established in past hearings on the Olalia-Alay-ay double murder, had as one of its tasks the surveillance and apprehension of leftists or members of the CPP.
Sometime in July of 1986 – corresponding with state witness Medardo D. Baretto’s account – Kapunan said, as head of Special Operations Group under the Ministry of National Defense, he met with operatives to give them surveillance assignments, including that targeting Olalia. He said the teams of Baretto and Sumido had different targets.
“When the ops started it was not in writing, so I terminated it through verbal orders. It did not go through the proper chain of command – so it was not in writing,” Kapunan said.
Consistent with Baretto’s testimony, Kapunan said that at one point in 1986, he asked the team of Baretto to help the team of Sumido. “Sumido’s team was slow, that’s why I asked for the assistance of Baretto,” Kapunan said. Kapunan said he gave the teams no timetable or specified period as to when to conclude the surveillance.
In September 1986, Kapunan was issued an order transferring him from SOG of Ministry of National Defense to the GHQ Brigade.
The transfer meant Kapunan reported “to the office of the GHQ, about 300 meters away from his old office, at the extreme left side, at the back but not directly behind the administrative building” of national defense, beside the firing range.
Kapunan said he called his teams of operatives before September 15, 1986. One of the purposes was to “wrap up the assignment.”
His deputy at the SOG, Commander Elpidio Layson, also attended the meeting. Kapunan said Layson “was also aware of the purpose of the meeting.”
Kapunan was transferred to GHQ because, according to him, he was given a new task.
“Since the surveillance operation was part of a RAM operation, you continued to lead it even though you’re transferred to the GHQ brigade?” asked lawyer Julian Oliva, private prosecutor from the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers.
Kapunan replied in court, “As I answered, I ordered the surveillance.”
Interlocking AFP, RAM operations
Kapunan said he was “assigned to train the 6th GHQ battalion – to be combat-ready for the upcoming military op.”
He said the training was already ongoing as soon as soldiers were assigned to the battalion. Mostly, the soldiers assigned to us, he said, were experienced already from the marines, scout rangers, special forces. “They were trained already.”
Kapunan said that as far as the AFP chain of command was concerned, the purpose of the training was just to rescue; as far as RAM was concerned, it was being prepared as maneuver battalion for the military exercise.
But then RAM’s planned military exercise was aborted “because someone within the AFP chain of command who agreed to work with us pulled out,” Kapunan said in response to the prosecutor’s question.
On state witness Baretto
State witness and former sergeant Medardo Dumlao Baretto had told the court that Kapunan was one of the masterminds in the operations that resulted in the Olalia-Alay-ay double murder in 1986.
Conscience and self-preservation had prompted Baretto to turn state witness and reveal all he knew, as he said he got to know an Olalia son who treated them well at the DOJ, and he feared Kapunan “knowing what he’s capable of.”
Baretto and another state witness, former operative Bueno, also told the court about their fellow operatives who were either gunned down, disappeared or strangled to death for the cover-up operations to protect the masterminds behind the Olalia-Alay-ay double murder.
Kapunan told the court during the hearing that he had worked with Baretto since the 70s, when they were with the Philippine Coconut Authority. Kapunan said he assigned Baretto to be team leader of the counter insurgency team. “I think I tried to develop him in organizing the technical section handling electronic surveillance,” Kapunan said. It refers to wiretapping, eavesdropping, etc. that were deemed illegal at the time, said lawyer Oliva.
Kapunan had told the court of another likely reason why Baretto had implicated him in the Olalia-Alay-ay double murder. He said he had been trying to understand what’s going on with Baretto then, so he asked some of his friends. Kapunan admitted, “I did not have enough info so it was just hearsay. I heard he was involved in robbery of pawnshops, carnapping activities.” Kapunan said Baretto feared his being investigated by Kapunan on this.
Kapunan’s lawyer and sister-in-law Lorna Kapunan had more than once previously accused Baretto in court of accepting bribes, amounting to P3 million, in exchange for his recantation. Baretto had denied this, saying he indeed asked a lawyer to produce for him a recantation but he had never planned to abandon his first testimony. He explained that he produced that affidavit of recantation to calm Kapunan down, buy himself some time, and remain alive to tell the court what he knew of Olalia-Alay-ay murder.
Kapunan did not call the P3 million he allegedly handed to Baretto at a UCC café in Quezon City in 2010 as bribe. He called it as “assistance.”
The money came from Maligaya, said Kapunan. He said he had no part in it because “I don’t have that much money.” Kapunan said he learned later on that Baretto made a recantation. He said his driver Jerry Braga was outside the UCC when he handed the money to Baretto.
“I did not see a copy (of the affidavit of recantation) except the one shown in court,” said Kapunan.
Kapunan applied for and was granted amnesty in 1995. He and his lawyers have repeatedly claimed that it covers all political offenses – i.e. everything he committed inside the revised penal code. “I thought that it covers everything,” Kapunan told the court.
But Judge Ma. Consejo Gengos-Ignalaga of Regional Trial Court Branch 98 in Antipolo said that with regard to the amnesty, the Supreme Court has ruled that it is for this court’s appreciation and evaluation. She said “it’s up to this court to evaluate”, whether the accused in the double murder are guilty or not.
Rules of the country’s amnesty commission require also that soldiers divulge and admit to their involvement or participation in crimes for which they were seeking amnesty. Asked in court this Tuesday, Kapunan admitted no participation, involvement, in the killing of Olalia.