EDITORIAL - Partial justice, after 35 years

The Philippine Star
EDITORIAL - Partial justice, after 35 years

It’s better late than never. Still, waiting 35 years for partial justice can only be cold comfort for those left behind by labor leader Rolando Olalia and trade union organizer Leonor Alay-ay.

Last Tuesday, the Antipolo City Regional Trial Court found three former soldiers guilty of the twin murders. Former sergeants Fernando Casanova, Dennis Jabatan and Desiderio Perez were sentenced to life in prison by RTC Judge Marie Claire Victoria Mabutas Sordan, who also ordered them to pay P1.2 million in damages to Olalia’s heirs and P900,000 to those of Alay-ay.

The three belonged to the Reform the Armed Forces Movement, which figured prominently in the 1986 people power revolt that toppled the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos and installed Corazon Aquino as president. Nine other RAM members indicted for the murders remain at large: former Col. Tirso Legaspi, ex-Capt. Ricardo Dicon, ex-Cpl. Cirilo Almario, and ex-sergeants Gene Paris, Edgardo Sumido, Freddie Sumagaysay, Jose Bacera, Filomeno Maligaya and Gilbert Galicia. There are unconfirmed reports that some of them have been killed to prevent them from turning state witnesses.

The victims’ bodies, tortured and mutilated almost beyond recognition, were found in Antipolo, Rizal on Nov. 13, 1986. Olalia’s eyed had been gouged out and his mouth stuffed with newspaper. The court found that they were kidnapped and taken to a safehouse maintained by the Department of National Defense, where they were tortured before they were brought to a vacant lot in Antipolo and finished off.

A witness, former sergeant Medardo Dumlao Barreto, had implicated the RAM members’ commanding officer at the time, Col. Gregorio Honasan, in the murders, which were supposed to be a prelude to the coup plot code-named God Save the Queen that was set in motion on Nov. 22, 1986. But prosecutors deemed Barreto’s story as hearsay. Honasan, who denied involvement in the coup plot and is now running for senator, was never indicted. Barreto has since disappeared.

Another RAM officer, Lt. Col. Eduardo Kapunan, was indicted for conspiracy in the killings, but was effectively cleared by Judge Sordan in 2016. The Duterte administration named Kapunan ambassador to Myanmar in 2017, and he is now the Philippines’ ambassador to Germany.

While the conviction of the three RAM members is welcome, the truth and full justice remain elusive in this case. And a 35-year wait for partial justice shows why impunity reigns in the commission of extrajudicial killings.

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