Philippine Daily Inquirer, Editorial –

12 October 2012

The report on the surrender of Eduardo “Red” Kapunan, a retired lieutenant colonel and officer of the Reform the Armed Forces Movement, trains the spotlight on an all but forgotten outrage: the torture and murder of labor leader Rolando Olalia and his aide Leonor Alay-ay 26 years ago. Kapunan is among the 13 men charged with the terrible deed, all of them members of RAM, the group that historian Alfred McCoy once noted as “the most visible manifestation” of the strongman Ferdinand Marcos’ impact on the Philippine military. Kapunan is reported to have surrendered to the 3rd Infantry Division in Capiz and is being held in the Army’s Civil Military Unit in Fort Bonifacio.
Those old enough to remember will shudder at the memory of the particular brutality of the crime. Olalia and Alay-ay were reported missing in the morning of Nov. 13, 1986, having disappeared the previous night. Feliciana Olalia poignantly said that her husband, president of the Kilusang Mayo Uno and chair of the Partido ng Bayan, had “never done this before,” that he did not stay out late, and that he always phoned if he could not make it home by 11 p.m. The bodies were found separately later in the day in Antipolo—Olalia’s with stab and gunshot wounds, the eyes gouged out, the hands bound, and pages of a newspaper stuffed down the throat; Alay-ay’s with four gunshot wounds, two in the back, one in the neck, and one in the right temple, which smashed part of the head. A photograph of Olalia’s body in a posture of agony showed that the physical pain inflicted was tremendous. The trousers were missing, indicating that the torturers knew well the equal importance of psychological humiliation.
In mulling over the Olalia-Alay-ay murders—of which the young are
largely unaware, along with the epic cases of torture, disappearance and “salvaging” that marked the Marcos regime—one has to hark back to the political climate shadowing the then fledgling administration of President Corazon Aquino. Unaccustomed to the “democratic space,” the military, particularly members of the Philippine Military Academy’s Class of 1971, was chafing at losing the superior position that it enjoyed in the martial law apparat. The first of a series of coup attempts against the Cory administration was being plotted by the brash “RAMboys,” and indeed the National Bureau of Investigation later concluded that the Olalia-Alay-ay murders were a prelude to the putsch code-named “God Save the Queen” and envisioned as a means to get perceived Left-leaning officials out of the Cabinet. (Those coup attempts all failed, including one, in December 1989, that set the economy back by P1 billion. According to McCoy: “After a decade as understudies in Marcos’ theater of terror, the RAM colonels emerged on the national stage in the late 1980s emboldened by the sense of mastery to launch six coup attempts.” He observed that “not only did torture inspire their many coups, it [also] induced an illusory sense of personal power that made them inept technicians and incompetent coup commanders,” and that “no other military in the world launched so many coups with so little success.”)

That the double-murder case has gone unresolved for 26 years illustrates not only the continuing clout of the RAMboys but also the long road still to be traveled toward truth-telling and accountability. The “punishment” of pushups that President Fidel Ramos imposed on the men mentored by Gringo Honasan, now a senator of the realm, along with the amnesty brought about by Proclamation No. 347, has contributed greatly to the climate of impunity that allows such crimes as torture, murder and the most savage abuse of human rights to be swept under the rug.

With the Supreme Court ordering in 2009 the filing of murder charges
against Kapunan and his comrades, and the Antipolo City Regional Trial Court issuing last February the warrants for their arrest, the case appears ready for trial. But 11 of the suspects are still at large, and the ever prevailing climate of impunity gets in the way of hope. It behooves the Aquino administration to squarely confront this festering crime.

McCoy’s observations, aired in September 1999, are oddly prescient: “As the Philippines reaches for rapid economic growth, it cannot … afford to ignore the issue of human rights. If the Philippines is to recover its full fund of social capital after the trauma of dictatorship, it needs to adopt some means for remembering, recording, and, ultimately, reconciliation. No nation can develop its full economic potential without a high level of social capital, [which] cannot, as Robert Putnam teaches us, grow in a society without a sense of justice.”