By Vince Alvic A F. Nonato, Reporter

Principal suspect in 1986 Olalia murder acquitted

Posted on June 03, 2016

THE ANTIPOLO City Regional Trial Court has acquitted former Air Force Lt. Col. Eduardo “Red” E. Kapunan, Jr., the principal suspect in the grisly 1986 murders of labor leader Rolando M. Olalia and aide Leonor Alay-ay.

In an eight-page order dated June 1, Branch 97 Judge Marie Claire Victoria Mabutas-Sordan granted the demurrer to evidence filed by Mr. Kapunan, which in effect dismisses the case on the grounds of insufficiency of the prosecution’s evidence.

The court said the evidence of his direct participation in the murders was “not strong enough.”

But Mr. Kapunan’s three subordinates who have been arrested so far -- Sgts. Desiderio Perez, Dennis V. Jabatan, and Fernando Casanova -- will remain behind bars.

Three years before, Ms. Sordan’s predecessor, Judge Ma. Consejo Gengos-Ignalaga of Branch 98, granted bail to Mr. Kapunan on Oct. 18, 2013, because of the weakness of the prosecution’s evidence.

Ms. Sordan noted in her order that since then, “no additional evidence was presented by the Prosecution which might have tilted the balance in its favor.”

The case against Mr. Kapunan was anchored on the testimony by TSgt. Medardo D. Barretto, who said he was instructed to aid the operation and change the color of the vehicle after the abduction and killing took place.

However, the court quoted the earlier bail decision, which had found that Mr. Kapunan’s alleged participation in the conspiracy was not clearly established.

Edre U. Olalia, the labor leader’s cousin and fellow lawyer, and now the secretary-general of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), said the court’s order was “distressing and frustrating.”

“The message is clear: lowly soldiers should not follow illegal orders... from superiors because they will walk free [and] you take the fall,” he said in a statement.

As the order’s issuance coincided with the NUPL’s training session in Antipolo City, Edre said they held an indignation rally at what is now Olalia Road, where the two activists’ badly-mutilated bodies were found on Nov. 13, 1986.

Meanwhile, Mr. Olalia’s son, Rolando Rico C. Olalia, expressed deep sadness in a statement published by

“It is difficult to accept that the accused who ordered the murder of my father has been freed by the court, while the soldiers he ordered remain jailed,” read Rolando’s statement in Filipino. “My mother is old and her only wish is that the merciless murder of our father and Ka Leonor be given justice.”

Rolando also called on president-elect Rodrigo R. Duterte and his chosen Justice Secretary Vitaliano N. Aguirre II to order the arrest of the nine suspects who remain at large. One of them, Filomeno C. Maligaya, even became mayor of Magallanes, Cavite, for a time.

Mr. Olalia was the chairman of the Partido ng Bayan and the Kilusang Mayo Uno. The two activists were kidnapped, tortured and later killed during the height of the coup-ridden crisis faced by the administration of President Corazon C. Aquino, and their deaths stirred considerable public outrage.

The criminal complaints would only be filed by the Olalia and Alay-ay families in January 1998. In March that year, the Department of Justice’s prosecuting panel recommended the indictment of the soldiers led by Mr. Kapunan for murder.

But the case before the Antipolo RTC was stalled and the suspects could not be arrested, as they challenged the indictment by invoking the unconditional amnesty granted by President Fidel V. Ramos to those involved in the coup attempts against the Aquino administration. The soldiers claimed the amnesty extinguishes any criminal liability.

The murder case was revived only after the Supreme Court in 2009 ruled against Mr. Kapunan and his alleged co-conspirators. Warrants of arrest were finally issued in 2012, but only Mr. Kapunan and the three subordinates have been arrested and brought to trial.

NUPL and the Public Interest Law Center acted as private prosecutors in the case. Meanwhile, Mr. Kapunan was represented by his sister-in-law, Lorna P. Kapunan.