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Editorial

Justice delayed, justice denied

/ 04:08 AM October 19, 2021

Thirty-five years: That’s how long it took to obtain some measure of justice for the double murder of labor leader Rolando Olalia and trade union organizer Leonor Alay-ay committed on Nov. 13, 1986.

A court in Antipolo City last week sentenced to reclusion perpetua three soldiers for the crime: ex-sergeants Fernando Casanova, Dennis Jabatan, and Desiderio Perez, members of the Reform the Armed Forces (RAM) movement that, led by now Information and Communications Technology Secretary Gregorio “Gringo’’ Honasan, mounted a series of coup attempts against the Cory Aquino administration from 1986 to 1989.

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The National Bureau of Investigation said the killings were a prelude to RAM’s “God Save the Queen” coup plot of Nov. 22, 1986, which in part targeted leftists in the political coalition that supported the Cory Aquino administration. While Olalia was not part of the coalition, his group Kilusang Mayo Uno had a “critical collaboration’’ with the Cory Aquino administration following the ouster of the Marcos dictatorship.

The Antipolo court established that Olalia and Alay-ay were kidnapped and tortured in a house maintained by the Marcos-era Ministry of National Defense, before they were brought to a vacant lot in Antipolo where they were shot and killed. Their bodies were mutilated beyond recognition—Olalia was found with eyes gouged out, hands bound, and mouth stuffed with newspaper. Only a scar on his leg helped confirm his identity.

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Despite the welcome convictions, this remains a case of partial, incomplete justice: Nine other RAM members charged for the double murder have remained at large to this day.

No principals or higher-ups in the unofficial chain of command of RAM were held to account. While a new witness came forward which led to the reopening of the case in 1998 and implicated Honasan, prosecutors dismissed the testimony as hearsay and the RAM leader was never charged.

Another RAM leader charged, Lt. Col. Eduardo Kapunan, had admitted ordering a surveillance operation on Olalia, but was granted immunity from prosecution after availing himself of amnesty during the Ramos administration. In 2016, a judge granted his demurrer to evidence, effectively acquitting him of the case. He is now the Philippine ambassador to Germany.

The victims’ families in the Olalia-Alay-ay case may find some consolation in the three convictions, but they are as likely to be embittered anew at the failure of the country’s justice system to exact proper and thorough accountability, let alone a prompt one, from powerful forces responsible for crimes as heinous as the torture and murder of citizens. Every day that the majority of the accused in this case remains at large represents justice further denied the victims’ kin, for over three decades now and counting.

Speaking of justice denied—the denial this time inflicted on Filipino taxpayers: On Oct. 7, Ombudsman Samuel Martires cleared former tourism secretary Wanda Teo, her brother Ben Tulfo, and other officials of the state-owned People’s Television Network (PTV 4) for graft over a P120-million advertisement deal that the Commission on Audit (COA) had flagged in 2018.

The COA noted irregularities in the Department of Tourism’s (DOT) ad deal with the company Bitag Media: It was owned by Teo’s brother Ben Tulfo, indicating conflict of interest, and there was no memorandum of agreement to support the deal. “Kilos Pronto”—the program produced by Bitag Media and hosted by Ben and another brother of Teo, Erwin—received P60 million from the DOT.

Teo’s defense then was that she did not know that Bitag Media was owned by her brother, because they were “not close to each other.’’ (Per COA, the DOT had “specifically requested” that its ads be aired in that program.) Incredibly, Martires upheld Teo’s excuse: “There is no conspiracy, nowhere was it directly shown that Secretary Teo was aware that Kilos Pronto is owned by Ben Tulfo, her sibling.’’

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The COA is on record as having issued two notices of disallowance (ND) against the deal, which meant that PTV 4 and Bitag Media needed to return the money paid. But Teo and her brother refused to do so; Tulfo said there was nothing to return as the money had already been spent, and that the public could wait in vain until “mamuti na ang mga mata ninyo!” (your eyes turn white).

The Ombudsman not only ignored the NDs issued, it also offered this rationalization: “Even granting for the sake of argument that an NS (notice of suspension) or ND had in fact been issued, there is nothing on record showing that it had gained finality as there are other legal remedies under the COA rules of Procedures…’’

Was the public swindled in this case? The Tulfos’ older brother, columnist Ramon Tulfo, provided the answer when he retorted to a netizen’s tweet this way: “‘Di ako ang nagnakaw ng 60m. Kapatid kong si Ben yung tinutukoy mo” (I did not steal the P60m. You’re referring to my brother Ben).

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