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Red-handed

/ 07:24 AM October 26, 2012

There are three uncontested facts about former rebel soldier Eduardo “Red” Kapunan. First, he is no longer in active military service. Second, he is a principal accused in the brutal 1986 double murder of labor leader Rolando Olalia and his driver Leonor Alay-ay, a crime that cannot possibly be justified as being part of one’s military duty. And third, the military as an institution is not involved in the controversial and much-delayed case. So here’s the question begging to be asked: Why was Kapunan in the custody of the Army?

Since surrendering early this month, Kapunan has been detained at the Army’s Intelligence Security Group office in Fort Bonifacio. On Monday, the Antipolo Regional Trial Court directed the Army to transfer Kapunan to the Rizal Provincial Jail. In her order, Presiding Judge Ma. Consejo-Gengos Ignalaga said: “Since Kapunan is no longer in the active service as an officer of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the military does not have jurisdiction over him. Thus, his immediate transfer to a civilian detention facility is necessary.”

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But the Army failed to effect the “immediate transfer,” ostensibly because Kapunan’s (non-military) lawyers had filed an appeal on time and the Army needed the court to resolve the issue. (Through his lawyers, Kapunan said the provincial jail did not have either the necessary medical facilities that he needed given his ill health or the appropriate security to protect him from whoever was sending him the death threats he said he had received.)

The lawyer for the Olalia family castigated the Army, in our view correctly, for its decision to hold on to Kapunan. “Why should they dribble the transfer on the pretext of a motion of an accused that they are not supposed to be representing? A motion by a private individual cannot be invoked by the military to not comply,” Edre Olalia said.

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On Wednesday, Judge Ignalaga issued a show-cause order, directing the Army to explain why Kapunan’s custodians should not be cited for contempt. And yesterday, the Army finally turned him over to the National Bureau of Investigation.

Kapunan is the second of a total of 13 accused in the Olalia-Alay-ay double murder to surrender to the authorities; the circumstances surrounding the surrender of the first accused, Desiderio Perez, a former sergeant and like Kapunan a member of the controversial Reform the Armed Forces Movement, is very instructive. Perez turned himself over to a police official last July, and has since been under police custody. No confusion, no controversy.

What makes Kapunan different from Perez? Is it the difference in their (former) ranks? Is it because, for a heady few months in 1986, Kapunan was feted as a hero, like other RAM founders? Is it a matter of political patronage?

We think Kapunan’s arrangement with the Army was plain and simple accommodation for a former high-ranking officer with very good political connections. What is the interest of the Army, after all, in keeping custody of Kapunan? Every day this week that Kapunan remained in Army custody, a military institution that had regained a large part of its credibility and its popularity was haunted, yet again, by ghosts of a discredited past—military adventurism, inept coup plotting, a martial law regime of murder, rape, torture and intimidation.

To be sure, there is something to be said for treating those who surrender to you in the best way you can. But Kapunan was in Army detention for two weeks. Surely that was enough time for his old Army friends to ensure that the civilian authorities would treat him right?

More than enough time, as it turns out. The Rizal Provincial Jail declared to the court that it did not have the right facilities to handle Kapunan. But the NBI, which often takes custody of high-profile or high-risk detainees, said it did.

We continue to think that this is still a special accommodation for a suspect who should receive ordinary treatment. It is hard to fault Judge Ignalaga for agreeing to the NBI transfer; if neither the Antipolo City Jail nor the Rizal Provincial Jail can accommodate Kapunan, then the NBI’s special quarters are the next-best civilian detention place.

But it should be quite clear that 26 years after a brutal double murder, a privileged former member of the military class should not enjoy any more privileges.

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TAGS: judiciary, Military, Olalia-Alay-ay Double Murder, Philippine army, Red Kapunan
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