By TRISTAN JAMES BIGLETE
MANILA – The abduction happened nine months after a people’s uprising that deposed an ailing dictator. When the bodies of labor leader Rolando Olalia and trade unionist Leonor Alay-ay were finally found in Antipolo, hours felt like decades for the grieving families.
Olalia and Alay-ay were shot to death. Hogtied. Mouths gagged with newspapers. Stab wounds marked their bodies. The night before, Olalia and Alay-ay disappeared and failed to return home.
What followed next after the brutal slaying was a deluge of mass protests, an attempted coup d’etat from renegade soldiers, and a call for justice.
It was a military operation.
In his confession to court, Medardo Barreto mentioned many names, beginning with his own.
Barreto was a former intelligence officer of the Philippine Constabulary (PC), the predecessor of the Philippine National Police (PNP) until he was assigned to the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP).
In 1978, Col. Eduardo Kapunan recruited Barreto’s superior, Rodolfo Formales, to join a group under defense minister Juan Ponce Enrile. The latter, a confidant of dictator Ferdinand Marcos, was at the helm of the Ministry of National Defense (MND) for as long as the regime itself.
As interested as he was in Kapunan’s offer, Formales was already a director at the ISAFP. He instead asked Barreto if he wanted a recommendation. Barreto agreed with the proposal and soon began to work with Kapunan.
The group Kapunan created was named the Special Operations Group (SOG). Barreto described it as the intelligence group of the Philippine Coconut Authority (PHILCOA). They monitored the state agency for anomalies and protected its important personnel.
According to Barreto, Kapunan was deputy of the group’s first leader, Eduardo Visperas. Both Kapunan and Visperas were godfathers of Barreto at his wedding.
In Barreto’s testimony, Kapunan allegedly oversaw operations that were not aligned with PHILCOA. This includes covert security operations for Enrile and campaigns against the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA)
After the 1986 EDSA uprising, Barreto said that the SOG numbered around 55 agents. At this point, Barreto has also been promoted as team leader of the Counter-Intelligence and Special Projects Team.
“Ang basehan ng pag-recruit ng mga bagong tauhan ay […] kasanayan, karanasan at sa malaking punto ay rekomendasyon ng isa nang miyembro at dati nang pinagtiwalaan ng mga namumuno,” Barreto said.
It was also in the same year where members of the SOG were put under the supervision of Ricardo Dicon, Special Operations chief of the Security Intelligence Group (SIG) of the defense ministry. Barreto said that this was an order from Kapunan and relayed to them by then SOG Deputy Chief Elpidio Layson.
After a meeting with Layson, Chief Petty Officer Cirilo Almario informed former leaders of the SOG of their new targets. Barreto also received a new team.
One of their new targets was labor secretary Augusto Sanchez. Barreto said that findings from their missions will only be reported verbally to Almario. Almario was also the link between the SOG and Dicon as there was no formal transfer of members from SOG to SIG.
According to Barreto, their targets were also tagged as active members of the CPP and NPA.
A new surveillance target was assigned to Barreto in the first week of November 1986. His former colleague, Technical Sergeant Rodolfo Sabalza, approached him in their office. Kapunan wanted to talk to them.
Kapunan has an order for the two agents. According to Barreto, he and Sabalza were tasked to assist Staff Sergeant Edger Sumido on a mission.
Barreto remarked that their operations had no “leash” in the sense that there were no official authorities or non-commissioned officers who supervised them. The mission of one operative from another was no secret.
Sumido was not an exception and everyone knew he had one target: Rolando Olalia.
When they left Kapunan’s office, Barreto and Sabalza looked for Sumido. They found him at the SOG office with Technical Sergeant Filomeno Maligaya.
Based on Barreto’s recollection of the events, Sumido smiled when he heard of the order from Kapunan. He also asked Maligaya to help them, to which the army sergeant agreed.
Barreto recalled that Sumido had already placed Olalia on surveillance before they were tasked to help him. But Sumido’s failure to submit a good report, Barreto suspected, was the reason Kapunan ordered them to be involved as it might delay the preparations of the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM). The latter was a military organization that would later attempt a coup d’etat against then President Corazon Aquino. Key members were Kapunan himself, Gringo Honasan, and Victor Batac.
Barreto also stated that the rumors of a military takeover were already brewing within their ranks. “Kalat at mainit na ang ugong ng balitang malapit na ang pagsasagawa ng isa pang military exercise na mala-EDSA. Ito ay lalong naging kapuna-puna, hindi lang sa sirkulo ng Security Group kundi sa buong MND, dahil sa pagkalat at pagsusuot ng T-shirt na may tatak na Malapit Na, na sa aking pagkakaalam, ang ibig sabihin ay malapit na ang pagpalit muli ng pamahalaan sa pamamagitan ng military take-over.”
Days before the abduction of Olalia, when Barreto and his clique were sitting at a lobby of the defense ministry, Maligaya read an important piece of news. Olalia had plans to speak with United Laboratories (Unilab) employees who were meeting at a restaurant in EDSA.
The agents were quick to act upon hearing the news. Sumido began to survey the restaurant and Barreto offered to help him.
On November 12, 1986, the day before Olalia and Alay-ay were found murdered, Sabalza requested Barreto to accompany him to their office. Barreto initially declined the request. His daughter’s death anniversary was on the same day. It was a family tradition to visit her grave every year.
But Sabalza promised that they could split with the whole team in the afternoon after the operation starts. Barreto eventually agreed and they found both Sumido and Maligaya in the office.
Soon, they began to speak of the plan. Barreto recalled the events as a witness. He would be the driver of the vehicle the “augmentation team” will use for surveillance. Sumido, Sabalza, and Maligaya would be the “spotters” and “alternative drivers” in the mission.
The team drove to the restaurant to launch their operation. Barreto stayed outside to prepare the vehicle. The rest entered the building. Barreto followed soon and he saw Sabalza and Maligaya on a table. Sumido, meanwhile, attempted to identify his target.
After confirming that it was Olalia, the operatives ordered their food to blend in with the other customers. When they finished eating, Barreto returned to the vehicle and repositioned it before tailing Olalia.
Olalia retired from the meeting after lunch. Watching his every move were the intelligence officers.
Sabalza waited for the signal. Sumido and Maligaya followed Olalia to his Toyota station wagon.
Barreto said he caught a glimpse of the labor leader when he drove past them. But Barreto was not able to remember Olalia’s face as it was the first time he had met him. Instead, he tried to remember the car Olalia was in.
The trail was halted after Sumido decided to observe Olalia. He had suspected that Olalia was heading for his office at Shaw Boulevard.
Sumido called for his team at the radio to take their positions around the boulevard. He bid farewell to Barreto before regrouping with his original team. In his plan, Barreto’s team will not move. To maintain contact with the SOG base, they used a radio operated by officer Ricardo Arzaga.
Despite his initial plan to go to his daughter’s grave, Barreto was unable to depart from the mission. He was with the other operatives until their task was finished.
Late in the afternoon, one of the members of Sumido’s group spotted Olalia in the parking lot of his office. In their report, Olalia was preparing to leave in a new vehicle together with a driver.
The driver was Alay-ay, a fellow trade unionist who accompanied Olalia to another union meeting with workers from the food corporation Ajinomoto.
After following Olalia and Alay-ay, Barreto waited for further instructions from Sumido.
Sumido was with Gil Galicia when Barreto saw him move to their position. Barreto was surprised to see Galicia. According to him, it was a long time ago since he last saw Galicia, an asset in Region 2 who is not an agent of the defense ministry. Galicia informed him that he was asked by Sumido to drive for him when he visited the group in their base earlier.
According to Barreto, Sumido received instruction from Dicon. Barreto wrote in his testament to the court the exact words he heard: “Kunin na ang subject.”
Rolando Olalia was a labor leader.
Details of his life from the archives of trade union Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) and memorial center Bantayog ng mga Bayani reveal that Ka Lando, as he is also known, dedicated his life to the labor movement.
His father, Felixberto Olalia, urged him to join the National Federation of Labor Unions (NAFLU). Ka Lando would eventually lead the striking workers from Delta Manufacturing where he would be arrested.
He and his father would also join in the struggle of farmers from Malayang Samahan ng Magsasaka (MASAKA)
As Ka Lando began his university years, he joined the Kabataang Makabayan (KM). Ka Lando assisted its members in creating KM chapters in schools around Manila.
After college, Ka Lando finished his bar exams with high remarks and became a labor lawyer.
When Marcos declared Martial Law, Ka Lando was arrested based on charges of subversion. He was jailed for three months. He faced detention again in 1982 together with his father. They were accused of conspiring to commit rebellion. Marcos was busy silencing dissent. Ka Lando and his father were two of the dictator’s many victims.
During their imprisonment, his father’s health deteriorated. When he died, Ka Lando would still follow in his footsteps.
Ka Lando became president of NAFLU and chairperson of KMU. Both labor unions are still fighting for the rights of workers today.
Despite military and police brutality in the picket lines, Ka Lando remained loyal to the workers who had been resisting the dictatorship. At the end of the Marcos era, Ka Lando will be at the helm of the progressive political party Partido ng Bayan.
But even if he survived the tumultuous years of the Marcos regime, Ka Lando would be killed under the Aquino administration where the promise of democracy was uncertain and collaborators of the Marcos family roam free.
The abduction happened in a flash. Less than two minutes, Barreto said.
After confirming that the order was legitimate, Barreto allegedly learned that higher military officials have knowledge of the operation.
“Alam ito ng itaas.” Barreto said he heard these words from Dicon. He also speculated that Kapunan and Honasan knew of their mission.
Before the plan was enacted, more officers arrived at the scene. Driving in a Toyota land cruiser were sergeants Florante Viana, Amado Pagon, Eduardo Bueno, Fernando Casanova, Freddie Sumagaysay, and Corporal Gene Paris.
Exact plans were laid down in a short briefing before they took their positions.
At night, Olalia and Alay-ay left the Ajinomoto compound. While driving, presumably to return to their homes, a convoy intercepted their vehicle. They were blindfolded and taken to a safehouse.
In the safehouse, Barreto and the agents were greeted by familiar faces.
Sitting in the radio room of the safehouse, Barreto recalled, were Colonel Tito Legaspi, Major Noe Wong, journalist Cecilio Arillo and Dicon. Upon hearing of Olalia’s capture, they left the room to look at the labor leader.
In Barreto’s statement, the safehouse was used by Enrile. The officers in the room were also close to the defense secretary. Legaspi and Wong were aides-de-camp of Enrille while Arillo worked in the Public Information Office of the MND.
“Ang kanilang pag-tao sa safehouse ay aking ikinagulat at ang kanilang galaw ay nagkumpirma na ang utos ni Capt. Dicton sa amin na kunin na ang subject ay alam nga ng itaas,” Barreto said.
Olalia entered the safehouse blindfolded. His hands were tied. None of the officers dared to talk to Olalia. The labor leader himself did not speak. He even refused to respond to the red-baiting attempts of the soldiers.
Barreto said that the officials began to leave. Arillo handed a camera to him, asking Barreto if he could assign a photographer to shoot photos in their upcoming military exercise.
“Tinanggap ko ang kamera at nangako sa kaniya na basta may pagkakataon ay pagbibigyan ko ang kanyang kahilingan,” Barreto said.
Dicon, meanwhile, did not join the other officers. He remained at the safehouse.
Barreto said that they were waiting for the order to kill Olalia and Alay-ay. The death of Olalia was expected to trigger a mass protest from KMU. The military would use it as justification to stage a coup d’etat against the Aquino administration.
The decision to murder Olalia and Alay-ay was made before dawn the next day.
Barreto remembered the incident.
He was supposed to return to his family but he received new orders from Dicon. It was a short reconnaissance mission. Barreto and Sabalza guided Viana to Antipolo. This is where they will take Olalia and Alay-ay.
Barreto stopped at the house of his parents after they were finished with the mission. Not long after, however, Sabalza came back to him to say that Dicon was creating a group. They suspected that the group is already going to murder the unionists.
The two decided to notify Layson of the current situation. Sabalza volunteered to reach Layson while Barreto went to the safehouse.
After Barreto returned to the safehouse, Sgt. Juan Matammu informed him that two vehicles carried Olalia and Alay-ay. One vehicle, owned by Dicon, included two unnamed army rangers and Sgt. Dennis Jabatan. Both of them were with Olalia. Viana was driving the other vehicle with sergeants Amado Pagon, Jose Bacera Jr., and Casanova. They were with Alay-ay.
Layson, who had just arrived at the safehouse with Sabalza and Maligaya, tasked Barreto and the other operatives to follow Dicon. Barreto said that he did not know why the SOG deputy chief would ask them to pursue Dicon.
Approaching the road close to Antipolo, the group heard gunshots in a mountain. When they reached Dicon’s parked vehicle, Barreto decided to know what transpired in the operation.
“Iniwan ko ang kalsada ng biglang pinatay ng mga kasama ko ang mga ilaw ng aming sasakyan,” Barreto said. “Sa aking harapan at gawing kaliwa ay aninag ko ang bundok at sa wari ko ay bahagyang pababa ang madamong lugar na itinuro sa akin.”
In his recollection of the events, Baretto turned his flashlight on. He called for Jabatan. No one answered but he illuminated a figure.
It was Jabatan. Barreto said he saw Jabatan stab someone two times. Jabatan eventually approached Barreto who saw him carrying a bloodied knife.
Barreto wrote the words he heard from Jabatan. “Tinusok ko nga ng ilang beses pare, paniguro lang.”
Olalia was dead.
Barreto left Jabatan to report to Layson. They decided to look for Vianna. The group eventually managed to spot another parked vehicle. Vianna was near the vehicle when they found him.
Alay-ay was also dead.
The narrative behind the death of Olalia and Alay-ay was written in a 14-page document. It was based on what Barreto saw. The reason he became a court witness, according to him, was for survival. He was receiving death threats.
It was the court who will decide if they will take Barreto’s statement as the truth. Those who were implicated, especially those in the higher ranks, denied what Barreto said.
A big crowd stormed the streets at Olalia’s funeral. It was photographed in the newspapers. What it did not capture, however, was the long march to justice.
Thirteen names were charged with murder: Eduardo Kapunan Jr., Oscar Legaspi, Ricardo Dicon, Edgar Sumido, Dennis Jabatan, Gene Paris, Freddie Sumagaysay, Fernando Casanova, Desiderio Perez, Jose Bacera, Cirilo Almario, Filomeno Maligaya, and Gilberto Garcia.
Decades after the death of Olalia and Alay-ay, no one would be held accountable. Charges against Kapunan were dismissed after a court accepted the motion he filed to dismiss the evidence against him due to insufficiency. Today, Kapunan is serving as an ambassador in President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration.
It was only in October 2021 when Perez, Jabatan, and Casanova were sentenced with reclusion perpetua or imprisonment from 20 to 40 years.
KMU and other allied organizations called it “too little, too late.”
For Olalia’s son, Atty. Rolando Rico Olalia, justice will finally be served if all of the accused have been held accountable.
“Our victory today has only stiffened our resolve to never abandon our search for the remaining nine men involved in our father’s brutal killing,” he said in a statement.
On the same day the verdict was announced, members of KMU gripped their placards and raised their fists. Behind them was a portrait of Olalia. All of them shouted in unison.
“Justice for Ka Lando.”
“Justice for Ka Leonor Alay-ay.”