People who believe our justice system is working well should consider the tragic case of labor leader Rolando Olalia and his driver Leonardo Alay-ay, whose mutilated bodies were found on a grassy knoll in Antipolo, Rizal on Nov. 13, 1986—almost 35 years ago.
Olalia was found a day after he was snatched coming from a union meeting. His eyes were gouged out and his mouth was stuffed with pages from a newspaper. Hogtied and wearing only his underwear, he bore multiple gunshot and stab wounds all over his body.
Alay-ay’s body, found a few meters away, also bore torture marks.
On Tuesday, an Antipolo court convicted three men – all members of the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) – and sentenced them to up to 40 years of imprisonment for the double murder.
Former Philippine Navy sergeants Desiderio Perez, Fernando Casanova and Dennis Jabatan, were found guilty, without eligibility of parole, by Judge Marie Claire Victoria Mabutas Sordan.
The court also ordered them to pay the heirs of Olalia P1.2 million and the heirs of Alay-ay P900,000 in civil, moral, exemplary, and temperate damages, and P900,000
But the men convicted this week are only three out of 13 RAM members wanted for the crime.
All were members of RAM, the group within the Philippine military that played a role in the EDSA Revolution that ousted the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, and later launched at least three coup attempts against the administration of President Corazon Aquino.
Olalia’s murder was said to be a prelude to one of these coups, which was dubbed “God Save the Queen,” aimed at ridding the Aquino Cabinet of left-leaning members.
While we are thankful that some of those guilty of this heinous crime were finally convicted, we do need to ask if our justice system is truly working if it put the Olalia and Alay-ay families through a legal wringer for more than three decades, spanning six administrations, simply to get a modicum of justice.
In that time, some of the movement’s leaders have since moved on to important positions in society—one has become a senator and Cabinet secretary, and another, a co-accused who was acquitted, became an ambassador—ironically to Myanmar, where coups are a dime a dozen.
Olalai’s son, lawyer Rolando Rico Olalia, said the legal victory this week has strengthened his family’s resolve to never abandon the search for the remaining men involved in his father’s killing.
The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers said that while the court decision gives relief, they are frustrated that only three of the accused have been convicted.
“Others who are allegedly involved—based on the disturbing testimonial evidence of the prosecution—remain off the hook and are in our midst. Nine of those formally charged are still at large despite 35 years on the run,” NUPL lawyer Edre Olalia, a cousin of the murdered labor leader, said.
“For the families of the victims, the judicial proceedings from one court to another were too protracted, the legal tactics were over-utilized, and twists and turns at different junctures, levels and fora were exasperating,” he added.
Teddy Casiño of Bayan expressed the same sentiment, saying “this victory, while it is welcome, it is too little, too late.” He called the decision a “partial victory.”
Both Casiño and Kilusang Mayo Uno leader Elmer “Bong” Labog said the three who were convicted are only the foot soldiers.
“Only when Cirilo Almario, Jose Bacera, Ricardo Dicon, Gilbert Galicia, Oscar Legaspi, Filomeno Maligaya, Gene Paris, Freddie Sumagaysay, Edger Sumido—and all the other unnamed principals—who have managed to evade the long arm of the law have been found and brought before the courts to be held accountable for their crimes will justice be finally served,” the slain labor leader’s son said.
The British statesman William E. Gladstone famously said that justice delayed is justice denied. By that axiom, no real justice has been done in the Olalia-Alay-ay double murder case.