By Cecil Morella
MANILA, Oct 11, 2012 (AFP) – A former Philippine military officer accused of killing an anti-government protest leader has finally surrendered after 14 years on the run, the government said Thursday.
But 11 other ex-soldiers accused of involvement in the murder remain fugitives in a case that rights activists say highlights a “culture of impunity” in the Philippines in which powerful figures easily avoid justice.
A court in May 1998 ordered the arrest of retired air force Colonel Eduardo Kapunan and 12 others for the 1986 murders of Rolando Olalia, head of the Bayan and May First Movement groups that led anti-government street protests.
One suspect, former low-level soldier Desiderio Perez, surrendered in July.
Kapunan, now aged in his early 60s, walked into a military camp on the central island of Panay on Friday and turned himself in, said army chief Lieutenant-General Emmanuel Bautista.
The suspect did not say where he hid nor how he could spend more than 14 years on the run, Bautista told reporters.
However Carlos Conde, Manila-based researcher for Human Rights Watch, said the case was typical of the government’s failure swiftly to hold to account military officials or other powerful figures accused of crimes.
“Mr. Kapunan has friends in high places, that’s a fact,” Conde told AFP.
“Let’s keep in mind that he was not arrested – he surrendered.”
He urged the military swiftly to turn Kapunan over to the court and for the government to do more to find and detain the other Olalia murder suspects.
“The (government) has an opportunity here to demonstrate that it could break this impunity and communicate to members of the military who are implicated in abuses that they will be held accountable for their action,” he added.
Loretta Rosales, head of the government’s Human Rights Commission, also said Kapunan may have been “coddled” by powerful figures.
Rosales said Olalia and his driver were kidnapped and murdered as Kapunan and other right-wing officers jostled for power after helping remove Ferdinand Marcos in a “People Power” revolution that year.
The military killed many left-wing figures during the Marcos dictatorship, and this pattern continued in the aftermath of the revolution, according to rights groups.
The arrest warrants for Kapunan and the other 12 soldiers took so long to be issued because of the political chaos in the post-Marcos era. Then there was a long investigation and legal manoeuvres by the group to avoid prosecution.
Shortly after the murders, Kapunan took part in a series of military uprisings against democracy leader and new president Corazon Aquino. She is late mother of current President Benigno Aquino.
The rebels were pardoned for the coup attempts in 1995.
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