OLALIA, Rolando “Ka Lando” Mariano

atty-rolando-ollalia picLawyer Rolando Olalia (Ka Lando) projected a quiet and shy persona that was a startling contrast to his life of dramatic political struggles. He was a humble person who, at the time of his assassination, was a leader of thousands of democrats, nationalists and activists from the Philippine labor and anti-dictatorship movement.

Personal background

Losing his mother early and having a labor activist for a father, Rolando’s youth was one of poverty and want. He took on odd jobs through his high school years all the way until he reached his 20s. In 1958, at the urging of his father, the famous labor leader Felixberto Olalia Sr., Rolando joined the newly organized National Federation of Labor Unions (NAFLU). In 1962, he was arrested for leading a strike at the Delta Manufacturing in Pasig.

History of political involvement

He persisted with his studies even while he engaged in activism. In college, he joined the Kabataang Makabayan (KM) in school and helped organize KM chapters in other schools around Manila’s university belt. He also helped in his father’s work among farmers under the Malayang Samahan ng mga Magsasaka (MASAKA).

Rolando passed the bar in 1971, achieving high marks. He started practice as a labor lawyer and became a member of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and the Philippine Trial Lawyers Association.

The following year, with Marcos’ declaration of martial law, Rolando was one of those herded to the stockades. He was charged with subversion and detained for three months. He was arrested again in August 1982. This followed the arrest of his own father, and father and son were charged with inciting to rebellion and conspiracy to commit rebellion.

As the senior Olalia grew increasingly debilitated with age and infirmity, Rolando, now himself a personality known as Ka Lando, took more and more of his father’s responsibilities in the labor and the democratic movement. He was elected NAFLU president in 1983 (the year his father died) and chair of the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) the following year and then of the Pambansang Koalisyon ng mga Manggagawa Laban sa Kahirapan.

As a patriot, Ka Lando dreamed of and worked for a prosperous, free and democratic Philippines. As a unionist, he believed that workers were as valuable as any other sector in society, and that in fact workers had a crucial role to play in the country’s emancipation. He tirelessly explained his view, telling all who would listen that the country would never enjoy true development until the struggles of its workers saw victory.

Under his quiet leadership, labor unions grew in strength and number and indeed became a strong and committed participant in the movement to topple the Marcos dictatorship. Sweatshop laborers left their shops to join the ranks of street protesters. Industry workers held strikes to highlight the miserable depths that workers have gotten under martial law. Soldiers and goons broke the rallies and picket lines, and truckloads of strikers were hauled to jail, or lost their jobs. Yet despite the repression by the Marcos regime, the labor movement grew stronger in the 1980s, helping and being helped by the growth of the anti-dictatorship movement.

In the aftermath of the assassination of Senator Benigno Aquino Jr. in 1983, the shy Ka Lando became one of the national leaders of the popular and widespread anti-dictatorship movement that developed. He was elected member of the national executive council of the Nationalist Alliance for Justice, Freedom and Democracy (NAJFD).

When democratic space reopened in 1986, Ka Lando helped establish the left-leaning political party Partido ng Bayan, where he was elected its first secretary-general. He was also elected acting president of the militant alliance Bayan, with student leader Leandro Alejandro (a Bantayog honoree) as his secretary-general.

Within the first few months of the new Aquino government, it was being pulled apart by different political pressures, including on the one hand from the military which had held unparalleled power under martial law, and on the other, from its progressive mass support. The military, specifically military renegade groups, resorted once more in intimidation and harassment, including assassination.

Circumstances of death

Ka Lando and his driver Leonor Alay-ay had gone to a union meeting on the 12th of November, barely eight months after the new Aquino government came to power. Both failed to come home. The following day, their bodies were found along a roadside in suburban Metro Manila, hogtied, mouths stuffed with newspaper, and heads bearing gunshot wounds. The bodies were mutilated and hardly recognizable.

Through various sources, it became known that members of the renegade military group Rebolusyonaryong Alyansang Makabansa (RAM) had perpetrated the crime although no investigations were ever pursued.

Massive grief and anger met the twin assassinations. Some 25,000 gathered in protest in front of the military headquarters at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City. A 12-hour funeral march followed the burial, and drew over a million mourners.

Labor leader Crispin Beltran, who took over the helm of the KMU after Ka Lando’s death, later said that Rolando Olalia was KMU’s “sacrifice” for the Aquino government, that his death had been meant to create chaos to provide the military a reason to create a junta, but that instead, it would hopefully lead to long-lasting peace.

Meanwhile, with little else known of the unfortunate driver Leonor Alay-ay to satisfy Bantayog nomination requirements, we here add this poem, written in his honor by poet and writer Jose F. Lacaba:

Ang mga walang pangalan
Alay kay Leonor Alay-ay, drayber

Nalalaman na lamang natin
ang kanilang mga pangalan
kung sila’y wala na.
Subalit habang nabubuhay,
sila’y walang mga pangalan,
walang mukhang madaling tandaan.
Hindi sila naiimbitang
magtalumpati sa liwasan,
hindi inilalathala ng pahayagan
ang kanilang mga larawan,
at kung makasalubong mo sa daan,
kahit anong pamada ang gamit nila
ay hindi ka mapapalingon.

Sila’y walang mga pangalan,
walang mukhang madaling tandaan,
subalit sila ang nagpapatakbo
sa motor ng kilusang mapagpalaya.
Sila ang mga paang nagmartsa
sa mga kalsadang nababakuran
ng alambreng tinik,
sila ang mga bisig na nagwagayway
ng mga bandila ng pakikibaka
sa harap ng batuta at bala,
sila ang mga kamaong
nagtaas ng nagliliyab na sulo
sa madilim na gabi ng diktadura,
sila ang mga tinig na sumigaw
ng “Katarungan! Kalayaan!”
at umawit ng “Bayan Ko”
sa himig na naghihimagsik.
Sa EDSA sa isang buwan ng Pebrero,
sila ang nagdala ng mga anak
at nagbaon ng mga sanwits
at humarap sa mga tangke
nang walang armas kundi dasal,
habang nasa loob ng kampo,
nagkakanlong, ang mga opisyal
na armado ng Uzi.

Wala silang mga pangalan,
walang mukhang madaling tandaan,
itong mga karaniwang mamamayan,
pambala ng kanyon at kakaning-itik,
na matiyagang kumilos at
tahimik na nagbuklod-buklod at
magiting na lumaban
kahit kinakalambre ng nerbiyos,
kahit kumakabog ang dibdib.

Wala silang mga pangalan,
walang mukhang madaling tandaan,
subalit sila’y
naglingkod sa sambayanan
kahit hindi kinukunan ng litrato,
kahit hindi sinasabitan ng medalya,
kahit hindi hinaharap ng pangulo.
Sila’y naglingkod sa sambayanan,
walang hinahangad
na luwalhati o gantimpala
kundi kaunting kanin at ulam,
kaunting pagkakakitaan,
bubong na hindi pinapasok ng ulan,
damit na hindi gula-gulanit,
ang layang lumakad
sa kalsada tuwing gabi
nang hindi sinusutsutan ng pulis
para bulatlatin ang laman ng bag,
isang bukas na may pag-asa’t aliwalas
para sa sarili at sa mga anak,
isang buhay na marangal
kahit walang pangalan,
kahit walang mukhang madaling tandaan.

(Jose F. Lacaba, Mula sa kalipunang Sa Panahon ng Ligalig, Anvil Publishing, Maynila, 1991)