By RONALYN V. OLEA
ANTIPOLO CITY, Rizal – Labor leader Nita Gonzaga described Rolando “Ka Lando” Olalia as a charismatic leader.
Unlike his father Felixberto “Ka Bert” Olalia Sr. who was very strict and a “hard liner,” Ka Lando had a good humor. “He handled people well. Workers saw him as one of them because he was their age and he was easy to go along with,” Gonzaga, who worked as secretary of Ka Bert, said.
“I remember him telling us his experiences as a barker in Pampanga. He would act it out and we would laugh very hard,” Gonzaga recalled. A barker is a person who calls out passengers for a jeepney. Ka Lando worked as a barker when he was in high school.
Workers going to the office of the National Federation of Labor Unions (Naflu) prefer Ka Lando to Ka Bert, said Gonzaga, then secretary of Ka Bert. “The old man was always serious. But both of them were great labor leaders.”
“Ka Lando was a genuine defender of Filipino workers,” Antonio Pascual, Naflu secretary general, said during the marking Ka Lando’s 25th death anniversary, Nov. 13.
Ka Lando became a defender of workers and a labor leader because of the influence of his father Ka Bert. It was Ka Bert, the grand old man of the Philippine labor movement, who encouraged Ka Lando to take up law.
Gonzaga said at that time, during the 60s, Naflu had no pro bono lawyers. “We had to hire labor lawyers who collected huge attorney’s fees. And so, Ka Bert told Lando to take up law with a warning, ‘If you betray the workers, I would be the one to kill you.’” Gonzaga said. Ka Bert was known for his sharp words, even to his children.
Ka Lando eventually earned his degree from the Manuel L. Quezon University in 1971. He was among the 100 highest-ranking bar examinees of that year.
“His wife Aling Ine and Ka Bert supported him all the way,” said Gonzaga. Ka Lando and his wife Feliciana had five children: four boys and a daughter.
Since then, Ka Lando had handled several labor cases.
Rolando Rico Olalia, Ka Lando’s third child, witnessed how his father served the workers. Ka Lando would take him to Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) negotiations, protest actions and workers’ pickets.
Despite his busy schedule, Rolando Rico said Ka Lando would spend time for the family. “He did his role as a father despite his huge responsibilities.”
In the early 1980s, he became chairman of the Naflu. He later went on to become chairman of the Kilusang Mayo Uno and the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan). In 1986, he was also chosen to chair the militant political party Partido ng Bayan.
Despite his meager allowance, Ka Lando stayed with the Naflu. Gonzaga said at one point, due to financial difficulties, Ka Lando almost left Naflu but he never had the heart to leave the group.
On the day Ka Lando and his driver Leonor Alay-ay were taken by armed men on Nov. 12, 1986, they came from the CBA negotiations of Ajinomoto workers union in Ugong, Pasig, said Pascual.
Rolando Rico said they knew that his father’s work was dangerous. “When going home, he would sometimes instruct me to take another route. Many times, we were being tailed,” he recalls.
A few days before their abduction and killing, Ka Lando warned that KMU would launch a general strike if coup attempts were made by elements of the military against the newly-installed Corazon Aquino administration. An eyewitness testified that the murder was part of a destabilization plot by theRebolusyonaryong Alyansang Makabansa (RAM).
In the early dawn of Nov. 13, Gonzaga said she was awakened by a call from Aling Ine, Ka Lando’s wife. She was looking for her husband who did not go home. Ka Lando would always inform his wife about his schedule and out-of-town activities.
“By afternoon, we were panicking. Later, the two were found. I went to the site immediately. Lean [Alejandro] stopped me and hugged me tight. He did not want me to see the bodies of Ka Lando and Ka Leonor. Their naked bodies bore torture marks. I could not bear it,” Gonzaga related.
One million joined the funeral march for Ka Lando and Ka Leonor on Nov. 21, 2006.
Twenty five years later, members of KMU and Naflu went to the site where the two were found, beside what is now called Olalia Road in Antipolo City.
Roger Soluta, KMU secretary general, said the killing of Ka Lando and Ka Leonor were intended to silence workers. “The workers movement did not cower in fear but was instead emboldened by the sacrifices of Ka Lando and Ka Leonor.”