By Anjo Bagaoisan
A text message arrived past 1 a.m., August 12. We followed it to Don Carlos Village, a strikingly familiar area in Pasay City. Wasn’t someone killed there the week before? (Yes, there was.)
All we knew then was that two were dead. The rest we had to find out onsite or through the policemen there.
When media workers arrive on such a scene, the body is usually untouched and the story often complete–courtesy of the leader of the police operation.
If you’ve followed these stories for days on end since July, the narrative can become familiar. Drug buy-bust gone wrong. Or killed by unidentified gunmen. Or dead body left wrapped up with a note.
Then there are days when reporters still have to piece together what happened in bits and pieces as the details arrive. And unlike the usual stories, the plot suddenly twists and thickens in an hour or two.
I was shadowing reporter Miguel Dumaual that night. It was drizzling when we arrived at a dimly lit road called Bac 1-11, a corner from the highway and at the banks of a river. We went down from our crew cab still a 30-second walk to where the dead lay.
At first, policemen would not allow us to go closer even up to the end of the yellow police line which was already 5 meters from the bodies. He said he had to get clearance before we could go to the end of the line.
When we did go near, we saw a downturned motorcycle in the grass near the men, who were lying face up on the road and had donned bonnets over their faces.
We couldn’t talk to the investigator or the team leader, who were beyond the police line at the other end. A wall on our right and the creek on our left prevented anyone except police from going around the yellow tape in front of us.
No one was budging until the SOCO arrived to check out the bodies.
A radio reporter had the investigator’s contact number and called him for what happened:
A police mobile on standby at the road as part of the agency’s Oplan Sita tried flagging down a motorcycle ridden by two men past midnight. One of the riders allegedly shot at the police’s checkpoint signboard and prompted the officers to shoot the riders dead.
That would have been enough for the radio or online media. But TV reporters still had to get it on tape for it to pass as a stand-alone report. Since no one was still talking, we kept waiting.
Soon, another police official who introduced himself as the head of a local station arrived.
He said he came to check if the fallen motorcycle could also be the one reported hijacked at around 8 p.m. earlier near Roxas Boulevard also in Pasay. He had heard of the encounter over the police radio.
The plate number of the stolen bike matched that of the one beside the bodies.
The investigator could not confirm it yet. But to the reporters who got the info firsthand from the anti-carnapping and hijacking unit officer, another angle had just been added to the shootout.
The SOCO had already come then to uncover more.
Gun for hire?
It was hard to see from our distance across the line, but the lens zoom of the broadcast cameras saw what the SOCO officer recovered from under the clothes of the dead motorcycle riders.
He picked up a torn cardboard sheet with writing on it. He also unfolded a piece of paper that had a sketch and an attached photo.
Anyone covering the police beat in recent weeks knew what the cardboard meant. It was the signature of a summary killing. And the sketch, likely a direction map for the target, who was probably the person on the photo—a woman.
Photos of the items shared to us by a police officer who took them confirmed this.
On the cardboard: “Tulak ako wag tularan” (I’m a drug pusher, do not imitate me).
Bringing down alleged summary killers was a first. But the investigator had to go on record. Were these indeed vigilante assassins?
Chief Insp. Rolando Baula, who heads the Pasay Police’s investigation unit, said he didn’t think so when we finally caught up with him at his office a long ride from the crime scene.
He agreed that these could be behind summary executions in the area. But at best, they were gunmen hired by crime or drug syndicates with their own kill list, he said.
“There may be groups trying to take advantage of our president’s campaign against criminality and drugs. They may be using this as a leeway to kill off those who had offenses against them and then pin it on the police,” he said.
The bigger story was somehow complete at 4 a.m. when we had finished our interview.
Miguel wrote in the interview to his already half-done report script as our team drove to Taguig, our third location for the overnight. It was Miguel’s last night on the graveyard shift and he was doing his last live report for Umagang Kayganda on a traffic story.
The police requested us to hide the identity of the woman on the motorcycle riders’ photo.
It would have been done whether they asked or not.
With all we learned from 2 to 4 a.m., the phase of their investigation beyond our deadlines was on who the woman was and how she became a target of some killers.
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*WATCH Miguel Dumaual’s report on TV Patrol:
(“Manila Night Prowl” is PinoyJournalist’s series of logs from the graveyard beat, where Anjo is currently assigned to as a reporter.)