By Anjo Bagaoisan
Horizontal sheets of thick poster-sized paper hang top to bottom on one side of the Oniot family’s rectangular living room like the roll of entries to a poster-making contest.
On them are colorful drawings of buildings both planned and inspired by real life. Brown is the color that stands out, from studies of tropical huts to a grand mosque.
They are the projects, a.k.a. plates, of 3rd year architecture student Nick Russel Oniot.
“He would stay up all night doing these. He was happy while he drew them,” said Nick’s father Renato, a civil engineer who would have been an architect if he drew better, he said.
Of these plates, Nick’s favorites were a series of floor and facade plans for a maternity hospital.
It was the third Oniot sibling’s dream for his older sister, a nurse.
But Nick will no longer be there to make sure those drawings become buildings.
The plates overlook a coffin on the other end of the living room made narrower by the space it took.
There lies Nick, killed at 18 years old after being robbed and stabbed multiple times on his way home in Barangay Central Signal Village in Taguig City the night of October 14.
Now considered resolved by authorities after suspects were detained in less than 24 hours, Nick Russel Oniot’s death will soon be a statistic among the killings reported around Metro Manila. If not for a viral post picked up on social media and evidence of the crime recorded by a CCTV camera in the area, it may have remained on the police journal as a faceless record of another crime.
But for his family, losing Nick was also the loss of a boisterous boy full of dreams.
The Signal Village area, cut up into 3 barangays because of its size, is a maze of criss-crossing streets up and down a hill near the C5 highway.
That Friday night at 10, Nick was walking along one of them, Martinez Street, just a few blocks from their house in Pineda Street when 2 persons attacked him to get his bags.
The lateness was no surprise to Renato, nor his route home. Nick also had the habit of texting his dad wherever he went and that night was no different–until Renato got nothing back.
“I kept texting him but there was no reply. Later, people from the barangay came to our house and said something happened to him. I thought he might have just been caught by a curfew. I didn’t think he was dead,” Renato said.
“Huwag kayong mabigla (Don’t overreact),” the visitors said before telling the family what happened.
Fighting for his belongings which included savings of P12,000 for his tuition, Nick was repeatedly stabbed by one of the attackers before both fled the scene, leaving the bags they tried to take.
The family rushed to the hospital where Nick was brought, only to learn that he had died.
Nick’s nurse sister cleaned up his body for the morgue.
The police report said Nick suffered 18 wounds. The autopsy report the family got counted 13.
Nick’s eldest sister Shiela brought out one of his bags, a meter long black sack with handles, She showed the two plates it contained, which were drawn for Nick’s class.
Nick had used the bag to hit back at his attackers.
“You see this on TV all the time, but I never thought it would happen to him,” she said.
From their family, only Shiela decided to watch the footage of the incident from the barangay’s CCTV. She recorded a clip on her phone but was so disturbed she decided to delete her copy.
Other than seeing her brother get killed, what got to her were the moments after the attackers left.
“He tried calling out to the vehicles that passed through the street. No one noticed him. I even saw one person looking at him from behind a nearby van. They let him alone,” Shiela said.
A senior citizen who lived in one of the houses on Martinez Street told police she heard someone shouting “Tulong, tulong (Help, help)”, but when she got out of the house, she saw the boy already lying on the ground.
Only when barangay officials arrived at the scene was Nick taken to the hospital.
Still, unlike other killings in the metro, this story moved forward in just 24 hours, aided by the CCTV footage.
One of the attackers who was initially thought to be female because of long hair and attire was recognized as a resident of adjoining Barangay South Signal Village and invited for questioning.
Police said Reynaldo Clave, 29, already had a record of theft. When questioned, Reynaldo gave up his accomplice–a tattooed man named Marvin Bernardo, 37, who was also detained at the Signal Village police precinct that Saturday, October 15.
But before both could be brought to the fiscal for inquest on Monday, Marvin Bernardo was killed Sunday night after allegedly causing a commotion during his transfer to the jail of the Taguig police headquarters.
“While traversing C6 road,” the police report read, “the suspect suddenly pushed and grabbed the service firearm of PO2 Wilfredo Tagasa. A scuffle ensued which prompted PO2 Neil Castellon to shoot the suspect. Thereupon the suspect was rushed to Taguig Pateros District Hospital for treatment but was declared dead on arrival.”
Later information from the police’s Southern Police District, which oversees Taguig, noted that Marvin was a known drug user and was on the community’s drugs watchlist.
Only Reynaldo faced the fiscal at the Taguig regional trial court before lunch on Monday to answer for robbery and murder charges.
Nick’s dad Renato said he saw the two at the police precinct but did not speak to them or betray any emotion.
“They have no conscience. They would kill just for a sum of money,” he said. “They did not know that many looked up to the one they killed. He made many smile; they were fond of him.”
Nick’s mother Melany was teary eyed as she showed her son’s drawings to 2 teachers who came to commiserate. They said Nick was a high school student of theirs.
Only after his death did his family realize how much Nick affected other people. He was an officer in an organization at his school, Adamson University.
Schoolmates flocked to his wake and many other friends posted their condolences online with the hashtag #justicefornick.
“We did not know Nick had that many friends. He even knew someone from the UK who is now trying to raise money for the funeral expenses,” Melany said.
They were not surprised. Nick had always been a friendly guy.
Renato added: “He was very close to girls. He was usually invited to be the escort in his friends’ debuts.”
But the girl Nick became the closest to took a backseat to his education and his dreams.
After Nick and his high school girlfriend Esmieh Gallego broke up before college, he decided to focus on his studies. Esmieh was supposed to take architecture with him but did not pass and instead took up tool engineering at another school.
Throughout college, Nick did not have a girlfriend. He told Esmieh he planned to wait for her until he became an architect.
Esmieh said that even after she had moved on to another relationship, she and Nick remained friends.
And she learned from the family that Nick had not gotten over her.
“Before I thought it was okay for us to separate since I knew we could still talk and see each other,” she wrote in a public Facebook post the morning after Nick died. The post contained screen caps of their break-up messages with the boy she called her “best lesson in life”.
“But it’s not okay now that you’re really gone and I can’t talk to or see you anymore… I won’t stop telling you how proud I am of you.”
Nick’s family, who Esmieh began visiting regularly after Nick died, planned to give her one of his drawings. It was a design for his and the girl’s supposed dream house.
“He promised to design houses for his friends,” Shiela said. “He told our mom he was close to building a house for her.”
Nick will be buried on Sunday, October 23, wearing the blue shirt and purple tie which he told his family made him feel “guwapong guwapo (very handsome)”.
The last night of his wake is also his mother Melany’s birthday.
“This was not the gift we thought he had for our mom,” Shiela said.
They said they didn’t want another family to experience what they did. They said they hope the government succeeds in its fight against crime.
What the family chooses to remember now are Nick’s quirkiness, his tendency to lead and initiate activities even with his older sisters, and his love for singing in the family videoke sessions he does initiate.
They think of his willingness to support and never miss out on anything fun.
They think of the hundreds of messages scribbled in pink notes and the booklet of condolences by friends who thank an elder brother and a friend.
They think of what might have been had Nick pressed on to be the architect he knew he would be.
A life that even the resolution of a murder case can never bring back.
(“Manila Night Prowl” is PinoyJournalist’s series of logs from the graveyard beat, where Anjo is currently assigned to as a reporter. Read others here.)