Manila Night Prowl #6: The child who hardly cried

By Anjo Bagaoisan

Bryan Jay Agustin aka Pao, who was killed by his aunt on July 4, 2017 in Caloocan. Photo from Sarra Joy Naco.

Pao Agustin (Photo from Sarra Joy Naco)


They dubbed him Pao because they said his round cheeks made him resemble a siopao bun.

The nickname soon stuck for the baby christened Bryan Jay Agustin. Some called him Pao-Pao.

“He was very energetic. A joyful kid. And he wasn’t a crybaby,” said his mother, 24-year-old Sarra Joy Naco. “Everyone around here was fond of him because he hardly cried.”

But a few months short of his second birthday, Pao will no longer brighten mornings in this clump of houses at A. Palon Street in Barangay 70, Caloocan City.

His loved ones still wonder why this baby had to die, killed for seemingly no reason. How did no one see it coming?

Pao had been missing for at least seven hours on July 4. His grandmother Josie, who the baby lived with, searched all around, so did the neighbors. Yet they only found his body before midnight at a canal opening, in a corner a meter in front of Josie’s house.

Houses at A Palon street in Caloocan City where Pao Agustin's body was found (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

Pao was found at the side of the door at the lower right side of the photo (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

His legs were sticking out of a wrap of clothes. Pao’s mouth and nose had been covered with plastic tape. He was rushed to the hospital, but doctors there said he had already been dead for almost the entire time he was missing.

Confession

Who could have done it? A CCTV camera gazed at the narrow alley leading from the house to the street. Yet no one was seen leaving with a bag or package that could contain the kid.

During the search, they asked his aunt, 23-year-old Maria Ruth Mariano, if she saw Pao. She was in the house the whole day. But she denied seeing him.

Later after the body was found, a neighbor said she saw Ruth come out of the house under darkness and dump the mass of clothing into the narrow canal beside a neighbor’s house.

Corpse of Pao Agustin after he was found in Caloocan City. (Shot from Caloocan City PNP)

Pao’s body at the morgue (Shot from Caloocan City PNP)


Confronted, Ruth finally confessed she had killed Pao. 

“I was using illegal drugs and he was getting on my nerves,” she said in Filipino at the police station later.

Ruth said she was about to take a bath then. She lived at the house with Pao’s grandmother and grandfather, Ruth’s husband and her two children.

Pao’s crying had irked her, she said. But no one else was around then to take care of him while she was in the bathroom.

Mugshot of Maria Ruth Mariano, suspect in the killing of Pao Agustin (Shot from Caloocan City PNP)

Ruth Mariano was in police custody hours after Pao’s body was found and was filed charges within the same day (Shot from Caloocan City PNP)

“So I took him upstairs, rolled scotch tape around his head, wrapped him in clothes and locked him in the cabinet,” she said, breaking into tears.

She also told police she heard voices telling her to do it.

Ruth only opened the cabinet later that night, after she already told those looking for Pao that she didn’t know where he was.

Seeing Pao was no longer breathing, Ruth said she freaked out and took him out of the house.
Ruth kept crying at the police station as she recounted her side of the story.

“Even if I show regret, even if I want to ask forgiveness from his mother, I know it won’t replace the life that was gone,” she said.

Abuse

Sarra, Pao’s mom, only got to see him in the morgue. She lived in a different house. Pao’s father was in jail.

She could not accept her sister-in-law Ruth’s reasons. 

“How could Ruth say Pao was crying when he hardly did?” Sarra asked. “I can’t forgive her for what she did to him.”

Sarra Joy Naco, mother of killed baby Pao Agustin, talks about her youngest at his wake (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

Sarra Joy Naco: Pao made everyone here happy (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

Turns out, it was not a one-time thing.

One of the teenagers who babysat Pao said Ruth had long been mistreating the kid.

“She would choke him, slap him on the face, or pull at his hair,” said the teenager, who asked to have his identity hidden. “She would whisper words that sounded demonic to him, even curse at him.”

Another time, the teenager said, Ruth removed a metal bar which held Pao’s cradle. The baby fell and suffered a lump.

The teen said Ruth had been jealous of the attention her in-laws were giving to Pao compared to her own children. The suspect meanwhile admitted she had a quarrel with Sarra.

Pao Agustin and one of his former babysitters in a selfie

The babysitter on Pao: Lagi namin siya nilalamutak.

Sarra said she heard the abuse had been going on, but just waited to see it for herself.

She also confirmed their fight with her sister-in-law, but clarified Ruth had nothing to be concerned over.

“What my child had her children also had,” Sarra said. “She had no right to hurt a child that was not even hers.”


‘Sorry’

Police see in the case a moral of the evils of drug abuse. 

In a media interview regarding the incident, the Caloocan police chief reminded the public not to hide drug dependents in their families and to instead get them help.

But the incident also reveals the consequences of letting other kinds of abuse go unchecked.

Teenagers who once cared for killed baby Pao Agustin look over his coffin in Caloocan City (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

The teenager who saw Ruth mistreat Pao a number of times said he hesitated to speak up or report it to others because he was afraid of what Ruth might do.

Only now, he regrets not doing so if it could have prevented a death.

Before dawn the day after Pao was found dead, Domingo, an old man who lived at the house beside Pao’s grandparents woke up and went straight to the kid’s casket at a room in front of their houses.

“Sorry, Pao,” he said as he sobbed over the coffin. His wife looked on silently.

Domingo’s family also babysat Pao when there was no one at the grandparents’ house. 

A grandparent mourns for killed baby Pao Agustin in Caloocan City. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

On the glass at the rear end of the coffin sat a pair of small blue slippers. Domingo had added straps to them so that Pao could wear them without falling off his feet.

Inside, Pao wore a barong tagalog and slacks. His feet were bare except for blue-and-red printed socks.

Loved ones could not hold back tears for the kid who hardly cried and could no longer do so.

“It’s difficult for me now. I already lost a child before, now I lost another,” Sarra said of her youngest.

“I miss you Pao, I won’t have anyone’s cheeks to pinch,” his former babysitter said. 

“Wherever you are, I hope you’ll be okay and no one will ever hurt you again.” 

Baby slippers on the coffin of Bryan Jay

(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

*BASAHIN: Sanggol, patay matapos balutan ng tape sa ulo ng tiyahin

(“Manila Night Prowl” is PinoyJournalist’s series of logs from the graveyard metro/crime beat, where Anjo is currently assigned to as a reporter. Read others here.)

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Manila Night Prowl #5: Behind a police station’s book shelf

The bookshelf covering the entrance to the so-called secret jail at the Manila Police Station 1 discovered by the Commission on Human Rights on April 27, 2017. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

P/Supt. Robert Domingo is no stranger to media workers packing the premises of Manila’s police station 1 in Raxabago Street, Tondo. He’s previously held press conferences at his office–especially to those of the night beat–baring his team’s latest bust or capture.

The group of reporters and shooters that swarmed his station at dusk of April 27 would have been no different.

This time, though, things were not going the station chief’s way.

“Huwag na tayo magpalusot, pare. Halata naman. Tahimik na lang sana tayo, nagka-ganito pa.”

Atty. Gilbert Boiser, the white-haired, bespectacled director of the Commission on Human Rights’ investigations office was chiding Domingo. While both were nearly the same height, Boiser chose to sit. They were holed up near the door at a corner of the drug enforcement unit’s office at the back of the station. There was hardly room to move.

Their point of contention was at the opposite corner of that office, between them and a mass of people way more than the office can comfortably hold, and hidden behind a wooden bookshelf.

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Manila Night Prowl #4: A bloody end for an architect-to-be’s dream

By Anjo Bagaoisan

Drawings by architecture student Nick Russel Oniot are posted at his family's living room (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

(Shot 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.

Nick Russel Oniot's design for maternity hospital for his nurse sister (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

 

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.

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Family of father killed by unidentified gunmen waits beside his body for the arrival of police SOCO in Batasan Hills, Quezon City, August 24 (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

Manila Night Prowl #3: Dead dad, no motive

By Anjo Bagaoisan

A woman cries upon seeing her father shot by unidentified gunmen in Batasan Hills, Quezon City, August 24 (Shot by Melchor Platero, ABS-CBN News)

(Shot by Melchor Platero, ABS-CBN News)

Arnaldo Dela Cruz’s eldest daughter cursed and shrieked when she looked at the dead man lying on the road to her house and recognized him as her father.

She was on her way home at 4 a.m. and passed through the line of twine used to mark out the crime scene. With bystanders and media men watching, she wondered aloud who the body beside a fallen motorcycle was.

When she saw the face, she exclaimed: “P*******, si Tatay!”

Shaking and crying, she walked back, this time around the twine on her way to the other side. The rest of her family was already there. They already knew.

She appealed to the police officers: “Ba’t ayaw niyo itakbo sa ospital, kuya? (Why don’t you bring him to the hospital?)

No one replied.

Gloria Dela Cruz talks to her crying daughter outside police line where Gloria's husband lay shot by unidentified gunmen in Batasan Hills, Quezon City, August 24 (Shot by Melchor Platero, ABS-CBN News)

(Shot by Melchor Platero, ABS-CBN News)

Gloria, her mother, met her with an opened umbrella. It had begun to drizzle. Even she could not calm her.

The daughter told Gloria: “Ma-re-revive pa yan! Kaysa hayaan niyong nakahiga diyan! (He could be revived instead of letting him lie there)”

“Sino’ng bumaril diyan (Who killed him)?” she said after squatting on a garage ramp.

No one knew the answer.

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Manila Night Prowl #2: That escalated quickly

By Anjo Bagaoisan

Police look on at police line surrounding two dead motorcycle riders killed in encounter on Pasay City. August 12, 2016. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

(Shot 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.

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