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.)

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.

Continue reading

Manila Night Prowl: Shadowing the ‘ronda’

By Anjo Bagaoisan

ABS-CBN crew cab facing Sunrise over Commonwealth Avenue. (Shot by Mike Navallo)

(Shot by Mike Navallo)

The shift starts at 9 p.m. On paper, it ends at 5 a.m. but actually does when the story does. Usually, it’s way beyond 5. 

This is the graveyard shift. It’s more popularly the domain of security guards, call center agents, and resident doctors. In news, it’s the lull between the often more significant events of one day and the next. Here, crime and vehicular accidents take center stage and make the headlines.

In ABS-CBN, we call it the ronda, a.k.a. “Ronda Patrol” to audiences of our primetime newscast. Because in between the adrenaline of shootouts and crashes, the shift is largely time spent staying awake and driving around the metro, looking for something to report.

And where ghosts figuratively tread, so do shadows. It’s as one where my breaking in as a reporter begins.

(Warning: Some pictures here are graphic.)

Police looks at dead tricycle driver shot by unknown killers in Caloocan City, August 22. Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan.

Tricycle driver killed by a group of unidentified men in a convoy of motorcycles. Caloocan City, August 22. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

Almost all Philippine reporters, especially on television, cut their teeth in the graveyard. The ronda is a rite of passage that only ends when you’re deemed to have proved yourself, when a new reporter comes in, or when another in the day shift leaves. For some, the period takes years. For the lucky few, a few months to a year.

The ronda is often the source for part of the news content in the mainstream morning shows. It also provides attention-getters during the so-called tabloid newscasts. Some agenda-setting events also strike during the overnight. On lean days, though, there are hardly crimes to report.

Child looks at body of suspected drug pusher killed in police buy-bust op. Binangonan, Rizal. August 3, 2016. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

Construction worker killed in police buy-bust. Binangonan, Rizal, August 3. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

But never has there been a more crucial and interesting time to be a graveyard reporter than now. 

I shifted career gears at the beginning of the Duterte administration. Where our predecessors largely dealt with vehicular accidents, my batch is contending with a nightly reality of deaths—either through police anti-drug operations gone sour or by unidentified killers.

Photographers take pictures of drug suspect killed in police shootout. Tondo, Manila. August 8, 2016. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

A tip to police leads to alleged shootout. Tondo, Manila, August 8. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

* * *

I didn’t see one on my first night though. 

I piggybacked with reporter Kevin Manalo, who I was assigned to for my entry week beginning August 1. He had just turned a year old as a reporter and had just also been bequeathed a major beat or area of coverage.

New reporters aren’t usually sent to the field on their own at once. Shadowing allows them to get a feel of their new environment and the people they would meet. It also lets them get to know how things work and see a fellow reporter in action.

CCTV video of reporter Kevin Manalo interviewing in Caloocan City August 22, 2016 (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

Kevin Manalo caught interviewing on CCTV. Caloocan City, August 22. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

In police beats like the QCPD, reporters often tip off each other when they get wind of breaking news. With today’s technology, a chat group allows them to do that quickly.

At late night on a Sunday, there wasn’t much happening. Until the reporters learned of a VA, a vehicular accident, past 12:30 a.m.

Emergency rescuers lift man injured in motorcycle crash, Philcoa, Commonwealth, Quezon City, August 1, 2016 (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

Motorcycle crash. Philcoa, Quezon City. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

We drove to Philcoa along Commonwealth Avenue and found an injured man stiffly lying on the pavement beside a closed truck. A downed motorcycle lay a few meters ahead.

Our team got off the cab. Kevin approached the pack of people circling the man and took pictures as emergency rescuers hauled him to a stretcher. He then joined other reporters talking to and then interviewing the injured man’s companion, the driver of the truck and his assistants, and the traffic investigator.

In 30 minutes, Kevin gathered a picture of how the incident (we refrain from calling them “accidents” in reports) occured.

Kevin Manalo interviewing truck driver involved in vehicular accident. Philcoa, Quezon City.

(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

As a shadow I was also expected to gather the details, join in the interviews and write my own story. Another learning curve of the graveyard shift is the discipline of being accurate with facts and meeting deadlines.

By 3, Kevin voiced his approved report for our main show Umagang Kay Ganda. I was tapped to do phone reports for the Gising Pilipinas newscast on DZMM and for the 5 a.m. news roundup of UKG –a rare instance for a reporter just on his first day.

Only the next night did I see my first dead body since becoming a reporter—the result of a buy-bust operation in a quiet but allegedly drug-infested barangay in Bocaue, Bulacan.

Body of AWOL policeman suspected of dealing drugs and killed in a buy-bust lies below a house in Bulacan. August 2, 2016. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

AWOL police officer killed in buy-bust. Bocaue, Bulacan, August 2. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

* * *

Buy-busts-turned-alleged-shootouts were the nightly norm when I shadowed Kevin’s batch mate Miguel Dumaual the following week, this time in Manila. In his one year on the field, he was already shadowed by three newbies before me.

Reporter Miguel Dumaual in an interview with Manila Police station commander Ulsano. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

Miguel among pack interviewing a Manila Police station commander. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

The Manila PD press corps is a bigger than that in QC, with many print reporters and photographers adding to their broadcast counterparts. The number of those who stay the night at the MPD press corps lounge has also grown since the government escalated its war on drugs. Many of the ops tipped to the media are usually in the capital.

The tips are usually one-liners sent through text and then passed via chat: “DOS (for “dead on the spot”) street so-and-so”. Sometimes, a police officer calls the press corps lounge.

Press and onlookers at a bridge over shanties where a suspected pusher and shooting suspect was killed by police. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

Press and onlookers at a bridge over shanties where a suspected pusher and shooting suspect was killed by police. Manila, August 8. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

The pack rushes in convoy to the site, hoping to reach the body before the scene of the crime operatives or SOCO arrive and clean up the scene. 

Police are usually the first sources of details. Lower-ranked officers answer the initial questions, but it is the station or precinct commander who allows himself to be interviewed.

Funeral parlor workers carry out bodies of suspected drug users killed in police op from a house in Pasay City. August 9, 2016. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

Police op kills 2 in run-down apartment. Pasay City, August 9. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

The media usually waits until the crime scene is cleaned up before leaving. But on some days, another death turns up in another area of Manila in the middle of a coverage. Those who don’t have a tag team on hand have no choice but to leave.

Filing all of that information for the morning newscasts is all on the reporter. Miguel and his team once covered up to 10 deaths in separate locations in just one night. In the few hours before 4 a.m. he has to quickly process and write up to 2 reports per coverage.

3 deaths, one night. Top: 2 drug suspects killed in buy-bust in Sta. Cruz, Manila. August 10, 2016 (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

Bloodied body found in Baseco. August 10, 2016. (Shots By Anjo Bagaoisan)

3 deaths, one night. Top: 2 drug suspects killed in buy-bust in Sta. Cruz, Manila. Bottom: Bloodied body found in Baseco. August 10. (Shots By Anjo Bagaoisan)

Manning the beat can give a long-term view of seemingly isolated incidents. Like the night police in Tondo connected a buy-bust kill to the hunt for suspects in a shooting incident a week earlier. Miguel had covered the incident and later looked for the family of the victim to get their reaction on the death.

Of course, not all the stories in the graveyard are morbid. But there were hardly any of them during my introduction to the shift.

The ronda supposedly ends when the morning show ends at 8 a.m. There are days, though, when a call or message comes in with an additional assignment before then. 

The night prowl extends to day.

Night shot of Quezon Avenue. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)