Two Days Before the New Year
The Day They Murdered My Cousin Pichie
From the book, “Betel Nuts & Other Stories by Simeon G. Silverio, Jr.
San Diego, California
December 29. 2006
Twenty-five years ago today, on December 29, 1981, my cousin Pichie heard a knock at the gate of his house in Lagro Subdivision in Novaliches, Quezon City, the Philippines.
It was already late in the evening, around eleven oclock. Pichie and his wife Ruby were about to retire after a long day. Their kids, three-year-old Apples and one-year-old Ernest Jr., were already fast asleep in their room. Pichie wondered who could be breaking the evening silence at such a late hour. Maybe he was alarmed, nobody knew for sure. Days before, he had been unusually uneasy. He kept looking over his shoulders for some perceived trouble. The unexpected visitor kept knocking and calling his name, “Ernie, Ernie!
His wife Ruby heard her husband go downstairs and open the front door of the house. A few seconds later, she heard a gunshot and the noise of a motor engine speeding away. She looked out of the window and saw Pichie lying in a pool of his blood by the gate, wearing his sando undershirt and short pants, with Christmas gifts by his side. Ruby froze for a moment before rushing down the stairs. She ran towards her husband, screaming for help.
AMANG WAS FAST ASLEEP in the back seat of his passenger jeepney that cold December morning. He was under a mosquito net, his entire face and body cozy underneath a blanket. When his father Tiyo (Uncle) Pepe retired as a swimming instructor, lifeguard and maintenance worker at the Malacanang Palace, the official residence of the president of the Philippines, he bought his son a jeepney with his retirement money. As a jeepney driver plying the route of La Loma to Pasay City along Rizal Avenue in Manila, Amang used to drive other operators jeepneys for which he paid a fixed fee, a “boundary. It was the only means of livelihood he could get since he never finished high school. He married the pretty domestic help of one of our cousins at a young age; before he turned thirty, he already had six children to feed. Even with a big family, he still lived in the two-bedroom house of his parents with his three other siblings, as he could not afford to rent an apartment for himself. Each evening, he slept inside the jeepney to deter carnappers from stealing it, although it was obvious they could just point a knife at him, get the key, and drive away with the vehicle.
At sixty-five, Tiyo Pepe was a shadow of his muscular self when he used to give swimming lessons to children of Philippine Presidents. His wife Tiya (Auntie) Chuling had suffered a stroke and was wheelchair bound for years, unable to walk and speak. He thought that buying the jeepney would be a better investment for his retirement money; not only would he earn from its boundary fees, but he would also provide a means of livelihood for his eldest son.
“AMANG, AMANG, Amang was awakened by somebody calling his name.
It was Jun, our cousin and the youngest brother of Pichie. Jun was sobbing uncontrollably. It took a while before he could be pacified.
“What happened? Amang asked.
“Wala na si Kuyang (my elder brother is gone), Jun answered. “He was shot dead.
Amang was shocked. His head swirled. He felt numb all over his body. He could not believe it. As Jun told him the details in between sobs, he began to realize that was not a bad dream. This was real.
A few moments of silence passed. Amang started the engine of the jeepney and drove around the block to calm his nerves. Jun learned of the bad news from his sister-in-law Ruby. He did not know what to do, so he drove his car to Amangs house. The two eventually drove to the hospital where they met Pichies distraught wife. Somehow, she managed to call her neighbors who helped her bring her husband to a nearby hospital. Sadly, he was dead on arrival before doctors could save him.
PICHIE GREW UP WITH our clan on Pepin Street in Sampaloc, Manila. On the other side of the street was the house of our grandparents, Lolo (Grandfather) Ambo (Pablo) and Lola (Grandmother) Abe (Faviana). On the opposite side were the houses of Pichies parents, Tiyo Tino (Saturnino) and Tiya Chupeng (Josefina), as well as those of our aunts and uncles. He played in the streets with his brothers, sisters and our other cousins, and went to school with them. Why he was nicknamed “Pichie since his given name is “Ernesto is beyond me. Our other cousins also have weird nicknames: Rogelio is “Amang, Rodolfo is “Odeng, Teodorico is “Toy, Emmanuel is “Mawel, and Felicita is “Ne. They called me “Borobot. I guess the culprit was our other uncle, Tiyo Diko (Federico) who used to tease us with weird names, and they stuck.
Pichie was quiet and mild mannered. At one point he was even teased as “bakla (gay). But as he grew up, he ended up having the most girlfriends. As a working student at the Philippine College of Commerce, he already had a girlfriend, Remy, his constant companion since high school. They planned to get married once they graduated, but in just a single day, their dream was shattered. A neighbor of Remy, a tricycle driver, entered her house while she was alone. He raped her and when her parents learned about it, they forced her to marry her rapist to save their familys name. Pichie felt helpless and could not do anything but accept his fate. He was heartbroken. To ease the pain, he dated several girls until he met Ruby, whom he eventually married. They both had good jobs and were able to save enough money to buy a house and comfortably provide for their children.
“PARANG LAMESA IYAN NA may tatlong paa (its like a table with three legs), Ka (older relative) Odeng, our elder cousin who had a penchant for telling wild tales, identified the suspects in the murder of Pichie during his wake the day after.
One suspect, according to him, is Remys husband.
“Days before Pichie was murdered, Ka Odeng declared, “Remy went to Pichie and told him that her husband was getting jealous of him and beating her up. Her husband was a nobody, a mere tricycle driver who could not provide Remy the comfort she would have enjoyed with Pichie.
“Just think about this, Ka Odeng explained. “Witnesses claimed they heard a Volkswagen car speeding away from the crime scene. Actually, the get-away vehicle might not be a Volkswagen, but instead might be the tricycle of Remys husband. The engines of a Volkswagen and a tricycle sound similar.
Police theorized Pichie knew his killer. When he approached the gate, the killer handed him the gift and shot Pichie straight in the heart. The box of gift turned out to contain plastic toys.
“Another suspect, Ka Odeng continued as he mesmerized us, his younger cousins, with the tale, “was one of Pichies co-employees.
Pichie would audit different branches of his company all over the country. He discovered anomalies committed by some people, perhaps enough for these people to want to silence him permanently.
The third suspect, according to Ka Odeng, was a police officer who was dating a clerk in a hotel where Pichie stayed in the Visayas while doing on business. It was alleged that Pichie had a brief affair with her, and the boyfriend, a cold-blooded killer, found about it.
“In fact, there was a note given to Pichie that said, “Alam na niya (He already knows), Ka Odeng revealed with great fanfare. “This guy had threatened Pichie, which is why our cousin was worried during the last few weeks.
Despite these leads, however, the search for Pichies killer went nowhere. At his funeral, his brother Jun had to leave hastily to catch a plane that would bring him and the police investigators to the Visayas to search for the suspect. He could not even wait for his brother to be buried; however, he came back empty-handed. For the investigators to persistently do their job, Pichies family had to shoulder their food and travel expenses since the government does not have the funds for such an investigation. Eventually, families of crime victims in the Philippines had to give up their quest for justice since the victims kin cannot afford to finance the investigation.
As we were gathered around his coffin moments before he was buried, Pichies wife Ruby and his sisters, Virgie and Annie, were sobbing. His children, unmindful of the commotion around them, were too young to truly comprehend the loss of their father. His mother, Tiya Chupeng, was wailing: “Bakit nangyari ito (why did this to happen?)
Only a year ago, her husband suddenly passed away. Now, she was burying her son. Pichies other brother, Pabling was beside me, dazed and confused. For years, he had suffered from nervous breakdowns. People were looking at him, aware of his emotional problems. He would apologize to those who would listen for not crying over his brothers death.
“Sayang, ang guwapo pa naman (Too bad, he is so handsome), one of the cemetery workers said about Pichie.
TO THIS DAY, TWENTY-FIVE YEARS after he was murdered, I still cannot understand why Pichie had met such a tragic fate. It seems it was only yesterday when he was full of life. His bedimpled smile gave us no inkling of his impending death. A day before his demise, I met him as he came over to Amangs house to give a Christmas present to his godchild. We were all shocked when we learned a day later that he was killed.
Among our grandparents children, Tiyo Tinos family seemed to be the most ill-fated. Tiyo Tino, a kind and loving father, was also very religious. On Fridays, he volunteered to stay vigil at the altar of the Santa Cruz Church from evening to dawn. He was a cursillista but would not flaunt it. He worked first as an accountant at a department store; when it closed, he found a job as an auditor at the Central Bank of the Philippines. On weekends, he would go to a public pool to swim as part of his regular exercise routine. Yet, he suffered from a weak heart and after a brief illness, he succumbed to heart attack. His second child, Pabling, my playmate and contemporary, died at the age of thirty, two years later. He never recovered from his emotional problems. The familys misfortune did not end there. Just a month ago, the husband of Pichies sister, Virgie, died in his sleep while in New York.
“I missed the days when we were young and growing up in Pepin, Virgie told me while I was consoling her over the phone. “Those were happy, carefree days. We never expected such misfortunes would befall us.
I wanted to assure her that things would be better for her but I could not. Now that she was alone in the big city of New York, as her only child worked in Manila, I was convinced her family did not get a fair share of blessings in life; their misfortunes simply kept piling up on top of each other.
AFTER PICHIES DEATH, Ruby moved on and we lost track of her. Only last year, I heard she had remarried and migrated to San Francisco. Her children are grown up and doing quite well. Their familys passion is skiing. I have not met them, but I am sure Ernest Jr. looks very much like the father he barely knew.
I often remember my cousin Pichie and wonder about the great “what ifs in our life. What if he did not answer the knocking at the gate that fateful evening? What if he survived the shooting? Would he grow old and raise his family in the same manner as his cousins? Would we enjoy each others company during the subsequent family reunions? Would he rise to the top of the corporate ladder in his chosen career?
When a life is suddenly cut short, one gets the feeling of unfairness. That a person should be given a chance to explore and expand his potentials, especially Pichie who had the education, experience and skill to financially provide for his family and contribute to the betterment of society. In contrast, our cousin Amang, drove a jeepney for years and still lives with his family in his parents home thirty-five years after he got married, for he cannot afford to live independently.
I am also reminded of Pichies killer. Why would he take a persons life and deny a wife a husband and his children a father? I feel that no amount of money or passion would ever justify ones act of ending anothers life. I wonder if Pichies killer ever carried a burden of guilt on his conscience, whether he remembers the person he had killed even to this day. Does he think of Pichie when he is having dinner with his family? How does he react when his child celebrates a birthday or a school graduation? Can he look straight into his childrens eyes when he reprimands them for their wrongdoings? When he gives them advice on how to live their life, does he counsel them to live morally, or is he just indifferent?
It was exactly twenty-five years ago today, December 29, 1981, to be exact, when my cousin Pichie was murdered. But it seemed only yesterday when he was alive, bedimpled smile and all. I remember him so clearly looking forward to playing the role of a loving husband to his wife and caring father to his children. But sad to say, a single bullet shot straight to his heart and ended it all, forever negating all the possibilities that were yet to come. AJ
(To purchase copy of the book, “Betel Nuts & Other Stories by Simeon G. Silverio, Jr., send email to: email@example.com)