Going to Sarrat is usually fun and relaxing. We’ve had countless family picnics in the town’s charming river resorts, visits to President Marcos’ birthplace, or just strolls around the sleepy town. Each journey is memorable, but it’s the one we made on August 4, Tuesday, I will never forget.
That trip was the saddest I have taken in my whole life. Seated on my passenger seat was fellow writer and office mate, Reynaldo Andres. We were headed to the morgue to see the body of a slay victim Sir Rey would later confirm is his only child.
That morning in our office, Sir Rey looked worried and upset. He received a text message from his daughter Mai-mai, saying that she is in Cebu and that she needs money for her return fare. Sir Rey was surprised, for she thought his only child, a graduating student, was just working on a group project as she occasionally does with trusted classmates she has treated as sisters. The text message said money should be sent to a certain “Francis Domingo Ortega” with an address in La Union because her daughter’s identification card is not with her. She said they were in the Waterfront Hotel.
Sir Rey immediately went out of the office to send his daughter P15,000 through a money transfer outlet in Batac. That was around 9:00 a.m. I, too, went out of the office to attend my classes. When I returned for lunch at past twelve, Sir Rey was doubly emotional and nervous. When he called his daughter to say that the money has been deposited, the phone can no longer be reached.
Then came a phone call from another office in our university. The caller informed Sir Rey that she saw a Facebook post referring to her daughter: RIP. Sir Rey immediately went out of the door. After a few seconds trying to absorb the turn of events, I and our colleagues in the office–Ma’am Kat and Sharon–joined him. And thus our trip to Sarrat where radio reports say a body of a woman, with a bullet wound on her head, was found at dawn.
As it turned out, many already knew about the identity of the victim a couple of hours before Sir Rey was informed. Her classmates who earlier identified Mai-mai at the morgue did not know how to tell Sir Rey, but they immediately gave their statement to the police.
The travel took at least forty-five minutes. I could have sped up so we can get there soonest, but I was extra careful as my knees were wobbly and I was feeling cold all over. Sir Rey, the tough guy and brilliant Ilocano writer Bannawag and Agriculture Magazine readers are very familiar with, was on my side weeping… weeping for her daughter and also for himself.
“She is the joy and hope of my life,” he said as he shared stories about Mai-mai: how the English language major was very good at writing poems and how proud she was about inheriting her father’s writing skills, how she dreamt of going to Law School, how her charming and jolly personality brought cheer to friends and family, and how happy she was turning nineteen just a few days ago.
Mai-mai was my student in Logic when she was a sophomore. Hands down the most stunning in class, she was also the most convivial. As her friends attest, she can brighten up a dark day with her ready smile and jolly disposition. But I only discovered only a year after that semester, that she is the daughter of Sir Rey, an institution in Ilocano literature and one of the country’s top science writers. The free-spirited Mai-mai was proud of her father but she wanted to establish her own name.
Sir Rey’s stories kept us all teary eyed. I would have cried with him, but all of us had to show some semblance of strength and hope. Maybe it was not Mai-mai. May be it was a mistaken identity. But then calls came one after the other. Some offered very clear clues. On the victim’s tattoo was the word “Jem” and Roman numerals that translate to July 28, 1996. Is that her nickname? Is that her birthday? “Yes,” said Sir Rey who was losing whatever hope he still held on to. “Nagulpiten ti tao..”, he said sobbing, wailing, and without propagating gender stereotypes, I say it struck me so hard to see a typical macho like Sir Rey weep unrestrained. He cried for justice even as the suspect was initially believed to be related to a powerful political clan.
Indeed, the trip to Sarrat was a crash course for me on the society we live in today: the value of family (Sir Rey narrated both the joys and hardships of fatherhood), the power and responsibility of the media and the Internet (and how Sir Rey, also a media practitioner, was among the last to know), the weight we give to education (Mai-mai was determined to graduate in April next year), our strong faith in God (“Dios ti makaammon,” said Sir Rey as he immediately called their church pastor who also immediately proceeded to the funeral home), and the impacts of politico-economic imbalances (that feeling of powerlessness when the suspect is believed to be influential).
When we arrived in Sarrat, we decided to go to the police first before proceeding to the funeral home. At the morgue, Sir Rey confirmed what we hoped was just a confusion, a bad dream, or just a distasteful joke. Jemima Keziah Andres, our beloved Mai-mai, is dead.
What we know about the culprit so far.
The suspect, who is in his mid-20s, was initially named as “Francis Domingo Ortega” and was believed to be from La Union province and a relative of the provincial governor, but the name turned out to be an alias. Said to be charged with estafa and in running, he created a false persona for himself, creating a fake Facebook account.
When the suspect’s picture was widely circulated in social media, concerned Netizens revealed his true persona.
Victorino “Jay Ar” Mangabat Jr is his real name. Originally from Cauayan, Isabela, he has also lived in Gapan, Nueva Ecija. He has three Facebook accounts by the name Jay Ar Mangabat. One account indicated that he studied at the Ateneo de Manila University while two other accounts listed his schools as University of Sto. Tomas and Our Lady of the Pillar College, Cauayan City, respectively.
He is engaged and has a three-year old son. Mysteriously, his fiancé is said to have been missing for around a year now under mysterious circumstances.
The suspect, together with his son and mother, rented an apartment in Barangay Aglipay, Batac City on July 3. They hurriedly left the place at around 3:30 a.m. on August 4. A source said they stayed in a lodging house in Laoag City for three days in June.
He is driving a white Montero with a fictitious plate number.
Those who have met the suspect describe him as the silent type, haggard, had unkempt hair, and “lutang”, a term specifically used for drug users. He pretended to be rich, but it was not clear what work he did.
If you have any information leading to his arrest, please contact the authorities immediately. The NBI Laoag Hotline is (077) 771-3885.
May we, my dear friends, altogether pray for the eternal repose of Jemima, fight for justice, and work for a society where no person, man or woman, will have have to suffer the same fate, and that no father will have to take the same sorrowful trip to Sarrat or elsewhere.