Impunity: A Halloween Massacre

On the eve of the day of the dead, five people were executed by men who decided they did not deserve to live

Hoodlum died on Halloween. 

Nobody in Block 37 can remember how Manuel Evangelista came to be called Hoodlum. A neighbor says she had asked him once. She says he laughed. That was as far as she got.

Hoodlum’s son crept into the alley when he heard his father had been killed. He was a small boy, had been pushed against a hollow block wall by the press of rubbernecking neighbors and anxious family members. He didn’t live with his father, but he saw him all the time. Hoodlum would always bend down with a few coins whenever his son pulled at his pocket.

The neighbors found Hoodlum dead by the kitchen sink. He was shirtless, dressed only in a pair of denim pants. They walked in to see him lying on his face, elbows bent, his hands clasped in surrender behind his bleeding head.

It was the last day of October. Just an hour before he was executed, Imelda Schweighart resigned as Miss Philippines Earth after a series of unfortunate statements over the authenticity of Miss Ecuador’s nose. Former president Fidel Ramos announced withdrew from his position as special envoy to China. Reporters across the country were keeping count of pilgrims visiting cemeteries – Manila Memorial Park had reached 10,500 just as Hoodlum found himself with a gun pointed at the back of his head. 

Although he was not dressed in the costume increasingly becoming popular among Halloween party guests – one young man, for example, had swathed himself in plastic wrap before hanging “Drug Lord” over his chest – Hoodlum, for all intents and purposes, became one of the more than 4,000 victims of extrajudicial killings listed in the four months of the Duterte administration. 

‘They were cops’

Hoodlum was not alone to die that night in Addition Hills. Four other people were killed a few feet from where Hoodlum was executed. One young man lay on the bed, face pressed to the mattress. Two more men lay on another bed. The lone woman was on her side, pressed against a wall.

Here are the particulars, according to the police. At forty-five minutes past nine, six unidentified men walked into Block 37 at the fringes of Addition Hills. All six wore motorcycles helmets covering their faces. They opened the door of Number 1 and sent out Hoodlum’s 13-year old daughter Estelle, who told police her father and his friends were in the middle of a pot session when their killers barged in. Shots were fired, at least a dozen.

Hoodlum was one of five killed on Halloween Eve in a massacre that left blood pooling on the grimy wooden floors. The motive behind the incident, says Senior Supt. Joaquin Alva, is still under investigation. Drug parapernalia was found on the scene, along with several packets of suspected shabu.

There is another story, as told by a witness. She lives a few houses down from Hoodlum, and considers him a friend. She says she heard screaming from inside his house. A man’s voice, and a woman’s.

“Please stop,” she repeats, “I surrender.” It is the same story told by neighbors to the grieving families. Stop, please. I surrender.

“They were cops,” the witness says. “But they weren’t cops.”

By this she means that the men who stalked past her along the long alley were professionals – that they were in and out of the area in twenty minutes, that they walked fast and moved strong, that they demanded everyone inside and doors and windows closed. She means there were two police mobiles racing out of the area after the massacre. 

A prayer to the Lord

Block 37 of Addition Hills lies deep in the slums of Mandaluyong City, where an avenue of middle class houses narrows into a single lane of crowded shanties bisected by tangled electrical wiring. The fading green door of Lot 1, Number 1 is marked with a name. Evangelista, it says in painted letters.

A light rain begins falling at half past eleven. The camera operators take cover, bulky Panasonics and Ikegamis shoved under what roofing is available in the narrow space across the unpainted shed where five people were killed.

The police officer is gleeful.

“Make it rain harder,” he calls out to the sky. “Lord!”

He laughs and shoves his body backward under an awning, pushing into scrambling reporters and the half-stunned family members pressed behind him. The rain falls in earnest.

“Yes, so there won’t be any cameras,” he says to the other policemen, grinning. “See, there it is. I really have pull with God.”

The corpses are inside the house, the green door shut tight and guarded by a cop in black. Photographers jockey for position. An upstairs neighbor complains about wet laundry. Voices rise. Neighbors, sisters, mothers. I want to see my father. I want to see my husband. Show us their faces. Tell us their names. Send in his wife – please his children are so young. One policeman shoves a woman back, sister to one of the victims.

“Back off,” he said. “You’ll see it on TV anyway.”

There is murmuring among the crowd, reassurances passed on from one friend to another – “I hear Wacky didn’t go, I’m sure of it.” Under the cacophony is a low hum, almost lost under the rain and clicking shutters, a steady drone that goes on for hours. 

It comes from the woman crouched beside the door. Her name is Jennylyn, wife of Edmar Velarde, a 31-year-old whom she was told lay dead just a thin wall away from where she sits twisting her ringed fingers. She is small and slim, four feet tall in her soaked brown sandals. The hem of her blue blouse trails into a puddle. She ignores the 12-year-old daughter trying to cover her head with a T-shirt.

“Stand up,” says the girl. Jennylyn flicks away the shirt. Her daughter cajoles, pleads, berates, then gives up and puts on the shirt herself.

Relatives are called in, one family member each, one by one, to identify the dead. Jennylyn’s voice is muted by the sudden screaming inside. 

It is a single word, a name, repeated again and again. 

“Paulo!”

The last body

The woman screaming is named Princess. Eldest in a family of 7, 28 years old, sister to 24-year-old Paulo Tuboro. She saw Paulo today, just that afternoon, had talked to him and touched him and then received a message he was dead. She was told someone heard him try to surrender. She was told he was one of the five. Her mother fainted, was rushed to the hospital.

Her brother was a decent man, she says. Never got into any trouble. Never had a police record. Worked as scavenger. He had two children, three years old and nine, a boy and a girl. 

Princess, along with her grandmother, is the family’s breadwinner. Her parents are unemployed. It is Princess who will sign the papers, collect the waivers, pay for the fees, who will throw an arm around the weeping younger siblings and tell them not to worry. She is businesslike in her questions – why was her brother there, how much will the burial cost, who will watch over her mother in the hospital? It is only when she is allowed to see her brother dead on a mattress, another body hunched over him, that she began to weep. 

Cecilia stands beside Princess in the rain. She is a large woman, mother of Jennifer Discargar, 31, the only woman killed among the five. Her daughter Jennifer was a user, she says. Her father wanted her to surrender, had offered to take her to the police station.

Jennifer had refused. She said there was no need – she was a user, not a dealer. 

There had been trouble between Jennifer and her husband. They had been fighting, and Cecilia says maybe it was why she kept turning to drugs. Their four children had been neglected, had stopped school, would come by Cecilia’s store in rumpled clothes asking for food. In the days leading up to Halloween eve, Cecilia had sold the family’s house in the hope it would lead to a new start. There was P200,000 cash inside a bag that Jennifer was supposed to carry to her husband. He was expected to buy passage on a boat the next day to Leyte province, where the four children would live with their paternal grandparents to be cared for the way Jennifer couldn’t. 

Jennifer took the money and dropped by Hoodlum’s house with a bag of Jollibee takeout. Then she died.

Cecilia refuses to identify the body. She says it is too much. Send a man, the neighbors tell her, but her husband is at home, too anxious to come. Cecilia is near hysteria. She pushes her youngest daughter bodily inside – “You can do it, I can’t.” When she stumbles out of Number 1, she tells her mother that yes, Jennifer is dead. Yes, the money is gone.

The door shuts quickly, but not before the tableau opens into the street. Bodies, soaked in blood, lying on mattresses.

Jennylyn, sitting on the steps, stands and tries to shove one bare leg into the door. Not yet, says the policeman at the door. Not yet. 

Her daughter, craning her neck, breaks into a scream.

“Papa is the last in the row!” 

‘Not my Papa’

The cops look down at Jennylyn, curled on the floor. They say her youngest son should identify his father instead. The boy is no older than ten. The humming stops. Jennylyn speaks. The voice snaps out, whip sharp.

“I can do it. Don’t you tell me I can’t.”

So Jennylyn walks in, the last to identify her dead. There is no screaming, until they carry the body out. It is Jennylyn’s 12-year-old daughter, so stoic at first, who falls on the wrapped corpse. She presses her face into the curtain tucked around what is left of Edmar Velarde. Someone drags her back. Someone sobs, long and hard. Jennylyn makes no sound.   

Five people were killed in a massacre on Halloween eve. Their names were Manuel Evangelista, alias Hoodlum, John Paulo Tuboro, Edmar Velarde, Jennifer Discargar, and Catalino Algueles, alias Wacky. 

On the day they died, candles were lit in cemeteries across the country. Prayers were said over monuments and gravestones. In Quezon City, a park was decorated with plastic-wrapped corpses hung with scrawled cardboard signs. Somewhere in Las Piñas, a mother dressed her young son as a victim of an extrajudicial killing – he won Best in Costume.

In Mandaluyong, across Lot 1, Number 1, a small girl wrapped her arms around a corpse and screamed. – Rappler.com

(Editor’s note: All quotations have been translated to English). 

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