Impunity: Jerico's Angel

Every night, the Riverside boys sit across Number 1225. They drink. They smoke. They tell stories, and sometimes the stories are true. Sometimes they cry. When a guitar turned up, one of the boys stood over Jerico's coffin and demanded he sing. The boys say Jerico never missed a chance to show off.

The wake for Jerico Camitan has gone on for nearly two weeks. There are no funds to bury him, not when the family has barely scraped together the money to buy the yellow chicks tradition demands. The Riverside boys leave cigarettes at the bottom of his coffin, propped in a line along with other offerings: a glass of water, a plastic cup of coffee, a paper cup of beer. Whenever the flame beside Jerico’s coffin burns low, one of the boys gets up with a fresh candle. 

Once, the Riverside boys were a competitive dance troupe called The Coneotics. Competitive is a loose description. They won exactly once, and only because there was just one other group in the lineup. Now they are a gang of teenagers and young men in their twenties, the name extending to the brothers and cousins of the original troupe. The youngest Coneotic is eighteen. The oldest is twenty-six. There are maybe fifteen of them now, young men who grew up brothers along the narrow alleys behind the two-lane Riverside Street in Quezon City.

The boys of Riverside believe in rap. They believe in big Tribal-brand T-shirts in black and white. They believe in Red Horse beer and cups of coffee before work – any one of them will pay for a cup if a brother is too broke for a hit. At parties they set up a green karaoke machine at an alley two corners down from Jerico’s house and wiggle skinny hips to the music. They are godfathers to each other’s children. They are the best men at each other’s weddings. 

It was one of the boys who hauled in a tarp on the back of his motorcycle to hang over the alley where Jerico's coffin stood. It was the boys who came back with plastic chairs and tables borrowed from the local village hall, who lined them up one after the other for mourners to use. 

The boys of Riverside have one rule – a brother stands for a brother.

It was why, on the night Jerico was killed, gunned down along Gumamela Street with his ex-girlfriend Angel, one of the Riverside boys dashed into the road to snatch up the white sign on his chest. The sign said Jerico was an animal and a drug dealer. 

Jerico, the boys will tell you emphatically, has never touched drugs in his life. 

By the time the investigators walked in, the sign was gone.

Jerico meets Angel

Jerico’s mother fell sick after he was born. She died when he was seven. His father Rommel sold the house and the whole family moved to Montalban. Rommel remarried eventually, so did Jerico’s brother and two older sisters. 

Jerico came back to Riverside. He dropped out of sixth grade, moved in with his uncles, found work in construction, and lived with his grandmother on the second floor of Number 1225, right down the corner from the boys he called brothers. 

The boys of Riverside will tell you many stories about Jerico Camitan. They will say he smiled wide and often, because he was proud of his perfect teeth and didn’t care he had bad breath even when they told him – and they did, often. They will say he would break into rap at any provocation; that he was cheery; that he smoked Marlboro menthols and that he could drink six beers in a row without blinking. They will tell you about Angel, because anyone who knew Jerico knew Angel too. They will tell you that all it took for Jerico to fall in love was for Angel to walk by.

She was thirteen when Jerico first saw her. He was sixteen, maybe seventeen. He was sitting with the boys out on the street with their beers and their bragging. He saw her, they said. That was all it took.

Her name was Erica Fernandez. She lived in a two-story shanty at the end of a narrow alley in Litex, one of seven children, her father a construction worker who lived on worksites and came home occasionally. Nobody remembers why she was called Angel, not even her own mother. Jerico called her labs – my love. 

The boys say Jerico was proud when she became his girl. They say she would sit on his lap and he would tickle her and kiss her and she would kiss him back. He rented a small room and they lived together as husband and wife. Disapproval did not matter to them – particularly Angel, who would sit quiet while being lectured by her father, but would go her own sweet way when it suited her. Eventually it was understood that Jerico and Angel were together, and that it was the way it would be, 

Jerico and Angel moved to Litex when their small room was taken back by the owner – a surprise to Angel’s father Ronnie, who walked in and found the couple asleep on a pallet. Angel had stopped school but wanted to try again, so Jerico paid for her uniform and her books and her projects, dropped her off at the school gates, then picked her up when she was done. He helped out at the Fernandez home, bringing in food sometimes, slipping school money to Angel’s little sister other times. Jerico’s sister Ellaine said he split his construction worker’s salary in two – half for himself, the other for Angel and her family.

It was a love story, as love stories go, until three weeks before a motorcycle swung by Gumamela Street.

The breakup

Angel liked Facebook, would change her profile photo every few days. Variations of Angel looking soulfully away from the lens, or looking into the camera, lips pink, skin pale and hair shiny, populated her timeline. Sometimes Jerico would be in the photo, sometimes not. She had added Jerico's surname to hers  – Erica Fernandez became Erica Fernandez Camitan.

One day, Jerico opened Angel’s page. He saw she had changed her picture again, only this time Angel was beside another young man. Young, round-faced, his hair spiked, his arms wrapped around Jerico’s girl. 

It was not a complete surprise. Jerico had told the Riverside boys he had suspicions. There may be another man, he said. He and Angel had been fighting. She was angry that he came home late and came home drunk. 

Jerico climbed up the stairs to the Fernandez home in Litex and said goodbye to Angel’s father. He walked into Number 1225 Riverside, said hello to his grandmother Lita, unpacked his clothes, and said he was home for good. He told Lita that he had seen Angel’s picture. He said he had to leave, because he might end up killing someone or being killed himself. 

He drank with the Riverside boys many times in the days after. They asked him what had happened. He told them to move on – he already did. Then he would laugh. The boys say they didn’t believe him, but that was how Jerico was. Their boy had pride, and he was never crawling back to Angel.

Angel never denied there was a new man. She was gleeful about the change. She began using his Facebook account, combining their names, taking on his last name. One friend asked her why she still kept Jerico’s name on her own account – she said Facebook had a 6-month policy before a user could make a public name change.

The Riverside boys kept up the pressure on her timeline – who is that shit, what the fuck is your problem, you left Jerico for that? Angel’s own sister lectured her, but Angel said she was happy with her new life. She blamed Jerico’s friends for keeping him out late at night. She blamed the trouble with Jerico for her leaving school. Jerico answered fast. Don't blame me. I kept you in school. Have a little respect, bitch.

In the end, Angel said she loved Jerico, loved him in spite of it all.

She came back twice, said his grandmother, but Jerico wasn’t home. His friends say she came to Riverside to plead with him, but Jerico refused. He didn’t want her, they said.

Angel returns 

On the night of October 25, at a little past ten in the evening Angel returned to Number 1225.

Five of the boys were drinking at the corner and saw her walk past.  They say they followed her, that they climbed up to the rooftop where Jerico slept in a tent above his uncle’s house. They said the tent was shaking. The boys shrugged, rolled their eyes and trudged down the stairs again.

They waited by the corner, curious if their friend and his pride would allow Angel back into his life. They said they were ready to give Jerico a hard time.

Jerico’s grandmother Lita was just downstairs. She said she heard the pair talking. Angel was being sweet, Lita said. Angel was pleading – please, love, come on, come home.

Lita called out to them, told them it was late, told them both to stay in. She remembers one of them saying they were going out for a little while, for chicken porridge down the corner. 

The lights went off at the base of Number 1225. The boys say Jerico must have snuck out with Angel. They never saw him leave. 

Half an hour later, someone came running. Shouting. Jerico had been beaten up.

The boys leapt to their feet and ran. 

The last walk

A CCTV recording taken from a corner canteen shows Angel sitting beside Jerico. She leans into him, cheek to his shoulder, talking into his ear, long straight hair falling past the neckline of her white camisole.

It would end in just a few minutes. They would pay the bill. They would leave the canteen. They would round the bend, side by side, maybe hand in hand, and in the stretch of road between Santo Rosario and Riverside, the bullets would come – five for Jericho, one for Angel.

They were found along Gumamela Street. Jerico lay flush against one of the gates, his eyes open, one flowerpot broken beside his arm, two more in shards between his legs. His lips were stretched in a grimace, the teeth he had been so proud of in full display.

Three of the scene of the crime operatives took hold of his arms and legs, dirt and pottery shearing off his body as they lifted him to the center of the road. They stripped him on the road. Dragged down the shorts, turned over the pockets, checked under the printed red and white briefs. They found a phone, some money, his watch and nothing more.

Angel was propped like a rag doll against a pile of rubbish. The press that arrived on-scene pegged her as a child – twelve years old maybe, or just turned thirteen. Her hair had fallen over her face. Blood blossomed over her white shirt, streaked out of her nose and down the side of her mouth. 

A witness watching television from a second floor room said he heard gunshots. He rsaid he ran to the window. He saw someone in a bonnet and a jacket toss down a sign over Jerico, saw the man run, turn the corner into Rosario Street. Witnesses along the road saw the man on foot leap into a motorcycle and said that the driver was barely able to hold them steady. They were nervous, said the witnesses. 

An investigator crouched in front of Angel. A careful hand brushed her hair out of her face. The cops took pictures. Circled bullet casings with chalk. Unclasped the Hello Kitty watch from Angel's wrist, picked up the Barbie doll that had flown from her back pocket - a gift, her sister said, to a younger sibling. Then they lifted her, laying her down at the center of the road beside Jerico.

It was how most of the Riverside boys found them, one night in October. The boys came in groups, in pairs, joining each other outside the police line, some of them walking home from work sites to see the purple-red of police beacons. Two bodies, like two commas typed side by side, framed in a square of bright yellow tape.

On the day they died, Jerico had just turned 21. Angel was 17. 

The cost of dying

Jerico's coffin sits outside his grandmother's front door. Angel's coffin is inside her family's living room, the date of death on the sign marked three days late, with the haphazard black stitches from her autopsy still showing above the collar of her dress.

Both families have woken daily to the corpses of their dead. They were told they owed P58,000 to Light Funeral Services for the processing of each body. Light informed the families that the vice mayor's office offered up to P25,000 in assistance. All that was needed was an interview with the city hall staff, a death certificate, and a copy of the contract with the funeral parlor. 

The contract handed to Angel’s and Jerico’s families, certified by Light’s funeral directress Kathy S. Viray, puts the cost per body at P35,000, instead of the original P58,000. Jerico's family has met with the vice mayor's office. The family was given P18,000 as assistance.

They believed they needed to raise enough to cover the rest of the P35,000 – a mistake, said Viray. The P35,000 total on the contract, Viray said in a phone interview, was not the actual cost of services. The funeral home had lowered the amount on paper so the families could avail of the vice mayor's program.  

You can’t declare anything very high, said Viray. She claimed it was Light's attempt to help the families. 

What it means is that the Camitan family, already struggling to pay for the candles they light on the stand beside the coffin, will have to raise upwards of P40,000 even with the city government's help before they can consider burying Jerico. The Fernandez family, if they manage to secure the maximum city assistance, will have to pay upwards of P30,000, a circumstance that is in no way assured. 

Light does its business in Quezon City. They are called in by local police to crime scene after crime scene, hauling away corpses with their bloodied blue and orange stretchers in the aftermath of buy-bust operations and extrajudicial killings. Their old office, whose address is printed on their letterhead, sits along Kamias Road. Broken funeral lights are still propped across the storefront, glass smashed to pieces on the sidewalk. Scraps of plywood cover the front door where a sheet of paper plastered over the entrance announces the establishment closed by the authority of the city mayor for violation of city ordinance S-91. 

Light now operates from branches along Roosevelt Avenue and K-H Street – the second office shares space with Yvandalize Tarpaulin Printing. Asked about the office transfer, Light's funeral directress Kathy Viray said the reason is “personal.” Employees of the funeral home refuse to release the location of their morgue, although Angel's family says it sits along España in Manila. It is under a different name – Archangel Morgue – and its staff members tell families Light is only sharing space. Family members are spoken to by representatives outside the morgue gates and are not allowed inside. 

Viray said families are not permitted to bury their dead until the entirety of the P58,000 had been paid. She is indignant at the idea families might hold funerals before paying the full amount. The funeral parlor has incurred costs.

Besides, she said, all permits remain in the hands of Light.

The boys of Riverside

There are rumors that run across Riverside. How someone had seen Angel speaking to men on a motorcycle before she met with Jerico. How she was wearing a different shirt from the white cotton camisole that bled when she died, and how that should mean something. How someone knew something, something important, but was too afraid to say. How all this killing, the executions of pushers and addicts and dealers, have made it easier to kill a boy who never used drugs in his life. 

Jerico's sister Ellaine is angry. She will cut off every toe, she says, if anyone can prove her brother used drugs. It was that girl, Ellaine says. It was because of that girl. She shakes her head at suggestions the two be buried side by side. She is no hypocrite – she does not want her brother near Angel again. 

A week into Angel's wake, the young man Angel claimed had made her happy, appeared at her family's home, with a group of people. He climbed up the stairs and offered quick condolences to her parents, and walked to her coffin. Angel's sister Janet saw him, and pointed him out to journalists – interview him, she said. The young man's friends hustled him out. He has not returned since. 

The cops who came to 1225 Riverside told Jerico’s father they had eliminated drugs as a motive, because Jerico was not on the watch list. They said they were looking at the possibility of a love triangle.

It reassured the family. Yet an interview with the investigator assigned to the case has returned drugs into the picture. He was unwilling to say if Jerico was on the drug watch list, only that the motive was probably drugs, sixty percent, the love triangle at forty percent. The investigator said he had spoken to “people in the area” who said Jerico had once dealt drugs, though none of the same people were willing to speak officially.

Asked if he had interviewed the boy that Angel had admitted to dating, the investigator said he had sent text messages to the family, but had received no reply. He promised he would follow up.

He refused to allow his name to be published, so all that can be said is that he is the investigator on record from the Criminal Investigation and Detection Unit for the Death Under Investigation (DUI) resulting from the “shooting incident, 1 male and 1 female, deceased,” that occurred at 11 pm on October 25, 2016, across 1235 Gumamela Street in Quezon City. The police are still asking if anyone has seen anything, but it is difficult because of the jackets and bonnets the killers were wearing. There were no CCTV videos of the incident. The investigator believes Jerico was the target and that “the woman” had been collateral damage.

The investigation is ongoing. 

Jerico and Angel

It is almost two weeks since Jerico and Angel were killed. There is no money to bury their bodies. The families have barely scraped together funds to pay for the formalin injections necessary to keep the corpses intact. Another P5,000 is required to pay for each cemetery plot, once the debt is paid. Angel's family is still waiting to speak to the city government for assistance. 

Jerico’s father is desperate to bury his son. He cannot mourn, he said. He cannot think. He could not protect his son in life, and now that Jerico is dead, the family fails him every day he lies across Number 1225. Rommel Camitan has raised P7,000 on his own, and with the P18,000 from the government, had believed all he needed was another P10,000 to make up the P35,000 the family signed for. Now he is holding a new contract - P58,000 to pay off the debt to Light Funeral Services. He protested when he spoke to Light, but he was told there was nothing to be done.   

Every night, the boys sit across Jerico's coffin. Every night, Angel's family sleeps beside her small corpse. 

The Riverside boys will tell you Jerico was funny. They will say Angel was sweet. The story could have become, in time, a joke told by the Riverside boys – of when Jerico had his heart broken by a slip of a girl. Jerico might have turned red-faced at the story's telling. He might have told the laughing, drunken boys to move on – he already did. He might have had another woman beside him, or an infant screaming from the second floor. Or maybe it would be Angel herself on his lap, Jerico's fingers twirling a hank of her long hair, her face pressed into his chest. Maybe she would say she was young and stupid, maybe she would say sorry, maybe she would say it was the fault of the Riverside boys. Maybe she would kiss Jerico's embarrassment away, and the talk would turn to other things.  

Only Jerico is dead, his Angel beside him, and the story is left to the Riverside boys to tell. – Rappler.com

(Editor's note: All quotations have been translated to English. For those who wish to offer financial assistance for the burials of Jerico Camitan and Angel Fernandez, please contact their siblings Ellaine Camitan and Janeth Fernandez).