MANILA, Philippines - He has moved on from his tragic loss nearly two decades ago. He has remarried, rebuilt his career, and put his kids through school. But in one scandal, he is immediately transported to the past.
Former Marine Col Ariel Querubin lost his 31-year-old wife 19 years ago, on Aug 19, 1994. That day suddenly came to life last month, when the Philippine Daily Inquirer exposed Janet "Jenny" Lim Napoles and linked her to an alleged multibillion pork barrel scam.
Querubin knew Napoles. A day before his wife died, he talked to Napoles on the phone to ask her to return his wife's investment. "In a mild-mannered manner I asked her, please, just return the money. Because that's hard-earned money. That's the money of my wife and her sister," Querubin recalled in a phone interview with Rappler.
It was 1994. It had only been a year since Querubin was released from jail for his involvement in the December 1989 coup that almost toppled the Cory Aquino government. The young couple was slowly rebuilding their lives with their toddler, a boy, and a baby girl. Napoles, in fact, stood as the baby girl's ninang (godmother), according to Querubin.
Blood and bullets linked the two families together.
Querubin and Jaime Napoles were both captains in the Philippine Marines when they joined the December 1989 coup. Capt Napoles was then assigned to the Subic Naval Command, while Querubin was taking an advanced intelligence course at Fort Bonifacio.
Querubin led the assault on the military's Logistics Command in Camp Aguinaldo on Dec 1, 1989. Napoles, on the other hand, was on board the Marines' Landing Vehicle Tracked (LVT), an assault troop vehicle that got burned at Gate 1 of Camp Aguinaldo. The LVT is now displayed in the camp.
Both officers were wounded in the 9-day coup. Querubin later spent years in jail; Napoles would later quit the military and help his wife, then a "struggling military supplier," Querubin said.
After Querubin's 1993 release from jail, the families of the Marines involved in the coup reconnected with each other. Janet Napoles eventually managed to persuade Querubin's wife, Loreta Cercenia and a military doctor-friend, to invest in a supposed shipyard in Cebu. Napoles promised a 5% monthly interest payment for the money she asked Loreta and her friend to give her, according to a former military doctor who also agreed to invest in Napoles' business.
Mrs Querubin, a doctor, took the risk, lured by the promise of a quick return on her investment. By this time, Querubin had been reinstated in the military and assigned as commander in Basilan.
It didn't take long before Mrs Querubin knew something was amiss. By late 1993, the checks issued by Mrs Napoles began bouncing and she had grown scarce.
(Editor's note: In an interview with the Inquirer published on August 13, Napoles was asked about the source of her family's wealth. She said they began their coal mining business in Indonesia in 1995, about the same period that Querubin said Mrs Napoles was hard put in paying her debts. In 1998, Mrs Napoles remained a military supplier, entering into a contract with the Philippine Marines to deliver Kevlar helmets — a deal that was eventually found to be graft-ridden.)
We asked the military doctor, Mrs Querubin's friend who also invested in Mrs Napoles' business, about his recollection of this period. In an email to us, he wrote:
"After the Christmas season and shortly after giving birth to their daughter in January 1994, I reconnected with Lorie (Mrs Querubin). At this point she disclosed to me her [predicament] with Jenny (Napoles). Since then, we discussed and planned together on how to get back our investments. By that time, it was getting difficult to get in touch with Jenny. By then we can only obtain updates and [feedback] through common friends."
"One night, sometime in February 1994, Lorie came rushing to our house after she received a notice apparently from Jenny that we were going to be paid that night at their home in Biñan Laguna. At that time, I was left alone at home to look after my two little boys, the youngest a newborn just 2 months old. We proceeded to Laguna, tagging along my 2 children. Lorie had to ride with me and hold on to the baby. We were followed by Lorie’s driver with their car."
"When we reached Jenny’s house we were told by the house helper to wait outside as instructed. We waited patiently inside my car while being feasted [on] by mosquitoes. Lorie held on to the baby and pacified him as he started to cry. After some time, we became impatient and noticed that it was taking too long a wait."
"We knocked [on] the door and again [asked] for Jenny, only to be told that she was not home. At that moment, it was my turn to pacify Lorie as she was fuming mad and feeling helpless. We left the place so dismayed."
Querubin recalled that his wife for a time kept her problem from him. "She probably didn't want to bother me in Basilan." But since she could no longer hide her anxiety, she finally talked about her failure to collect from Mrs Napoles.
The couple soon found out that Mrs Napoles apparently invested their money in somebody else, another military wife, according to Querubin and the ex-military doctor. The military wife, whose identity we are withholding, admitted to them that she had their money but insisted she had been paying Mrs Napoles the interest. Unfortunately, the interest payment never reached Mrs Querubin.
A meeting was set on Aug 18, 1994 in the Makati office of the military wife. Mrs Querubin and the military doctor attended the meeting, which Mrs Napoles also attended. Querubin said that at this point, he was advised to give Mrs Napoles a call. He was then in a Makati hospital for his regular physical therapy.
"I called her up during their meeting. I told her to return my wife's money," Querubin said. "She started screaming, telling me, huwag mo akong sigawan. Hindi ako sumisigaw, I told her. I'm just asking you." (She started screaming, telling me, don't yell at me. I'm not yelling at you, I told her.)
(Editor's note: We have repeatedly tried to get in touch with Mrs Napoles through her cell phone number. She never returned our text messages or calls.)
The military doctor recalled what happened that day: "We arrived at the office at about past 10:00 am then Jenny (Mrs Napoles) arrived later before noon. Before we could even start, Jenny said that she could not stay long so I offered to Lorie (Mrs Querubin) that she deal with her first."
"During their discussion, I stepped out of the room to give them privacy. When I returned to the office, Jenny [had] already left. A lengthy discussion ensued and Lorie manifested her disgust several times during the course of our conversation with [military wife]. I tried to calm her down and asked her to get rested [in] the receiving area in the office while I deal with.... It must [have been] past 1:00 pm that time with all of us skipping lunch."
When it was his turn to join the meeting with the military wife, the military doctor said Mrs Querubin waited for him right outside the office. He noticed her dozing off, looking tired. When they decided to go home, Mrs Querubin told him she had passed out while waiting for him.
She noticed her wet pants, indicating she urinated without her noticing it. The military doctor said this alarmed him and he offered to bring her to the hospital, which she refused. After driving her home, he called up then Capt Querubin and advised him to immediately bring her to the doctor once he was done with his therapy.
Photo courtesy of Col Querubin
How did she grow rich?
Querubin brought his wife to the hospital that day. She died the following day, Aug 19, 1994, of unexplained pulmonary hypertension. She was 31, leaving behind a husband and two kids: Alfred Benjamin (AB), who was barely two years old, and Francesca Eufrosina (Faye), who was 7 months old. (AB is now 3rd year college while Faye is 2nd year college. Col Querubin has since remarried.)
Mrs Napoles went to the wake on the first day and paid Querubin what "she owed my wife…in dollars." He doesn't remember how much. "She said sorry…I said it's God's will."
Querubin said it's tough to recall all these events now that the death anniversary of his late wife is fast approaching. He is finishing his memoirs, and one chapter is titled "Death of Dr Loreta E Cercenia-Querubin."
In his first draft, Querubin said he had chosen not to identify Napoles, only revealing the circumstances before his wife's death. Following the scandal, though, he said he will name Napoles in that chapter.
"The reason I'm sharing this story is, I would be doing a disservice to the nation if I stayed silent. She just needs to prove how they were able to amass such wealth in such a short span of time. I knew her to be a struggling supplier. She couldn't pay her debts. How did she grow rich? She just needs to explain that." - Rappler.com
Glenda Gloria is the managing editor of Rappler and one of its co-founders. A journalist for three decades now, Glenda has been a reporter for newspapers, magazines, and wire agencies, and has run print, online, and TV newsrooms. She is a Nieman Fellow at Harvard, Class 2018 .