On October 10, a 28-year-old tricycle driver named Mario Rupillo told a friend he was being followed by cops. His body appeared in a hospital morgue hours later. Police said he had fought back at an encounter.
“We accepted what the cops said, because that’s what they say when they have to cover something up,” said Mario’s brother Mark Anthony. “They do that almost all the time anyway.”
Detainees inside the Delpan PCP at the time of Mario’s death told the Rupillo family that Mario had been seen inside the precinct. They added that he was cuffed, and was led inside by the man they knew as Alvarez.
“He’s a cop,” said Mario’s mother Loreta. “He was always dressed as a civilian.”
The same detainees described Mario’s beating to the family. There was an interrogation, they said, Mario whipped by a gun, Mario screaming, Mario refusing to talk.
They said that the last they saw of Mario, he had a sack over his head. He had been dragged out of the precinct by Alvarez just before he was dumped into the back of a waiting tricycle. They said Mario was barely able to walk.
One detainee said a woman, also detained, was in the room while Mario was being tortured.
The local term is palit-ulo, literally an exchange of heads. It is street parlance for a trade – one suspect gives information on another to guarantee his or her own safety. According to the Rupillo family, in the case of the woman arrested before Mario was killed, Mario was the price.
The woman, they said, was released soon after. The family refused to repeat her name. She had bragged to them in public that Alvarez was behind the killing. She said she was under Alvarez’ protection.
The spot report described the police version of events: an anti–criminality patrol spotted Rupillo riding his red SYM motorcycle without a helmet along Gate 14 Delbros of Parola Compound. Mario was flagged down.
“Instead of stopping,” read the report, “[Rupillo] pulled out his handgun and fired shots toward these lawmen but missed.” A rookie officer named Marcelino Pedrozo III had “no choice but to fire back.”
“...instead of stopping, [Rupillo] pulled out his handgun and fired shots.”
- Homicide Spot Report, 11 October 2016
If the police narrative is to be believed, Mario Rupillo was speeding down Parola at a little past 11 pm. He swings out without a helmet, riding his red motorcycle. The cops on patrol flag him down. Mario keeps going as he grabs for his gun. He aims, fires, misses. One cop pulls out his own gun and fires, once, twice, 7 times. The bullets land with precise symmetry on a moving target: two just under the left and right shoulders, 4 on his chest, the last in his mouth.
Mario’s brother Mark Anthony saw the body. He said it looked like his brother had been beaten. Both kneecaps were bruised. Both arms were swollen. Both shoulders appeared to have been broken.
“Have you ever seen a chicken after the bones have been broken, when the wings are just limp?” Mark Anthony asked. “It was that bad, and my brother is even skinnier than me.”
Mark Anthony Rupillo is lanky and soft-spoken, his voice low as he spoke of what he believed was his brother’s murder. Tattoos run the length of his arms, slicking up the side of his neck and down his thighs. His eyes tracked over the afternoon soap opera running silent on the old box television. What was left of Mario Rupillo sat inside a marble vase engraved with his name on an altar overhead.
Mario, said Mark Anthony, was an occasional user before he began running drugs. Someone would come by with money, and Mario would be paid a few pesos after delivery.
Mario’s death certificate, signed by the medico-legal officer of the MPD Crime Laboratory, noted the cause of death as “multiple gunshot wounds to the head, body and upper extremities.” SPO4 Glenzor Vallejo, the MPD Homicide investigator in charge, said he could not recall how many bullets had killed Mario Rupillo. He also said there was nothing unusual about the number of gunshot wounds.
“While he was escaping, he shot at the policemen,” Vallejo said. “So the policemen of course retaliated, and they wouldn’t have thought about whether [Mario] would be hit by a lot of bullets. There was just an exchange of fire.”
Vallejo said he arrived at the crime scene after the body had been rushed to the hospital. He said that his sources were limited to the policemen of the Delpan PCP, and had found no other witness willing to contest the police version of events. He said it was unlikely that Mario could have been beaten while in custody, or that he had been the victim of a trade. He stood by the spot report he wrote, he said, but added the investigation is still ongoing. He said the Rupillo family did not dispute the police version of events when he met them.
The list of recovered evidence included a red SYM Bonus 110 motorcycle with a “For Registration” plate and a .38 caliber pistol without a serial number.
The family said the motorcycle was returned without a scratch. Mark Anthony, who was shown the gun Mario allegedly used, had nothing but contempt for the police. Not only had the gun been planted, he said, but the choice of weapon was ridiculous. The Rupillo brothers may have been too poor to buy arms, but they understood guns.
“We know what sort of gun you can use,” Mark Anthony said, “and what you’re supposed to throw away. That gun looked like you could get tetanus just by touching it.”
Mario, he said, was no idiot.
The last of the evidence was a black bag containing 3 plastic sachets believed to contain shabu, 5 P20 bills, a P50 bill, and a red lighter.
“We knew none of those things belong to my brother," he said.