MANILA, Philippines – After eating lunch with his blind aunt and two nephews, Winston Ragos stepped out of their house on Tuesday, April 21, for his usual fix of coke and a cigarette. He never returned home.
At around 2:30 pm near a quarantine control point along Maligaya Drive in Barangay Pasong Putik, Quezon City, Winston was shot by a cop after he appeared to try to pull something from his sling bag while taunting the law enforcers.
The cop who fired, Master Sergeant Daniel Florendo Jr, shot him twice. The gunshots pierced Winston's body just seconds between each other. Winston swayed for a few seconds before falling to the ground.
One woman witness screamed: “Dapat kinapkapan n'yo muna (You should have searched him first).”
“Walang dala yan (He has nothing on him),” shouted a man.
Cops responded by ordering them inside their homes before taking away Winston and his bag. He was declared dead at 5:57 pm. He was 33 years old.
Police then reported to the public that they killed Winston because he kept a gun inside his bag.
In an interview with Rappler, Winston's mother Merlyn said people were shouting because they believe Winston carried no firearms despite displaying anger at cops. He was mentally ill and could have challenged cops on a whim.
“They think he had bad intentions, but the bag that hung over his neck only has a water bottle inside,” Merlyn told Rappler in a phone interview on Thursday, April 23.
She should know, she said, because she gave her son the bag herself, a hand-me-down from her deceased husband. She said she also did not raise a violent child.
Winston the soldier
Winston Ragos grew up in Ligao City, Albay. He was the 5th of 7 children of Merlyn, a beautician who offers home services, and Leopoldo, a former military man who became a policeman after the Philippine Constabulary was turned into the Philippine National Police (PNP).
Because of Leopoldo, Winston grew up in a “disciplinarian household.” It was also because of his father that he entered the Philippine military.
Winston admired his father, but his father had a stroke in 2004. She said Winston enlisted in 2010 after completing a criminology degree at the Bicol College in Daraga, Albay.
“That’s when we were deep. It was also because of his father’s condition that Winston took it upon himself to help,” Merlyn said.
He served with the Army's 31st Infantry Battalion under the 9th Infantry "Spear" Division headquartered in Camarines Sur, where the military often battles communist guerrillas. (READ: Army orders probe into police killing of ex-soldier Winston Ragos)
It was in this assignment when he suffered schizophrenia and trauma in 2012, Merlyn said. She was called by Winston's superiors to pick him up from their military outpost after he began spacing out frequently.
Merlyn said he never told her about any encounters that had shaken him. Instead, she recalled Winston saying he was regularly beaten by his superiors when he underperformed.
One instance, she recalled him telling her, was when he failed to cook breakfast due to oversleeping after walking for kilometers for patrols the previous day.
Winston’s bout with mental illness
Merlyn said that since then, Winston has been flagged by the military as mentally ill and was allowed to have check-ups at the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Medical Center.
After she picked him up in Camarines Norte, Winston was confined at the medical center for some 6 months before returning to the armed service.
He spaced out less often ever since, and even married and had a child in 2013.
He began to spiral after he began skipping his regular doses of medicine.
Instead of spending money for medicine, he would purchase gasoline for his motor and would go to different places without telling his family. Once, he was found by his family at the University of the Philippines Diliman campus in Quezon City.
Aside from his Bicol assignment, he was also assigned to Sorsogon and to Saguiaran, a town adjacent to Marawi City. Contrary to reports, Winston is not a Marawi war veteran.
He was also discharged from the military in January 2017, months before the siege erupted, because the military found that he was no longer mentally able to serve as a soldier.
“When the Marawi siege began, he had returned. He was in the same unit as soldiers who eventually fought and died in the Marawi siege. They were his friends,” Merlyn said.
He left the military with a rank of corporal.
The last few months
Winston has since stayed at their home in Barangay Pasong Putik in Quezon City with Merlyn’s older sister, and two nieces. Merlyn could not stay with him because she found more customers in Imus and Bacoor, Cavite.
During his final months alive, Winston would “sing alone” and help with chores when he was able to take his maintenance medicine.
The problem, Merlyn said, was that Winston had to go to the Veterans Memorial Medical Center almost every week to purchase medicine, but he instead went off on solo trips.
In the first week of March he even reached as far as Real, Quezon, a municipality around 95 kilometers away from Quezon City.
He was sent home by soldiers who called Merlyn through the phone numbers inscribed on a sheet of paper that was packed inside Winston’s sling bag. (READ: Winston Ragos' mom to Duterte gov’t: Coronavirus is the enemy, not my son)
Merlyn decided to have Winston confined again, bringing him to the Veterans Memorial Medical Center on March 27. However, the hospital could not take him in because it was already overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.
"We were told that it was already too risky and that he could get infected," Merlyn said.
The doctor gave them one week’s worth of medicine, which they could not replenish because of the lockdown.
This worsened Winston's condition.
"Sometimes here, he would answer back when he was scolded," Merlyn said.
But she stressed that Winston had no violent tendencies. His only vice was smoking.
It was in this mental state when Winston stepped out of their home on Tuesday, becoming the first fatality related to the implementation of the coronavirus lockdown in Metro Manila after President Rodrigo Duterte told cops and soldiers to kill unruly quarantine violators who threatened their lives. – Rappler.com
Rambo Talabong covers the House of Representatives and local governments for Rappler. Prior to this, he covered security and crime. He was named Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. In 2021, he was selected as a journalism fellow by the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics.