October is the month where every year we are more “at one with the spiritual realm” and are more coerced than any other month of the year to believe that ghosts, ghouls, and everything of the sort is true. But if you live in the urban Philippines, that belief in the supernatural is easily dismissed by elders with the statement, “Matakot ka sa buhay, wag sa patay.”
In the third installment of our weekly, Pinoy October Crimetime, we unravel the true horrors of The Baguio Massacre.
It was the afternoon of April 6, 2014, when Aling Vilma Nociete, a canteen owner in Kayang Street, Baguio City, received a text message from her daughter informing her about a male visitor who had come knocking on their door looking for their father. Vilma replied but did not hear anything again from her daughter even after several hours had passed. It was at this point she decided to go home and check on her children.
Back to their rented apartment found on the fourth floor of a building in Kayang Hilltop, Vilma had to knock on their door multiple times but to no avail. Having no key with her, she had to borrow a duplicate from another tenant who lived on the upper floor. What Aling Vilma saw next shocked her to the bone: lying in pools of their own blood were the brutally murdered bodies of her daughter, her son, two other children, and their house helper.
The victims consisted of the siblings Jacqueline, 19, and Joey Nociete, 9; Joey’s playmates Dave de Guzman, 7, and Raymundo del Mundo, 8; and the Nociete’s housemaid Jonalyn Lozano, 32. All victims were rushed to Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center (NGHMC as soon as they were found, but all were declared dead on arrival.
According to the police investigation that would ensue, Jacqueline suffered 18 stab wounds. Joey was stabbed 14 times. Dave and Raymundo sustained 8 and 5 stab wounds, respectively, while Lozano had 12.
No signs of forced entry had been found. The police also found some valuables left behind by the suspect, including a computer tablet, making robbery an unlikely motive. The autopsy reports, later on, revealed that a double-bladed knife was used by the suspect. However, the murder weapon was never recovered.
The apartment building was surrounded by a market place, and the police concluded that the loud business of the area could have drowned out any noise made by the crime scene, which could have happened between 3:30 PM and 6PM. The other unit on the same floor as Noceite’s apartment was unoccupied, and the apartment building had no security cameras.
Fortunately, there was a witness: Mae Dumpit Fernandez, the neighbor who lived on the fifth floor from whom Vilma had previously borrowed the duplicate key to their apartment.
Fernandez revealed that she saw a man knocking on the victims’ unit around 3:30 PM. She described him as a five-foot-three guy with a slim built and a dark complexion. He was wearing a green sweatshirt and black short pants. She thought, at that time, that the man was merely a visitor.
The information provided by the witness would point to Philip Tolentino Avino, also known as Michael Geronimo. A 31-year-old market porter, he was found to be the ex live-in partner of a waitress who worked at the Nociete’s eatery.
The waitress, named Samantha, was the one to identify the suspect using the bloodied short pants and belt found at the crime scene. She revealed that she had broken up with Avino on April 4, two days before the massacre, and that the belt was a gift from her before the separation.
Avino, who clearly couldn’t deal with the breakup, apparently believed that the Nociete family was intervening between him and Samantha. Police concluded that the murderer was initially targeting Joey, the father of the Nociete household, but since Joey wasn’t around during the incident, Avino took his anger out on the children presumably under the influence of drugs. Joey Jr.’s playmates and the housemaid were all considered to be collateral damage.
With further investigations underway, the police found that the suspect was originally from Sta. Ana Manila and moved to Baguio between 2012 and 2013 to escape from a pending arrest warrant for the rape of a 13-year-old girl. Since then, he had lived under the guise of Michael Geronimo.
Baguio City police chief, Senior Superintendent Rolando Miranda, believed that Avino had fled to Cubao in Quezon City, so he called for a manhunt. On April 8, he announced via national TV that a reward amounting to 100,000PHP awaited those who would be able to lead them to the suspect. A bounty now on his head, Avino sought the help of his half-brother, Quezon City police officer Jeffrey Sta. Ana, who then teamed up with Manila councilor DJ Bagatsing and Avino’s aunt Chit Tolentino, Chairwoman of Barangay 584 in Quezon City, to arrange the suspect’s surrender.
Avino surrendered to Isko Moreno, who was the Vice Mayor of Manila at that time, and was turned over to the Baguio City Police Office on April 9. Although at first, he stood by his claims of innocence, items left at the crime scene were enough evidence to point him as the murderer responsible for what is known to be the worst crime in Baguio City’s recorded history.
Avino found guilty
In January 2016, justice was served to the Nociete family after almost two years of battling in the court. Judge Mia Cawed found Phillip Tolentino Avino guilty beyond reasonable doubt, sentencing him to Reclusion Perpetua or life sentence with no eligibility to parole. Cawed stated that Avino could have been sentenced to death if only there were death penalty in the Philippines.
Any other Pinoy true crime you know?
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