It was past 1 a.m. of May 7, 2009 when the Subic Fire Station responded to a fire incident in 468 Tala Extension, Purok 3, Matain, Subic, Zambales.
They were able to put the fire out immediately. Two of the house’s occupants, Michelle Bacolod and her nine-year-old daughter Geraldine Tandoc were severely injured. They were rushed to the James L. Gordon Memorial Hospital in Olongapo City.
But a few hours later, they both died.
According to the doctor, the victims sustained second to third degree burns. But autopsy results showed that Michelle also suffered a possible blow to the head.
“May nakita akong hematoma doon sa anit niya,” NBI medico legal officers Dr. Eduardo Vargas, Jr. said. “Sa mga ganitong klase ng injuries kasi, nasusutain ito kung ang parte ng katawan ay tinamaan ng isang matigas na bagay. Pwedeng steel bars o bato.”
The victims. (L) Michelle Bacolod and her daughter (R) Geraldine Tandoc.
Michelle’s grandmother, Lola Elena, was devastated.
“Masakit na masakit. Ako nagpalaki diyan,” she says. “Talagang hindi ko matanggap na ganoon ang mangyari sa kanya.”
Meanwhile, the authorities sprung into action and investigated the scene of the crime. Based on initial reports, the fire originated from the victim’s room. “Unusual siya kasi supposed to be, nag-start siya sa kitchen. Iyon iyong mga normal fire,” municipal fire marshall Jose Borlag Datan says.
“Noong ininspeksyon ko iyong lugar, wala akong nakita na pagsimulan sa kuryente,” he adds. “Walang brownout noong time na iyon. So imposible siguro na galing iyon sa kandila o gasera o kung ano mang pwedeng pagmulan ng sunog.”
The authorities also discovered that the bedroom door was locked from the outside leading them to believe that the fire wasn’t an accident and was, in fact, rigged.
In order to find a lead, the authorities questioned the Bacolods’ neighbours. One witness, whom we shall call “Mildred”, surfaced.
According to “Mildred”, the night the fire happened, she heard Michelle arguing with her live-in partner Johnny “Agaw” Lamoste.
“Sabi ni Ate Beng, ‘Lumayas ka na dito!’,” Mildred says.
According to Lola Elena, Michelle and Agaw were very much in love at the beginning. But when they moved in together, that’s when the fights started. Their neighbor, Estrella Bon Perkins, was a witness to this.
“Nitong mga huling linggo, araw-araw na silang nag-aaway. Ang alam ko, gusto nang makipaghiwalay ng babae sa lalaki,” she says. “Ngayon ‘yong lalaki parang hindi niya matanggap kasi parang wala siyang pupuntahan.”
The authorities also interviewed the victim’s other children. That’s when they found out what really happened the night of the fire.
One of the victim’s children, whom we shall call “Christian”, was only seven years old at that time.
According to “Christian”, on that night he slept in the room with his mother and sister Geraldine. Then around midnight, he woke up to the sound of her mother and his live-in partner, Agaw, fighting. Christian went back to sleep.
But a couple of minutes later, he woke up to an unbearable heat. “Nagising po ako, nasusunog po ‘yong kumot ko,” he tells ABS-CBN SOCO.
And when he turned, he saw his mother and his sister on fire.
Eyewitness account. Then 7-year-old Christian recounts what happened the night of the fire that killed his mother and sister.
“Si Geraldine tulog habang nasusunog. ‘Yong nanay ko nasa ibaba na, humihingi ng saklolo, nasusunog din.”
He then saw his mother’s live-in partner, Agaw. According to Christian, Agaw was holding a knife and a hammer. That’s when Christian decided to jump out the window.
Christian’s older brother whom we shall call “Michael” was also inside the house. He woke up to the sound Christian’s urgent pleas. When he realized what was happening, he instructed Christian to go out while he tried to open the door to her mother’s bedroom. “Pagkabukas ko ng pintuan, may nakataling alambre,” he says. “Hindi ko na mabuksan.”
He then went to the window but when he peeked inside, he saw Agaw. “Nakabantay pala siya,” Michael says. “May dalang kutsilyo at martilyo. Sabay tumakbo na ako sa labas. Humingi ako ng tulong.”
Because of the pieces of evidence gathered combined with the brothers’ testimonies, Johnny “Agaw” Lamoste was charged with arson. Associate Prosecution Attorney Jacqueline Suin found probable cause to elevate it to the courts. And he was then charged with two counts of murder and three counts of attempted with a qualifying circumstance of fire as means to kill in relation to Republic Act No. 9626 and Republic Act 7610.
But during that time, Agaw was already nowhere to be found. Then-presiding judge Consuelo Bocar of Branch 73 Olongapo City Regional Trial Court issued a warrant for his arrest.
But up to this date, Agaw remains at large.
Wanted. Up to date, Johnny “Agaw” Lamoste remains at large.
But the authorities intend to continue their search. Michelle’s now-grown-up sons, meanwhile, vow to never stop until justice is served for their mother and sister.