The life of a 15-year-old comes to an abrupt end as he becomes the victim of a heinous crime, all because of a game console.
Smart and studious. This is how his parents described 15-year-old Rowel Cruz. The youngest among four siblings, Rowel was his family's favorite.
“Honor student, masipag ‘yan,” his father, Benedicto Cruz, said. “Gusto niya sana maging isang computer engineer. Pero kung hindi kaya, gusto raw niya maging seaman para kumita siya nang malaki.”
“Mabait siya, masunurin, mapagkakatiwalaan. Tapos wala akong problema sa kaniya [kasi] simula’t sapul, marunong siyang mag-alaga sa kaniyang sarili,” he added.
Being the self-sufficient kid that he was, Rowel also worked hard for his own money.
“Nangongolekta siya ng basura para magkaroon siya ng pera,” Benedicto said. “Bawat kolekta niya sa bahay, binibigyan siya ng sampu. ‘Yun ang pinaka-allowance niya.”
He worked hard for his spending money, and did not waste his earnings, but there was one thing Rowel coveted—a PlayStation Portable or PSP, a handheld game console that was very popular at that time.
Rowel got his wish. His brother who was working abroad gifted him with a PSP.
Little did they know that this gift would be the very thing that would lead Rowel to danger.
|Young dreams. 15-year-old Rowel Cruz dreamt of becoming a computer engineer.
On the night of March 20, 2012, right after dinner, Rowel played with his PSP just outside their home on Ipil-Ipil St., North Signal Village, Taguig City.
Around seven in the evening, Rowel’s father, Benedicto, was alarmed by the sound of gunshots.
“Nakarinig ako ng tatlong putok,” he recalled. “Bumangon ako. ‘Yung anak kong panganay, nandito, kumakain. ‘Yung anak kong babae, nandito rin.”
The sound was nothing, he decided. Then a few minutes later, the front door to their house opened and he was shocked by the sight of his youngest son, Rowel.
Rowel was gasping. He couldn’t breathe, he said. The boy was rushed to the nearest clinic. But since the clinic was unequipped to treat him, he was sent to the government hospital in Taguig.
Sadly, Rowel was already dead upon arrival at the hospital.
Benedicto was devastated. Rowel was set to graduate in a few days.
“Talagang napakasakit po dahil simula’t sapul po, ako na ang nagpalaki kasi ‘yung asawa ko nasa abroad,” he said tearfully. “Masakit na masakit sa aking kalooban.”
Based on post-mortem examination, Rowel died due to a gunshot wound he sustained on the left part of his chest.
|Shattered dreams. 15-year-old honor student Rowel Cruz was shot dead just days before his graduation.
His mother, Consolacion, who was in Cyprus at that time, almost lost her mind with grief.
“Nag-iyak na ‘ko,” she said. ‘Yung ang pakiramdam mo ay wala na, hindi mo na maabot ‘yung paghinga, na kinakalma ako ng kaibigan ko na dumating sa punto na naghi-hysterical ako.”
She wanted nothing but to go home to her family.
“Nung panahon na iyon, wala akong pera,” she said. “Hindi ako makakilos dahil ‘di ko alam knug saan ako kukuha ng pambili ko ng ticket nung oras na ‘yun. Pero mabait ang Panginoon. Meron talagang mga taong kusang tumutulong para makabili ako ng ticket ko."
|Grieving parents. Rowel was the youngest among four siblings.
Meanwhile, the Taguig Police scoured the Cruz’s residence for evidence and looked for witnesses to the shooting.
One of them was Renald, Rowel’s brother. According to him, around 7:00 p.m., Rowel was playing with his PSP outside their home. He heard him scream for help.
“May biglang sumisigaw na ‘Kuya, Kuya, tulong, tulong!’ Ang tendency, tumayo ka, sisilipin,” he said. “Pagtingin ko, nakatutok na sa’kin ‘yung baril. Siguro mga 3 to 4 meters ang [layo ng nakatutok].”
He saw Rowel grappling with a man who was trying to steal his PSP.
The man shot Rowel in order to make him let go of the gadget.
When they opened the front door, Rowel was already by the steps, gasping for breath.
“Akala namin, wala pang tama dahil walang blood stain sa baba,” Renald said. “Pagsubsob niya, dun na umagos ‘yung dugo.”
Aside from Renald, the authorities found other witnesses as well.
One of them was Lanie (not her real name).
“Nakita ko nag-aagawan sila,” she said. “Pag-agaw niya, nalaglag. Pagdampot ni Rowel, tinutukan siya, sabi ‘Bigay mo na’ kasi sabi ni Rowel, ‘Ayoko, Kuya, ayoko.’ Tapos pinaputukan uli siya. ‘Ayun, tinamaan na siya.”
“Tapos biglang tumakbo na ‘yung mama, tapos may motor na nakaabang sa kanya, dun na siya sumakay,” Lanie added. “Hinabol pa nga siya ng asawa ko kaya lang wala na.”
Aside from Lanie, another witness surfaced. Carding (not his real name), said he saw Rowel as he struggled with the unidentified man.
“’Yung paglabas ko, nakita kong nag-aagawan,” he said. “Nung palabas na ko ng gate namin, nakita ko siya, akmadong aanuhin ko, tinutukan na ako ng baril. Pagkatutok sa’kin ng baril, sinara ko na ‘yung gate. Sinilip ko, nakita ko inaabangan siya ng isang motor doon.”
Lanie and Carding both said that while they did not know the perpetrator, they will never forget his face.
“’Yung buhok niya ang gupit na parang army—maikli tapos may kulay ang buhok. Maliit at medyo maputi,” Carding recalled.
They were also able to describe the man’s accomplice.
“Matangkad ‘yun eh, pero di ko rin masyadong nakita, ‘yung katawan lang atsaka ‘yung buhok,” Lanie said.
But despite the witnesses’ statements, the authorities were unable to discover the identities of the perpetrators.
The black motorcycle
A break in the case came when authorities found a witness who saw the plate number of the perpetrators’ motorcycle.
Mores (not his real name) said the moment he heard the shots, he ran out to their terrace.
“Nakita ko patakbo na ‘yung bumaril, sumakay ng motorsiklo,” he said. “Nung makita ko silang sumakay, tiningnan ko agad ‘yung plate number ng motor para mahuli sila—4159TL.”
Based on the records of the Land Transportation Office, the black motorcycle was registered under the name of a certain Shirley Palacios. The authorities were able to track Palacios down.
However, according to Palacios, the motorcycle was stolen.
“Tinrace namin kung kailan na-carnap at pagkatapos nilang ma-declare na-carnap,” Police Superintendent Tomas Apolinario of the Taguig PNP said. “Inalam namin kung may [entry sa] blotter, wala din naman napa-blotter.”
An hour later, they were able to recover the allegedly stolen motorcycle.
“Ito ay inireport sa’min ng mga concerned citizens na mayroong abandoned suspicious motorcycle na nagfi-fit sa description na ginamit sa pagpatay,” Apolinario said.
Because of this, suspiscions arose that Palacios was somehow connected to the suspects.
“’Yung may-ari ng motorsiklo ay may anak na ang pangalan ay si Jonimar, ngayon ‘yung anak niya ay nagfi-fit dun sa description ng mga witness na gumawa ng krimen kaya initially siya ‘yung principal suspect,” Apolinario said.
When the authorities began zeroing in on Jonimar, Palacios decided to confess what she knew about the crime.
The real culprits
According to Palacios, the motorcycle was not stolen. It was merely borrowed by her brother-in-law, a certain Roger Bobby Babago.
She did not know why he borrowed it until they saw on TV that the motorcycle was used to commit a crime. After that, Babago allegedly told her to report the vehicle stolen.
“Ang sabi niya sa’kin, punta ka ng Taguig, at mag-report na-carnap ‘yung motor mo. ‘Wag ka na lang magsalita para walang madamay,” Shirley said.
“Sinabi ko sa kanya, ‘Ayan na ang papel, nasaan na ‘yung motor?’ ‘Wag ko na raw hanapin. Ang sabi lang niya sa’kin, ayusin ko, hawak niya ang mga anak ko.”
Upon hearing Shirley’s story, the authorities immediately moved to arrest Babago. Upon his arrest, Babago revealed his accomplice’s identity—one Arnold Tagalog—and his whereabouts. They arrested Tagalog and recovered from him a .38 calibre gun.
Roger Bobby Babago and Arnold Tagalog where both charged with robbery with homicide. The two are currently detained at the Taguig City Jail while awaiting trial.
|The suspects. (L-R) Roger Bobby Babago and Arnold Tagalog deny killing 15-year-old Rowel Cruz.
Quest for justice
While the people accused of killing their son were already behind bars, for the Cruz family, this was only the beginning of the long road to justice.
“Sabihin niyo lang, aminin ninyo ‘yung totoong ginawa ninyo, mapapatawad ko kayo,” Rowel’s father, Benedicto, said.
“Nagngingitngit ako, pero ang payo nila sa’kin, ‘wag kasi lalong mabigat,” Rowel’s mother, Concepcion, said.
“Pag-aralan mong tanggapin dahil ‘yun ang magpapalaya sa’yo, sa isipan mo, sa damdamin mo. ‘Yung pagpapatawad siguro, ‘di ko alam. Ipinauubaya ko na lang sa Diyos at sa batas.”
Aired on: June 29, 2012
Starting July 14, 2012, SOCO will air Saturdays, 4 p.m. on ABS-CBN.