Coming from a poor family, Rochelle Geronda or Cesil learned how to fend for herself at a very young age. She was only in second grade when she began selling sampaguitas at a church in Los Baños, Laguna. Whatever little amount she earned, she gave to her mother.
“Sa edad niyang ‘yun eh hindi dapat ‘yun ang takbo ng utak niya. Naroon siya [dapat] sa lebel ng paglalaro,” says Lanie, Cesil’s mother. “Lagi niyang inaalala ‘yung katayuan ng buhay namin.”
Even after she reached high school, she didn’t stop selling sampaguitas. She used her earnings to sustain her studies.
“Kahit ala-una na, basta may project siya, talagang gagawin niya ‘yun. Halimbawang may activities sa school na medyo malaki, pag-iipunan niya ‘yun,” Lanie recalled. “Kasi siya talaga ‘yung nangangarap na makapagtapos.”
Unfortunately, Cesil never lived to see her dream become a reality. The 14-year-old "sampaguita girl" became the victim of a gruesome murder.
|SOCO, Gus Abelgas, justice, Rochelle Geronda, crime, crime scene, investigation
The disappearance of Cesil
At around 8:00 p.m. on February 28, 2012, one of Cesil’s friends came to their house to pick her up so they could go to an internet shop and work on their assignment. Since it was already late, Lanie forbade her daughter to leave.
However, Cesil left anyway.
At around 11:00 p.m., Lanie began to worry, as her daughter still had not come home. The next day, she went to Cesil’s classmate's house to check if her daughter slept over, but she wasn’t there.
Lanie became more anxious and enlisted the help of her son-in-law, John (not his real name). They scoured Barangay Batong Malake in Los Baños, Laguna. In the middle of their search, John came across an item belonging to Cesil—a slipper.
What he saw next shocked him.
“Pagdampot ko [nung tsinelas], pagtingin ko sa may bandang kanan, wala na, bangkay na po 'yung hipag ko,” John said. “Nung nakita ko po ‘yung bangkay, initsa ko po ‘yung tsinelas sa may puno. Hindi ko maintindihan kung anong gagawin ko. Naisip ko na lang, pinatawag ko biyenan ko.”
When word that John had found Cesil's body reached Lanie, she rushed to the site with her husband, Wilfredo. Upon seeing her daughter’s body—naked with with her jogging pants tied around her neck—Lanie broke down.
“Pagtingin ko, gusto kong dambahin,” she said. “Niyakap ko ang manugang ko. Sabi ko, buhay ‘yan, tanggalin ninyo ‘yung nasa leeg. Nagsisigaw na ‘ko.”
The incident was reported immediately to the Los Baños police. Task Force Rochel was formed to facilitate the investigation.
|The crime scene.
“Nung tingnan natin ang crime scene, walang sign of struggle, o na dun ni-rape ang bata,” said P/C Inspector Vicente Cabatingan, Team Leader of the Laguna Special Task Group. “Sabi ng first responder, pagkita pa lang niya sa body ng bata, parang nilinisan.”
“Mga five meters [away], merong mga patak-patak ng dugo,” he said.
“Ang tingin ko dito, parang ilalayo nila ang bangkay ng bata. Parang isasakay nila sa tricycle. ‘Yun ang sikretong daan palabas sa area sa Los Baños. Pwedeng dumaan ang tricycle. Wala sigurong tricycle, walang pumunta na maaaring sakyan nila [kaya] napilitan silang itapon na lang sa lugar na ‘yun, na daanan.”
Based on post-mortem examination, the victim sustained wounds to her head and stomach, but the cause of death was asphyxia by strangulation.
Upong searching the crime scene further, they found an orange flashlight that looked oddly like a child’s toy. They hoped that the item would lead them to the perpetrators.
The search for justice
During the days that followed, Lanie remained dazed.
“Anak ko ang kailangan ko,” she said. “’Di ko kailangan ang anumang pangarap niyang ‘yun. Sabi ko nga, kahit naging tamad na lang siya mag-aral basta buhay siya."
"Talagang ang sakit-sakit. Hindi ko maipaliwanag ang sakit na naramdaman ko. Sobrang sakit. Kaya kong tanggapin na wala na siya. Iniisip ko, nasa Panginoon na siya ngayon. Talagang ang buhay, hiram lang. Ang di ko matanggap, ‘yung pamamaraan kung paano siya nawala.”
The authorities couldn’t find any lead on the suspects.
“Nung burol niya, hindi na ako umasa na may mahuhuli. Kasi, unang-una nga, walang nakakita,” Lanie said. “Kaya tuwing iniinterview ako, ang sinasabi ko, kung sinuman ang nakakita sa nangyari sa anak ko, makonsensya naman, tumulong na malutas ang kaso ng anak ko.”
Even Cesil’s friends tried to help bring justice to her death. All around Los Baños, Laguna, they put up posters with her photo, calling for possible witnesses to step forward.
But come Cesil’s burial, justice remained elusive.
|A mother’s grief. “Kaya kong tanggapin na wala na siya...Ang di ko matanggap, ‘yung pamamaraan
A few days after the burial, Lanie suddenly remember that during Cesil’s wake, a woman approached her and offered her condolences. Lanie vaguely remembered the woman saying that there were two men behind the crime.
“Palibhasa blangkong-blangko ako noon, hindi ako kumikibo,” Lanie recalled. “Sabi ko sa mister ko, parang may alam [‘yung babae]. Binaybay ko ‘yung mga salita niya.”
During the succeeding days, Lanie would often see the woman in their street but she couldn’t find the courage to approach her.
“Naisip ko kasi baka matakot sa’kin. Baka mali ako ng paraan ng pakikipag-usap, sa halip na tulungan ako, baka mainis o matakot sa’kin,” she said.
Lanie then decided to inform the authorities about the woman. Upon receiving this information, they traced the woman and eventually got her statement.
ABS-CBN SOCO was able to interview the said witness.
According to Elvie (not her real name), at around 11:00 p.m. on February 28, she was walking outside their compound when she noticed two suspicious-looking men.
“Galing ako dito sa bahay, papuntang palengke,” Elvie said. “Malayo pa ako, may naririnig na akong nagbobomba. Nung malapit na ako sa kubo nila, bukas ang pinto. May nagbobomba na isang lalaki na may kalakihan ang katawan. Tapos diretso po akong naglalakad sa may unahan. Bukas ang pinto. Pagtapat ko mismo, sabay flashlight. Ngayon, paglabas nila ng pintuan sa likuran, may karga silang bata.”
At the time, Elvie thought nothing of what she saw. But the next day, she heard about what happened to Cesil.
“Napamura ako doon,” Elvie said. “Sumagi po sa isip ko ‘yung nakita ko kagabi na karga-karga nila na nilabas sa bahay sa likuran. ‘Dun ko naisip na ‘yung bata na ‘yun ‘yung dala nila, ‘yun na ‘yun.”
Elvie said that when one of the men turned the flashlight on, she saw their faces and recognized them.
The two men were identified as Alberto Segui and Fredolin Presenta, both security guards.
Aside from Elvie, another witness who did not wish to be identified surfaced and confirmed that the orange flashlight found at the crime scene belonged to Alberto Segui.
The testimonies gave the investigation a clearer direction.
“Ngayon, nung tiningnan natin ang crime scene, walang sign of struggle na dun ni-rape ‘yung batang ‘yun,” P/C. Insp. Cabatingan said. “Ang analysis naming dun, dun pa lang sa may mangga, kinuha na si Rochel. At pinagbasehan natin ‘yung tama sa tiyan niya. May posibilidad na sinuntok siya, nawalan ng malay, ipinasok siya sa kubo.”
The authorities deduced that, afterwards, the suspects killed Cesil to silence her.
Immediately, the Laguna Special Task Group mounted an operation to catch the perpetrators.
“Isang concerned citizen ang nag-text sa’kin, sabi, sir may putukan pong nangyari dito. Nag-iinuman kasi. Nirespondehan namin. Tamang-tama, nakita naming si Alberto Segui, pumasok agad sa bahay,” P/C Cabatingan recounted.
They quickly arrested Segui. Inside his house, they confiscated several drug paraphernalia and a gun. Later on, they also arrested Presenta.
Alberto Segui and Fredolin Presenata were both charged with rape with homicide and are currently detained at the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology detention center in Los Baños, Laguna.
Cesil's family continues to grieve for the loss of a loving daughter.
“Kahit mahatulan na sila, hindi sapat,” Lanie said. “Parang hindi ako nakukuntento. Gusto ko talaga, maghirap sila. Kasi ginawa nila ‘yun eh. Hindi disgrasya ‘yun."
"Sa nangyari sa anak ko, para nila akong binaunan ng sibat sa dibdib ko na hindi ko mabunut-bunot sa sobrang sakit. Hindi ko sila kayang patawarin kahit anong mangyari."
Aired on August 25, 2012