Around 12:00 nn of February 16, 2011, a foul smell wafted through the neighborhood in Santos Teodoro Street, Tondo, Manila.
The stench was so bad that the residents decided to look for its source. Eventually, they traced it to the house of the Amurao family. They knocked on the door for several minutes but nobody was answering.
"Marami nang nagrereklamo nga na mabaho. Ang dami nang tao, mga barangay tanod, chairman. Ayun, nagkagulo na kami,” Leticia Cauyan, a resident, said.
Finally, Edmond Cauyan, a nephew of the owner of the house, decided to scale the gate and enter the house to search for the cause of the smell.
“Kinutuban na ako nun,” Edmond said. “Ang ginawa ko nun, agad akong pumanhik sa bubong para magdaan sa back door. Pagbukas ko ng back door, naapakan ko ‘yung dugo. Kinabahan na ako kaya lumabas na ako.”
They immediately contacted the Manila Police who responded to the scene followed by Scene of the Crime Operatives.
“Nagkalat ang dugo. Nakabukas ang drawer at makikita mo dito na may tungkab ‘yung ibabaw ng susian na indikasyon na ito ay pinuwersa,” Investigator PO3 Ramoncito Tolentino Jr. said.
Beside the said drawer was a sofa. And underneath the sofa was a rotting corpse. The authorities estimated that the victim had been dead for two to three days.
“Lobo na siya eh, lobo talaga,” PO3 Tolentino Jr. said. "'Di mo siya mamumukhan. Nasa stage na siya ng decomposition."
But despite the condition of the body, they were still able to identify her as Bella Cauyan Amurao, 70 years old. According to her relatives, she had been living alone for years.
|The crime scene. The victim was identified as 70-year-old Bella Cauyan Amurao,
the owner of the house.
“Ayaw niya kasing iwan ang bahay na ito dahil memorable ito sa nanay niya,” Edmond said.
“Marami kaming nagsasabi sa kanya na bakit hindi ka pa dun sa anak mo,” Leticia said. “Mas maganda doon, may kwarto ka, may katulong. Talagang ayaw niyang iwan ‘yung bahay.”
But even if Lola Bella lived alone, they never expected that she would die a horrible death.
|The victim. 70-year-old Bella Cauyan Amurao refused to leave her home
because it had sentimental value for her.
Based on the police's initial investigation, robbery was the motive behind the crime. Money and items stolen from the house amounted to a total worth of P200,000. The authorities also deduced that the victim knew the suspect.
“Iniiwasan niyang ma-identify nitong biktima kaya tinuluyan niyang patayin,” PO3 Tolentino said.
Based on post-mortem examination, the victim died due to asphyxia by strangulation. Unfortunately, the authorities remained clueless about the identity of the suspect.
Meanwhile, a few days before Lola Bella’s body was discovered, one of her neighbors, Elizabeth Bituin, was going out of her head looking for her husband who never came home. She called all of his friends, but none of them knew where he was. She even checked the precincts in Manila, but her search remained futile.
Little did Elizabeth know that her husband Jonjon’s disappearance was linked to Lola Bella’s death.
An unexpected confession
Elizabeth eventually became resigned to the idea that maybe her husband finally decided to leave her. Before his disappearance, they had been fighting more than usual.
But on February 16, the day Lola Bella’s body was found, Elizabeth was surprised to find her husband back at their home. She was even more shocked at his reaction when they saw the authorities investigating Lola Bella’s house.
“Nakita ko siya sa taas, natataranta,” Elizabeth said. “Sabi ko, bakit ka natataranta? Ayun, sinabi niya sa akin na meron siyang nagawang disgrasya.”
Eventually, Jonjon confessed to Elizabeth that he killed Lola Bella.
Elizabeth didn’t know what to do.
“Di ko po alam kung ibibigay ko po o isusuko ko,” Elizabeth said. “Noong nakakita po ng SOCO sa labas, ura-uradang umalis. Nagpunta siya ng Bulacan."
Jonjon was able to escape the authorities, but not Lola Bella. The night her body was found, Lola Bella allegedly visited Jonjon in his dreams.
A visit from the dead
Jonjon barely slept because he allegedly kept dreaming about Lola Bella. Back at their home, his wife Elizabeth couldn’t sleep either.
The next day, Elizabeth decided to go to the authorities.
“Nung time na mahimasmasan ako, isinuko ko na rin po,” Elizabeth said. “Ako po ang nagturo doon. Kasi ayoko ring ano, baka i-salvage, patayin. Hindi rin ako mapakali.”
The authorities immediately sent a team to Bulacan. When they spotted Jonjon, the suspect didn’t even attempt to resist. He was all pale and frightened.
“Wala sa ayos ang pananalita niya,” PO3 Tolentino Jr. recalled. “Nanginginig siya, natatakot siya. Parang nakokonsensya ito, parang nagpapakita sa kanya [si Lola Bella] kasi nga ginawa niya, di siya makatulog. Kung saan-saan tumitingin, ganun.”
The victim’s relatives were enraged when they found out that it was Jonjon who killed Lola Bella.
“Maayos naman ang pakikitungo [namin] sa kanya,” Edmond said. “Kung minsan, inuutusan ni Lola Bella at binabayaran naman.”
They figured this is why Lola Bella visited him in his dreams.
“Kasi kilala siya ng tiyahin ko eh,” Edmond said. “Kaya siguro ginagawa sa kanya ‘yun para pagsisihan niya ang ginagawa niya. Sa aming mga kamag-anak, hindi naman siya nagparamdam. Siguro nagpapakita sa kanya kasi karumal-dumal ang ginawa sa tiyahin ko.”
|The suspect. Jonjon Bituin confessed to his wife that he killed Bella Amurao.
Justice for Lola Bella
Elizabeth filed her sworn statement on her husband’s confession about the crime. Jonjon also wrote a letter admitting his crime.
Meanwhile, in a cellphone video taken by the victim’s relatives, Jonjon said his only motive was to rob Lola Bella. He also said that he had an accomplice, a one Gerry Diaz. Some of the victim’s jewelries were recovered in his possession.
However, Diaz denied taking part in a crime.
“Sabi niya, ‘Sir hindi po ako kasama doon sa pangyayari. Kinabukasan po, ibinigay niya sa’kin ‘yan, nagpatulong siya para ibenta ito,'” PO3 Tolentino Jr. said.
Jonjon Bituin and Gerry Diaz were both charged with robbery with homicide. But the charges against Gerry Diaz were dropped later on.
“Mahina ‘yung ebidensya na kasabwat siya dun sa crime,” Atty. Aldrin Gupita, Asst. City Prosecutor said. “Kasi ang ebidensya lang doon o reference ay ang statement mismo ni Jonjon Bituin na kasam niya si Gerry Diaz. There was a resolution stating that Gerry Diaz is only guilty or can only be charged with fencing.”
Meanwhile, the prosecutor believed that they had strong evidence against Jonjon Bituin. Especially since it was his wife who issued a testimony against him.
“More than helping the family of the victim, matutulungan din niya ang asawa niya na maayos ang kalagayan,” said Atty. Gupita.
During the arraignment, the defendant pleaded “not guilty” to the charges of robbery with homicide. He is currently detained at the Manila City Jail.
“Habangbuhay na siguro siya dun,” Edmund, the victim’s nephew said. “Wala na rin naman siyang silbi sa kanila. Pwede na siya dun habangbuhay.”