The first day of 2021 was Christine Dacera’s last.
She and a group of friends checked in at the City Garden Grand Hotel in Makati City on December 31 to ring in the new year. The next day, she was gone.
It was not the ending anyone could have imagined for the 23-year-old flight attendant, who friends described as cheery and reliable, and who her airline called “upstanding.”
Like most her age, Dacera- Tin to her close friends- was fond of posting on social media. She loved creating short videos on TikTok, dancing to the trendiest tunes. She had the moves for it— not surprising as she was active in a dance company back in college, at the University of the Philippines Mindanao. She had a lot of fun, and she was funny.
On Instagram, she showed off her many poses- from goofy to fierce- commanding over 108,000 followers with her workout sessions, pool dips, walkabouts, meals out, and random moments that told of a young, vibrant and filled life. She was an influencer in her own right.
Statuesque and stunning, the General Santos native joined beauty pageants. And in school, she was an achiever, finishing her communication arts degree a cum laude. As she put it herself in a June 2017 Instagram post to mark her graduation in all caps: “UTAK. PUSO. GANDA.”
She was just starting to fulfill her dreams, said her mother Sharon. She had always wanted to be a flight attendant and hoped to take her family on an overseas tour one day. And so her death, so abrupt and tragic, was inconceivable.
“Christine is a very good girl, she’s a promising girl, nakita niyo naman kung gaano kaganda ‘yung anak ko di ba? Mabait ang anak ko (You saw how beautiful she is right? She is a good daughter),” an emotional Sharon Dacera told a press briefing on Tuesday, still speaking of her “baby,” the second among four siblings, in present tense.
She brushed aside insinuations on her daughter’s character, which on social media have drawn backlash for victim-blaming.
“Ganito lang po, whatever they’re saying that my daughter is bad, they can make [up] their own own stories… But, ito lang ‘yung tanong ko: Ano bang karapatan niyo para babuyin at patayin ang walang kalaban-laban na babae na nag-iisa? Anong karapatan niyo?” she said in tears and anger.
(My only question is: What right do you have to violate and kill a helpless woman who was by herself? What right you do you have?)
The beginning of the end happened on December 31, when Dacera checked in with friends at the City Garden Grand Hotel in Makati City. She knew the hotel manager, her friends said. She was the only girl in the group.
She had told her mom she was attending a yearend party when they spoke by phone around 12:35 a.m., the mother said.
“Sabi ko ‘nak saan ka mag-New Year? So sabi niya ‘ay ma ‘dun sa hotel.' Sabi ko ‘sinong kasama mo ‘nak’? Sabi niya ‘siyempre ‘yung mga friends ko rin na flight attendant’,” Sharon told reporters on Jan. 4.
A friend, Andrei Barretto, also had an exchange with Dacera while she was at the hotel.
Responding to an IG story Dacera had posted, Barretto said he greeted her a happy new year and asked where she was.
“‘Nandito nag-book kami ng room kasama ‘yung mga friends ko,” Barretto said, recalling Dacera’s reply in an interview on Jan. 5.
(I’m with my friends, we booked a hotel room.)
He said he issued caution.
“Sabi ko ‘baka mapa’no ka d’yan.’ Sabi niya 'negats day kasi mas mga babae pa ito sa akin’,” Barretto said of his last conversation with Dacera.
Details about the party remain scant, except that there were too many sharing the room- City Garden’s Room 2209. Next door, in Room 2207, there was another group having some merriment, said Gregorio de Guzman, among Dacera’s friends now considered a suspect.
“Puro mga lalaki at para pong bakla kagaya namin, mas may edad po,” he said in a TV Patrol interview on June 5.
(They were all men but it seemed they were also gay like us but older.)
Watch Gregorio de Guzman’s interview:
He said Dacera was very happy at the party.
“Tuwang-tuwa si Tin, ang saya namin, ‘yun po naalala ko,” he said.
(Tin was so happy, we were happy, that’s what I remember.)
It remains unclear what time the party ended and at what point the group of friends drifted to sleep.
Around 12:30 p.m. of January 1, De Guzman found Dacera in the bathtub. She was unresponsive.
“Chineck ko ‘yung ilong niya… kung may air na lumalabas… wala. Tapos chineck ko kung may heartbeat siya. Wala rin,” said De Guzman.
(I checked if there was air coming out of her nose… there was none. I checked if she had a heartbeat. There was none.)
He and another friend then moved Dacera out of the tub so he could try to resuscitate her. He said he tried to wake her up.
“Sabi ko ‘Tin, Tin, babe, gising na, gising na, please,’ tapos inumpisahan ko mag-CPR. Tapos sa bandang isip ko, bakit ayaw niyang gumising? Tumutuyo na bibig ko,” an emotional De Guzman recalled.
(I said ‘Tin, Tin, babe, wake up, please,’ then I started doing CPR. Then in my mind I was thinking why won’t she wake up? My mouth was running dry.)
“Naalala ko malambot pa siya. Naalala ko nung binuhat namin siya gamit ‘yung arms niya palabas ng tub, warm pa siya,” he said, adding the group took care of Dacera.
(I remember she was still limber. I remember when we carried her out of the tub with her arms, she was still warm.)
The initial police report said De Guzman and his friends told hotel management about what happened and brought Dacera to the hotel clinic for another CPR attempt. There was an “absence of pulse” and “no sign of life” at that point. She was then rushed to the Makati Medical Center but declared dead there.
Dacera’s mother was beyond devastated when news of her daughter’s death came.
“Nung nagsabi siya na namatay na “Ha?, sabi ko ha? Nag-usap pa kami kaninang 12:35 in the morning’! As a mother sabihan ka na namatay na, so siyempre magwo-wonder ano nangyari sa anak ko?” she said.
(When [her friend] told me she had died, I said “what? We just spoke at 12:35 in the morning! As a mother when you are told your child had died, you’d wonder what happened.)
Autopsy revealed Dacera died of ruptured aortic aneurism. But police are considering her death a crime given scratches and bruises found on her body, with suspicion of sexual abuse.
There were no drugs found at the hotel room, but Makati Police Chief Police Col. Harold Depositar said one of Dacera’s friends shared that she spoke of someone possibly spiking her drink that night.
“Sabi niya ‘parang may nilagay sa drinks ko, parang sumama pakiramdam ko,” Depositar said in a TV Patrol interview of what Dacera allegedly told her friend hours before her death.
([Dacera said] ‘I think there’s something in my drink, I’m not feeling good.)
The toxicology report on the case has yet to be released as of this writing.
At least 11 people are facing rape with homicide charges. But they are denying that what happened was a crime, that there was rape. For one, said De Guzman, those with Dacera that evening were all gay.
As many questions still surround Dacera’s death, her mother appealed on others who were in her daughter’s company in her final hours to surface and say what they know.
“Gusto ko lang manawagan, lalo na sa mga taong involved duon sa aksidente na nangyari sa anak ko. Kung inosente po kayo, lumabas kayo. Kung gusto niyo patunayan na wala kayong kasalanan, lumabas kayo,” she said.
(I just want to call on those involved in the accident that happened to my daughter. If you are innocent, come out. If you want to prove that you did nothing wrong, come out.)