GINGOOG CITY, Philippines — Cherry Mae Velasco sat quietly outside her grandmother’s house in Barangay 23 Gahub here. A faint smile was plastered on her face while she listened to her younger cousins exchange pleasantries.
Relatives of Cherry Mae described her as a “Papa’s girl,” who found it difficult to sleep at night when her father was still out working.
The 12-year-old girl is the youngest child of Bartolome “Tome” Velasco, 43, Mayor Ruth de Lara Guingona’s driver and bodyguard, who was killed when their convoy was attacked by the New People’s Army rebels, on Saturday night.
Bartolome’s younger brother, Nestor, also died in the clash. Another brother, Nelson, survived because he was assigned with the mayor’s daughter, Marie, whose vehicle was an hour ahead of the convoy.
Relatives of the Velasco brothers said that Tome, earlier identified by his other nickname “Tomas,” had been working as a driver-bodyguard of the mayor the past eight years. Nestor, on the other hand, had been employed by the mayor’s office for a month.
Rosalie, youngest sister of the victims, said the siblings would always help out each other, especially during times when one of them needed work. It was Nelson who recommended Tome and Nestor to the mayor’s office.
“My brothers were very good persons. We are a simple family but we were very close…whenever I came to visit, they were always excited and happy,” she said.
She said that while preparing for the mayor’s engagement last Saturday evening, Nelson told Tome that he had a bad feeling about their trip. Tome, however, told his brother that they should just pray for the group’s safety.
Tome also told Nelson that if the so-called “bad feelings” were true, he would protect the mayor at all cost.
On the way back to the city, the mayor’s convoy was attacked by NPA rebels. There were reports that the mayor was found alive under the bodies of Tome and Nestor.
The NPA-North Central Mindanao Regional Command has issued a statement, saying that Guingona’s convoy was the first to open fire at their checkpoint. The NPA also apologized to the Guingonas, the Velascos and the people of Gingoog City for the “unfortunate incident.”
“We offer our condolences and express our deepest sympathy for the bereaved families…we will exhaust all efforts to contact the families and extend our indemnification,” the statement said.
The Velascos were told of the brothers’ fate early Sunday morning, but it was Rosalie who went to the funeral home, as the wives of her brothers could still not accept what had happened.
She said Tome sustained several gunshot wounds, while Nestor only had a single wound in the head.
“When I was told that the mayor was found under their bodies, I could not help but think that they kept their promise to protect her…Tome had always said that he was ready to give up his life to the person who helps him feed his family,” she said.
The Velascos decided to have the wake at their parents’ house, just a stone’s throw away from where Tome and Nestor lived.
When the bodies of the Velasco brothers arrived at their parents’ house on Monday noon, Cristy Velasco, wife of Tome, could not look at her husband.
“Anak (child), go take a look at your father,” was all Cristy could say to her daughter.
“I want justice for my husband,” she said.
Josephine, Nestor’s wife, was crying while hugging her five children when the body of her husband was brought in.
Cherry Mae, sobbing, hugged her Uncle Nelson and could only say “Papa, Papa….”