At torture victims’ wakes, kin ask: Why the brutality?
SAN PEDRO CITY — Ephraim Escudero and Ronnie Pionilla lived in the same neighborhood, their houses not more than a hundred meters apart, but they shared little in common and this included being found dead more than 100 kilometers from their homes with signs of torture.
On Sept. 21, their bodies were found 10 kilometers apart in two sites in Pampanga.
That of Ephraim, 18, a cell phone repairman, turned up in Angeles City. In Porac town, some 10 kilometers away, the body of Pionilla, 52, was found. Both bore signs of torture and gunshot wounds.
The last time the two were seen alive was on Sept. 19. Security camera footage taken around 6 p.m. that day showed Ephraim driving his motorcycle with two passengers — Pionilla and an unidentified man — in the village of Cuyab in this city, a maze of narrow alleys where everyone knew everyone.
How and why both men ended up dead in Pampanga, at least 121 kilometers from this city, puzzled the neighborhood.
Ephraim’s sister, Sheerah, said her brother, a lanky teenager, barely knew Pionilla, who had a larger build.
The second passenger on Ephraim’s motorcycle “we don’t recognize at all,” said Mario Boy Pastidio, village chief of Cuyab.
Using tabloid stories about missing persons or dumped bodies as leads, the parents of Ephraim ended their search for him at a funeral parlor in Angeles on Sept. 24. Ephraim still wore the clothes he had on when he disappeared. A “Thug Life” tattoo on his left arm confirmed the body’s identity, according to Sheerah.
The family, however, still could not fathom why Ephraim would end up in Angeles when he neither had relatives nor friends there.
Ephraim’s body was dumped on an unlit section of Oregon Street in the village of Anunas in Angeles past 1 a.m. on Sept. 21, according to Supt. Nixon Cayaban, police chief of Angeles. The village hosts Angeles’ Korean town at the perimeter of Clark Freeport.
Pictures taken by police showed Escudero’s head wrapped in packaging tape, with blood trickling from two bullet wounds. His wrists and ankles were tied in the back also with packaging tape.
Pionilla suffered a more painful death. His teeth were missing, apparently removed by his tormentors. His throat was slashed. His stomach was emptied and filled with tiny bits of glass. His head bore a fist-sized hole from gunshots.
Ephraim was known in Cuyab as a quiet kid. He rarely went out of his house, said the village chief, Pastidio. “I don’t think he even had that many friends here,” Pastidio said.
Pastidio knew the Escudero family to be Born Again Christians and Ephraim didn’t have any record of misconduct.
Pionilla had just gotten out of city jail in March, according to his sister Maria Tripulca. He was arrested for “firing a gun,” Maria said. She insisted that Ephraim knew Pionilla.
Asked about neighbors’ claim that Pionilla was involved in robbery and holdups, Maria refused to talk. “All I can say is that the kid (Ephraim) got a pretty good motorcycle,” she said.
The motorcycle and Ephraim’s two cell phones were never found. His father, who owns the cell phone repair shop, had given the motorcycle as a “gift” to Ephraim, said Sheerah, Ephraim’s sister.
“I never thought it could happen to my own brother,” Sheerah said. As a campus journalist, she said she had written about the murder of Kian Loyd delos Santos, the 17-year-old killed by police in Caloocan City.
Sheerah, however, admitted Ephraim used to be a drug user. He was just 15 years old when he used marijuana and “shabu” (crystal meth), Sheerah said.
“But he had stopped. He changed when his [first] son was born and spent his time helping out Papa in the shop,” she said.
Ephraim left two boys—a 2-year-old and an 11-month-old baby. Pionilla had two grownup daughters living in Quezon.
The Escudero family vowed to seek justice for Ephraim. “He was just collateral damage,” Sheerah said. “If we don’t speak up, the killings of innocent people would go on.”
The Pionilla family didn’t talk about justice. Their only wish was to give Pionilla a decent burial. “We don’t even have the money to pay the funeral home in Pampanga,” Maria said.
Angeles police chief Cayaban said a witness reported hearing two gunshots and seeing a white van with no license plate leave after Ephraim was thrown out of the vehicle. No other leads were available.
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