MANILA, Philippines?The man who should be enjoying his twilight years indulging grandchildren lives alone in the house where his wife and daughters were murdered in 1991.
Lauro Vizconde, now 72, says staying in the cream-and-white bungalow where his wife Estrellita and kids Carmela and Jennifer were stabbed to death is part of the decision to finally accept what happened.
?Maluwag na sa kalooban ko (I?ve come to terms with it). Basta I pray for them before I go to sleep,? he says in a slightly dismissive tone.
Vizconde walks with a stoop, has thinning hair, and wears a hearing aid. He spends much of the day solving Sudoku puzzles.
A long table stands in the lanai that he has converted into an office. On the table are folders, many containing Sudoku puzzles, and an empty Starbucks cup.
Does he like coffee? ?I don?t go out a lot to malls and restaurants. Only when some friends invite me,? he says.
Vizconde never considered renovating the house with the grisly memories. In fact, nearly all the furniture in it at the time of the murders is in use to this day.
Two housemaids, distant relatives recruited from Bulacan, make up the rest of its residents.
The way it was
Vizconde leads the Inquirer to his kids? bedrooms, where, he says, everything is the way it was when they were alive.
?I just change the bed sheets every month,? he says.
The wallpaper in the bedroom of Carmela, 18 when she was killed, has faded so much one can hardly discern the bamboo motif.
A single bed covered with a pink sheet dominates the room. Atop it is a framed photo of the debutante Carmela dressed in a gown with billowy sleeves and carrying a rose. Stuffed toys surround the picture frame like sentries guarding her memory.
?There were more of these teddy bears,? Vizconde says. ?It?s just that many of them had become so soiled I had to throw them away.?
A white side table with Carmela?s textbooks on the shelves faces the bed. Strangely, a small Sto. Niño statue among the books is facing backward.
In Jennifer?s bedroom, the faded aqua blinds are drawn. The wallpaper is now a sad shade of brown.
A low pile of books sits in front of the single bed covered with a green sheet. On top is a copy of Rick Warren?s ?A Prayer-Driven Life.?
On the bed is an unopened ?Happy Birthday Barbie? that Vizconde got for Jennifer, then seven years old, before he flew back to Manila.
Vizconde, then working in a restaurant in South Carolina in the United States, was called home by relatives after the murders.
?A relative told me my father had died. They could not tell me the truth. I thought of buying my wife and daughters a lot of gifts before going home. I filled up two balikbayan boxes,? he recalls.
Barbie?s plastic box, still sealed, has yellowed with time.
Scene of the crime
The master bedroom where Estrellita Vizconde, then 47, and her children were killed is much bigger than the other bedrooms.
?This was where my wife was stabbed to death while hogtied,? Vizconde says, pointing to the right side of the narra bed with a notable mother-of-pearl inlay.
?And here was where Jennifer?s body was found,? he says while walking to the opposite side of the room. ?I changed the mattress and the blood-splattered wallpaper, for obvious reasons.?
He then points to the southwest corner of the room, saying: ?This was where Carmela was raped. An electric fan stood on this spot. Someone pulled out the cord and hogtied Carmela from behind before she was raped.
?They tore a pillowcase in half, used one half to gag Carmela and the other to gag my wife.
?My theory is that Jennifer was asleep at that time and she woke up during the commotion. When she found out that her sister was being raped, according to a psychic whom I believe, she bit Hubert (Webb, the principal convict) in the buttocks and scratched him on the face and neck.
?Hubert was said to be so mad he chased her with a knife. He stabbed her from behind but one stroke was so hard the knife exited her chest.?
It?s a bit disturbing to see and listen to Vizconde calmly recounting the circumstances told him by the unnamed psychic. It?s as if he is telling another man?s story.
Still dreaming of them
On Thursday, Vizconde voiced concern to the Inquirer about the purported lobbying of a Supreme Court justice for a reversal of the guilty verdict issued by the Parañaque Regional Trial Court to Webb and seven others accused of the murders.
The high court had earlier deferred action on the case review. Its spokesperson Jose Midas Marquez said some of the justices had sought time to study the positions of the various sides.
On Friday, Vizconde named the high court official on TV as Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio.
Vizconde believes that this lack of closure is why he continues to dream of his wife and kids almost 20 years after they were killed.
He says that in the first few years, he dreamed of them always looking unhappy.
?It seemed they did not even want to come near me. They just looked at me with sad faces. Sometimes it would be the three of them, sometimes just the girls. Other times it was just my wife,? he says.
But his dreams of them are ?a bit different now,? Vizconde says, adding:
?They approach me although they?re still not saying anything. I?m just asking them for a message. I tell them, ?I?m not stopping getting justice for you.? I think they are guiding me.
?They look a bit happier in my dreams. Sometimes I notice a hint of a smile, but they refuse to be hugged or kissed. They move away when I try to do that.?
Still in the master bedroom, Vizconde says: ?You know, a lot of strange things happen in this room.
?I always lock the three bedrooms whenever I leave the house. But sometimes when I come home late at night, the air conditioner is on. Sometimes this candle beside my Sto. Niño statue is already lighted when I enter the room.
?There are instances when I am in a hurry and I don?t have time to fix my bed because of an early engagement. But when I return, the bed sheets and blankets are well arranged.
?How does that happen when the door is locked??
He also says that at times, half-awake, he notices that the narra bed is shaking, like when his kids were playing on it at night before sleeping.
?I?d be in bed watching TV and the two girls would tease each other, naghaharutan (rough-housing),? Vizconde says. ?Now that I?m alone, the shaking does not bother or scare me. It is to remind me of the happy days.?
It?s been 19 years and five months after the tragedy of June 30, 1991. Had it not come to pass, Carmela would now be 39, Jennifer, 26, and their mother, a card-carrying senior citizen.
The man of the house serves his visitors ?special bibingka (rice cake) from Taytay? after the guided tour. One notices how his hands shake as he hands out glasses of soda.
Vizconde chairs the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC). Apart from that, he has no steady job.
Asked where he gets his income, Vizconde is evasive: ?I used to work as a consultant for [Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp.]. Right now, there is the VACC. There are 5,000 to 10,000 members all over the country. And we have a 98-percent conviction rate in the cases we monitor.?
He says that in 1993, movie director Carlo J. Caparas paid him P75,000 for the rights to do ?The Vizconde Massacre Story? that starred Kris Aquino as Carmela.
?Seventy-five thousand. Was that big money then?? he asks no one in particular.
A second movie was made that starred Vina Morales as Carmela. ?In both movies, I was portrayed by Romeo Vazquez,? he says.
So life goes on for Vizconde:
?As I said, I have already accepted what happened.
?But every night, I pray that they finally find peace, that they be with the Lord.
?They shouldn?t worry about me. I believe the Lord looks after me. The only worry left is how to get justice for them.?