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The afternoon of April 5, 1994, a Tuesday, was just like any other afternoon reserved by residents of Torentigue Street in Sitio Wawa, Barangay San Juan, Morong, Rizal for siesta. The sun was burning that day as it had been all summer. Housewife Arlene Soriano remembers how it was so hot that afternoon that no one dared to venture outside.
But everything stopped being predictable at around 1:30 p.m. when Arlene heard a loud knocking sound, followed
by distant screams of terror from somewhere across the street. Something bad, she knew, was happening.
She stepped outside, walked to their small garage, which directly faced Torentigue Street, and tried to determine where the ruckus was coming from. Seconds later, she saw her neighbor and distant relative, 28-year-old Ferdinand "Dinand" San Juan armed with a bolo. He hacked away forcefully at the wooden door of the second of two houses planted on the small family-owned compound. The screams were coming from inside the house, from where the family renting it begged Ferdinand for mercy. Lost in the commotion was Aida, Ferdinand’s mother, who was in the house nearby. She repeatedly asked his son to return home.
Minutes passed and Ferdinand ﬁnally listened to his mother’s pleas, following her to their small, wooden hut. Mother and son disappeared from Arlene’s line of sight for a while. But after a few minutes, Arlene heard what sounded like faint sobbing coupled with the noise produced when metal banged into something solid.
The next thing she saw was Ferdinand walking out of the compound’s bamboo fence. His eyes were cold and demonic, his shirt was stained with blood, which, Arlene reckoned, was not Ferdinand’s. As his neighbor came into full view, the sheer horror became shockingly apparent. In his hand, Ferdinand clutched his mother’s severed head.
A HEAD IN TEARS
Ferdinand carried his mother’s head for about ﬁve meters before deciding to rest along the cement railing that separated Torentigue Street from the Morong River. He sat down, laid the head on the railing, put his hands on his knees and stared blankly ahead.
“Nung una, tinanong siya kung anong dala niya, di raw sumasagot,” says Baby San Juan, 54, another Torentigue resident and Ferdinand’s ﬁrst cousin. “Hanggang napansing ulo nga ng ina niya yun. Pumipintig pa nga raw yung ugat sa leeg.” Adds Arlene: “At sabi pa nga ng tao roon lumuluha pa raw yung ulo bago ipikit yung mata, parang buhay pa.”
A crowd of people, including Baby, gathered and surrounded Ferdinand. Everyone agreed to retrieve her mother’s head and stop Ferdinand from causing further harm. Ferdinand, suddenly roused by their plan, budged, ready to ﬁght. “Malakas siya,” recalls Baby. “Kaya yung mga tutulong, kahit na may dala pang tubo at kahoy, di makalapit nang basta-basta kasi baka sila naman ang mapatay ni Dinand.”
But emboldened by their resolve to do what was right, the crowd grabbed Ferdinand. A struggle ensued. Ferdinand did his best to defend himself, but he was overpowered by the mob.
He was hog-tied before being brought by responding policemen to the town’s police station, where he’d later be locked up indeﬁnitely. A couple of days later, the then Morong Police Chief decided that Ferdinand would be better off serving time in the National Center for Mental Health in Mandaluyong. A court trial, it was agreed, was no longer necessary.
Twenty one years ago, this basketball court was damp land and a cement
railing. It’s where Aida San Juan’s severed head was last seen.
SPREADS LIKE WILDFIRE
Life in the third-class municipality of Morong, approximately 60 kilometers east of Manila, is as rustic as it gets. Most of its 14.5 square miles of land is devoted to farming, which explains why the town’s ﬁnances pale in comparison to nearby, more industrialized Antipolo City (the Rizal capital) and Tanay.
Like any small town, everyone in Morong seems to know one another. If you’re looking for a particular person, for example, chances are you’ll meet someone who knows someone who knows the person you want to meet.
It can’t be helped. Most of the Morong residents went to the same high school together. Those who can afford it are usually enrolled at the two private schools, Saint Jerome Academy and Tomas Claudio Memorial College (TCMC), while the rest of the majority take their secondary education at the two public schools, Morong National High School and University of Rizal System (Laboratory High School).
Acquaintances, too, can turn into instant friends while watching senakulo during Holy Week, or the amateur singing contest during ﬁesta, or the basketball league games during summer, all of which the Morong residents still actively embrace.
Hence, an “accident” like the San Juan beheading will always be the talk of the town. On the day the news of the grisly crime broke out, almost all residents of the eight barangays that comprised the whole of Morong were updated.
Days later, more details about the incident came to light. “Bagong paligo raw noon ang Tiya Aida,” recalls Baby of one of the accounts that had since been passed on about her cousin’s dastardly act. “[Nung napasunod na niya sa kanya si Dinand] pag talikod niya’y pinukpok agad siya ni Dinand. Eh di bumagsak, tapos hinila niya si Tiya Aida sa ulo at ikinalang ang kanyang leeg doon sa gutter na semento sa tabi ng poso nila.”
It was there, according to Baby, that Ferdinand mercilessly chopped off his mother’s exposed neck. The countless retelling also attempted to explain the reasons behind Ferdinand’s actions. The details of which were as chilling as
the incident itself.
FRUSTRATION AND DEMENTIA
“Mabait si Dinand, tahimik lamang,” says Arlene of his neighbor. “Magandang lalaki, maputi, at husto sa tangkad.” “Matalino rin,” adds childhood friend Al Alcantara, 44, also Ferdinand’s distant relative and whose house sits right beside the San Juan compound. “Sa katunayan eh siya ang unang valedictorian ng Ramon Tantiongco Elementary School dito sa Wawa.”
Neighbor Arlene Soriano and Nelson Jarin witnessed Ferdinand’s
change in personality and eventual demise.
During their high school days, continues Al, Ferdinand was also consistently regarded as one of the best students in school. He was even an undergraduate of TCMC, which, in a town where most high school graduates couldn’t afford to go to college, was considered already an achievement.
An only child, Ferdinand was always showered with tremendous love and affection by his parents—Marcelino or Ka Mansi and Aida. “Noong bata kami, parating up to date ang mga laruan niya. Noong time na mga estudyante naman kami, puro original ang suot niyan, ibinibili ng magulang,” narrates Al. This, despite their limited earning capacity.
Ka Mansi was a World War II guerilla. He was born with a small gimp, which worsened after he had been hit by shrapnel during the war. Aida, a Bicolana, had crooked arms. She was a plain housewife mainly because of her disability and her recurring bouts with arthritis. When Ka Mansi’s brother-in-law was elected town mayor in the
early ’80s, Ferdinand’s father was recruited as a city hall employee tasked to collect fees from vendors who occupied stalls being rented out in the local palengke.
Unfortunately, Ka Mansi’s tenure was short-lived, ending when his brother-in-law’s term lapsed. The family was, from then on, left to live off Ka Mansi’s pension and the dole outs given them by generous relatives. It was at this
point when Ferdinand began to express his frustration over what he had perceived as his unlucky fate.
“Nagkaroon siya ng inferiority complex gawa ng estado nila sa buhay,” shares Virgilio Alcantara, 51, Ferdinand’s second cousin and currently the chief of the Barangay Tanod of Barangay San Juan, Morong. “Hindi niya maatim na anak siya ng mahirap. Tapos inayawan pa iyan ng kanyang girlfriend.”
To augment the family income, Virgilio says Ferdinand accepted an offer from an uncle to be employed at a cement factory in a nearby town. “Hindi rin siya nagtagal doon. Hindi niya natanggap yung trabaho kasi komo labor, samantalang siya ay matalino. Yan ang naging dahilan kung bakit siya naging aburido sa buhay. Ang alam ko nag-adik pa nga siya. Pero sandali lamang, saka cough syrup lang at kaunting marijuana. Hindi siya umabot sa shabu.”
HIGH ON GOD'S WORDS
Once he got off the drugs, Ferdinand developed a new obsession, one that would strangely lead to his parents’ demise—the Holy Bible.
A couple of years before Ferdinand killed his mother, a religious group had invited him to regular Bible studies. “Charismatic” is how these groups are called in Morong. Soon, he shared to people close to him about his growing
obsession with the Holy Book.
“Ang pagkakakuwento niya, sinasaliksik niya kung talagang makatotohanan yung nakasulat sa Bible,” remembers Virgilio. “Nagba-Bible study siya kahit kung minsan di siya kumakain. Siyempre pagkaganoon, pilit niyang inaalam yung yung laman ng Bible kahit di pa siya kumakain, nagkahangin ang utak.
Baby remembers that her cousin could go on reading the Bible uninterrupted for almost three days without eating. As days passed, what everyone thought was mere curiosity had changed Ferdinand in ways no one had expected.
“Kapag sinusumpong yung batang iyon, umaalis,” Baby shares. Hanap naman agad siya ng ama. Minsan nakarating si Dinand sa Plaza, hubo’t-hubad. Hinuli ng pulis at ikinulong. Minsan tumalon naman sa ilog at sumisigaw na siya raw si Juan Bautista (John the Baptist).
Morong River: where Ferdinand— believing he was John the Baptist— once took a dip
Virgilio, who was then driving a passenger jeepney plying the Crossing-Tanay route, also recalls seeing a naked and dazed Ferdinand in neighboring town Cardona, walking with no obvious destination. “Ang sabi ba naman sa akin ay siya raw si Samuel Bilibit, yung palaboy sa Bible. Pilit ko siyang pinasasakay pero nanlaban siya. Malakas. Doon pa lang naramdaman ko nang may ibang sumasapi sa kanya. Yun bang wala na sa loob niya yung kanyang mga ginagawa.”
But in spite of his antics, no one thought Ferdinand was capable of committing heinous crimes, Virgilio adds.
Ka Mansi visited Ferdinand every week in Mandaluyong, much to the objection of his relatives. He still loved his son and forgave him for the murder of his wife. It broke the old man’s heart that his only child had become an outcast. Worse, a criminal.
After almost a year of treatment, Ferdinand was declared mentally ﬁt to rejoin society. Romulo San Juan, 69, one of Ka Mansi’s younger brothers, recalls that during Ferdinand’s stay in Mandaluyong, his nephew exhibited lucidity when being grilled by the doctors. (Citing doctor-patient conﬁdentiality, the National Center for Mental Health turned down FHM’s request to view Ferdinand San Juan’s record).
Delighted by the good news, Ka Mansi brought home his cured son. He built another shanty for them to live in, one that was a little closer to the street. He even bought a television for his son’s entertainment.
Life upon Ferdinand’s return, though, was anything but normal. Fifty-year-old Nelson Jarin, a tricycle pedicab builder and Arlene’s husband, witnessed how Ferdinand’s dark side manifested itself again. “Isang araw nagpunta rito ang Ka Mansi, nagsumbong sa akin. ‘Lintik na batang iyan. Nagwawala na naman roon.’” he narrates. The old man then recounted how he had managed to chain his son to their house. Ferdinand’s eyes, he said, was shot with fury.
On days Ferdinand exhibited these tendencies, Ka Mansi would be forced to lock up his son. He was afraid, of course, knowing ﬁrst hand what his son was capable of doing. But there were days when Ferdinand appeared normal and freely mingled with friends and relatives.
Virgilio Alcantara, Ferdinand's cousin, who believed that
Ferdinandwas possessed by something evil.
A MADDER MAN
But on March 27, 1997, whatever demons routinely possessed Ferdinand ﬁnally got the better of him. “Report reached this station that a mentally deranged person was running amok and, armed with a bolo, attacked everyone in sight in Sitio Wawa,” read a police blotter of that fateful day. It was, however, a far cry from what had really occurred.
“Tanghali iyon, ako’y may ginagawa roon sa isang bahay malapit sa kanila,” relates retired carpenter Lorenzo San Juan, 81, another of Ka Mansi’s younger brothers. “Yung kapatid ko ay naroon, nanunuod, nang biglang kinaon ng anak.”
Nelson, who just had lunch and was resuming work on a pedicab, heard someone whimpering. He turned around, searching for its origin. There was nobody near him.
As he continued working, the low, painful cries grew louder by the second. Curious and a bit peeved, Nelson stood up, walked off his workplace and scanned the street. Then, like his wife before him, he found what he was looking for.
Ferdinand and Ka Mansi were outside their new home. Ka Mansi was on his knees, weeping. Ferdinand was standing behind him, holding his father’s head by the hair, a rusty bolo in his other hand. He was ruthlessly trying to severe the old man’s head from the nape.
“Hoy Dinand, ano yan?!” Nelson shouted. “Hoy! Putang ina ka!” But Ferdinand ignored him. Panicking, Nelson ran back to his home and armed himself with a large steel pipe. But this still failed to dampen Ferdinand’s evil resolve; he merely glanced at Nelson before hacking away again.
Ferdinand’s eyes, adds Nelson, had the same delirious look his wife had told him about when he killed his mother Aida. Nelson called out to his neighbors for help. A handful were already out trying to ﬁnd out what the commotion was all about. At ﬁrst, no one dared to approach what they had thought was a drunk and rampaging Nelson. When someone ﬁnally got over the shock, he alerted the residents of Torentigue Street to the horrible scene unfolding
Realizing that they needed more assistance, Nelson got on his motorcycle and sped off to ask for the police’s help. When he got back to Torentigue, Ferdinand was sitting on a wooden bed set up outside their home. Ka Mansi was slumped in front of his son, already dead. According to his death certiﬁcate, he died from “multiple hack wounds.” Had Ferdinand’s bolo been any sharper, the old man would have suffered the same fate as his wife.
Fearing Ferdinand would attack the crowd gathered around him, an enraged neighbor ﬁred his paltik at Ferdinand. He got off four shots, hitting Ferdinand’s arms twice. Ferdinand remained glued to his position, unaffected by his wounds. A few minutes later, three policemen, packing Armalites and caliber .45 pistols, arrived at the scene.
“Sino ba ang kamag-anak nitong pinatay?” asked one of the policemen.
“Ako po,” answered Lorenzo, who was now among the crowd.
“Ano pong gusto ninyong mangyari?” the cop shot back.
“Eh kung sa akin lamang ay kung maaari po ay patayin na ninyo iyan,” Lorenzo coldly replied. “Sino ho ba ang tatanggap sa batang iyan kung yan ay bubuhayin pa?”
Lorenzo and Baby San Juan, Ferdinand’s uncle and
ﬁrst cousin respectively, still lives on Torentigue Street.
The policemen obliged and opened ﬁre at Ferdinand. But to everyone’s surprise, Ferdinand, although being shoved backwards by the force of the bullets and his shirt already being soaked in blood, appeared impervious to their effects.
The policemen ﬁred more shots. Still the same reaction from the antagonist. After ceasing ﬁre, everyone was stunned to see Ferdinand standing up. He screamed: “Hindi ninyo kaya ito! 666 ito!”
Shortly after Ferdinand’s declaration, SPO2 Edwin Tambongco arrived at the scene. His fellow policemen immediately ﬁlled him in on what had been happening. He joined them as they shot Ferdinand anew.
Then, as if he had grown tired of the police’s unsuccessful attempts to claim his life, Ferdinand turned his back on them and walked toward the backyard. One of his hands, recalls Arlene, was barely hanging from the elbow. “Luray-luray na,” she adds. The police still ﬁred on.
The crowd fought one another to get a view of where Ferdinand was heading but only a few saw him as he made his way to the backyard, where he sat. SPO2 Tambangco, reportedly following the advice of an albularyo, dipped a bullet in mud and bahaw, then rushed to where Ferdinand was at. When he got close enough, he buried a single shot directly to Ferdinand’s head. It was over at last
In the days immediately following Ka Mansi and Ferdinand’s death, newspapermen ﬂocked to Sitio Wawa hoping to speak to the relatives of the deceased. But their elders, recalls Baby, chose to grieve in silence. Several years later, an air of Amityville-like horror envelops the place—haunted and shrouded in mystery.
Nelson and Arlene remember nights when they’d be roused from sleep by screams and hurried footsteps of teenagers who spooked each other as they passed by the property. The two wooden shanties Ka Mansi built for his family were demolished and burned to the ground.
A three-door apartment now occupies the lot where the two
wooden huts Ka Mansi built for his family once stood.
As time passes, residents of Torentigue Street feel it’s senseless to discuss the crime at length. Not an appropriate topic for everyday conversation, they say. But they haven’t forgotten about it, though, asserts Al.
Steadily, the San Juan Massacre earned notoriety as an urban legend. Once in a while, parents retell the story behind it to scare their kids who insist on going out at night. But in the rare times that someone does bring it up—say, during the usual umpukans or drinking sessions—the gloomy details are still recollected like it just happened yesterday.
The devil is unforgettable like that.