CAINTA, Philippines – In a small room rented for P1,500 a month in Chico Alley, a tightly packed neighborhood close to the floodway control dam in this town in eastern Metro Manila, Reynaldo De Guzman, 14, had lived the past six years with his parents and four siblings.
He was known in the place as “Kulot”, everyone’s favorite errand boy who made the rounds of neighbors offering to do odd jobs to scrape together a pittance for his school allowance – though more often than not, giving this to his hard-up parents to augment the meager food on the family table.
Though 14, he was just in grade 5 at the Maybunga elementary school in Pasig City, the typical fate of poor children who struggle to remain in school while trying to make a living at a tender age.
Everyone, it seems, in the neighborhood of Anakpawis 2, Barangay San Roque, Cainta, Rizal, loved Kulot, mostly for his kind ways, his perveserance and industry and his child-like demeanor – most of his playmates were younger than him. In a word, he was very much still a child who thought and acted like a child but worked like a man.
People in Anakpawis were thus shocked on Wednesday (Sept.6) when news spread like wildfire that a wisp of a boy found floating in a creek in Nueva Ecija had been identified as their “Kulot” – head totally covered with packing tape like a balikbayan box, and 31 stab wounds all over the body. Yes, “Kulot,” whose disappearance since August 18 with UP student Carl Arnaiz had been headline stuff this week, in yet another season of recriminations over a seeming blood lust among policemen.
Who, the people of Anakpawis demanded to know, would kill such a kind, self-sacrificing boy like him? And the inevitable conclusion in many minds was, even before the final details of this mind-boggling crime mystery can be pieced together: Kulot was witness to a a crime, having been last seen by neighbors as the companion of the ill-fated UP student Arnaiz, who was found in a morgue 10 days since both boys disappeared, with Caloocan cops claiming they shot him dead because he had fought them after robbing a taxi driver in Caloocan at gunpoint.
From their neighborhood in Cainta, how could Carl end up dead in Caloocan; and “Kulot” in Gapan City, when supposedly they had just gone out for a midnight snack?
As the puzzle unravels, friends and neighbors in Anakpawis community shared, meanwhile, their fond memories of “Kulot” and why his tragic end stuns everyone.
Best assistant of fish vendor
According to some neighbors, friends and benefactors, De Guzman may have sometimes seemed a bit gullible but he had “3 Ms” in his hat: “mabait, masipag at madiskarte [kind, industrious and creative].”
Joven Tare, 44, the neighborhood fish vendor, described him thus: “Mabait na bata siya. Maraming gustong tumulong (sa pagtitinda ng isda), pero si Kulot ang pinili ko kasi marunong magsalansan ng mga isda, maglinis, magkilo. Kasa-kasama ko siya, madaling utusan, taga tuläk din ng bike.”
[He was a good boy. Many offered their services but I picked Kulot as my assistant because he’s good at sorting fish, cleaning, and weighing them. He was with me lots of times; quick to follow orders. Sometimes he’d push the bike that carried our stuff].
He added of Kulot: “marunong sa mga gawain, may kusa (palo), naglilinis ng bike, nagpapasok ng motor [He knew a lot of chores; he was a self-starter; he’d clean the bike, and could park the motorbike properly].”
The sweet, happy boy had a sad life. Many were the days when he would have to choose between using what he earned from odd jobs for his and his siblings’ schooling, and giving these to his parents to add to the family meals.
“Minsan hindi makapasok kasi walang pamasahe. Binibigyan ko ng P30 o P50, para makapasok lang tapos kinabukasan nakita ko, bakit di ka pumasok?, ‘Kasi wala ako pamasahe’, “di ba binigyan kita ng 50 kagabi? sabi ko.”
It turned out, he said, that the money he gave was used to “buy viand and rice because the parents really had nothing.”
He said Kulot must have been doing chores for him for almost a year, though not daily.
Tare said he felt as if an arrow had pierced his chest when the sight of the dead boy sprang from his TV set: “syempre masakit, nakita ko siya may nakabalot sa mukha, naka tape. Naawa ako, masakit, three weeks na nawala, ‘di akalain na makita pa siya, kasi yung kasama niya (Carl Arnaiz) nailibing na kahapon, pero si ‘kulot” ang layo naman ng narating.”
[It was painful seeing his face all covered with tape. I pitied him. He was gone for three weeks, who’d have thought he’d still be found – but maybe he was gone too because he was with Carl. But one wonders why Kulot travelled that far].
He was relieved that ‘Kulot’ was finally found, but is very, very sad because the boy could very well be a son to him: “Mabait ‘yan, masunurin, lahat gagawin para sa pamilya [that boy is so good, so obedient; he’d do everything for his family].”
On the street next to the basketball court where the humble abode of Carl Arnaiz can be found is the 3-story house of Thelma Norcio, 58, whose family Kulot had also done errands for. “Hindi ko masyado kilala ang pamilya, kaya lang siya naging (utus utusan) kasi sabi niya sa asawa ko, ‘kuya gusto ko may pambaon lang’, so naging utus-utusan, bumili ng ganito, meryenda, kahit ano, basta magkapera lang. Labas masok siya dito sa bahay.”
[I didn’t know the family much but Kulot became my husband’s errand boy because he’d always tell him, ‘Sir, I just need some money for my school allowance. So he’d make him buy things we needed in the house, or sometimes snacks–anything, just to have a reason to pay him something so he can save. Kulot was in and out of our house].
The neighbors, she explained, couldn’t give him a regular job because first, he was under-age, and was just looking for ways to earn something to help his family with, “like buying rice.” He’d often tell the Norcios he wanted them to help him save up even a little of what he earned.
When he went missing, Kulot’s mother Lina de Guzman asked the Norcios if he still had money earned for his errands, because they will use it to find him. The truth was, Mrs. Norcio told InterAksyon, ‘Kulot’ had no savings with them, but they still gave some money to the De Guzmans so they can search for their son because they felt the family’s pain. They still can’t believe that Kulot would be found in Nueva Ecija with stab wounds.
“Nagulat kami, kawawa naman, walang kamalay-malay, wala naman bisyo yan, kasi bata nga, isip bata pa. Sa ngayon parang di na safe ang mga kabataan.”
[We were so shocked at what befell him. I pity him, he was so innocent, he had no vice and he behaved like a child and still thought much like a child. Nowadays children are no longer safe].
Playmate Jonjon Mercado, 11, said that “Kulot” used to play with them but when he started to look for some extra money for his ‘baon’, he seldom joined them. “Naglalaro pa kami ng taya-tayaan. Madiskarte siya. Minsan kasabay namin, minsan silang magkapatid naglalakad, minsan naka tricycle (papuntang school).”
[He was good at finding solutions to problems. Sometimes he’d go with us. Sometimes he and his siblings are forced to walk to school, but sometimes they take the tricycle].
‘F’ is for Facebook; it’s also for Find
Neighbor Rashelle Pascua was the first to post the photo of the missing Reynaldo looking like a very young grader in his school uniform.
On the morning of Wednesday, September 6, Kulot’s mother Lina even asked her to print a picture of the boy because she meant to bring it to Navotas as she heard news that people are holding a wake for a boy there.
Speaking mostly in Filipino, Pascua recalled: “But when I came out of the internet shop, someone sent me a message on [Facebook’s] Messenger with a boy’s photo and saying this might be the boy we were looking for. So I looked for Ate Lina and asked her ‘what was the color of Kulot’s clothing’ and she said gray.”
Pascua then told Lina about the tip she got through Messenger. “I said, Ate Lina, they found a boy in a creek, wrapped in a blanket. I then showed her the photo, but Lina said, ‘that might not be him because it’s so thin’.”
Lina then insisted that she join her husband Eddie to verify the dead person’s body and check identifying marks behind the ears, and in the face, Pascua recalled.
Another neighbor, Zenaida Bece, said “those children were innocent, especially Kulot. Why did they kill them? I think the ones who killed him were the same ones who killed Carl because they were together.”
She noted as well that Kulot’s body seemed to indicate he had just been recently killed – the same observation cited by Gapan’s police chief in media interviews.
Before the De Guzmans started renting a room in Chico Alley, they were living alongside Zenaida’s family – as evacuees from the habagat [southwest monsoon’s] onslaught in 2012. “They came from Lakas Tao, near the school. After the evacuation, they settled here in Anakpawis.”
Zenaida barely hid her anger: “Walang problema ang bata o pamilya. Kung gago lang ‘yan dito, hindi namin ‘yan hahanapin. Putang ina nila, gago sila. Pinatay nila, mga gago sila.”
[That child or his family never had any problems here, or caused any problems. If they were bad people, we all wouldn’t bother to look for him. Those who killed him are sons of bitches. They killed the boy; they are evil people].