BY ALEX P. VIDAL
Exactly 21 years ago inside the balcony section of the Crown Cinerama, a moviehouse (now Allied Bank) located in corner Ledesma-Quezon Streets in Iloilo City, I witnessed a murder.
If not for the victim’s personality, this item would not merit any attention from the readers, murder being a normal crime that happens every now and then in any metropolis.
At around past one o’clock in the afternoon, a rainy Tuesday on June 27, 1990, I decided to enter in a movie house to take a nap (we inherited this habit from the Spaniards — not the watching of movies but sleeping) after a late lunch.
As a staff member of News Express, a regional community paper, I was always carrying a small camera. I paid for a balcony seat and bumped into Jimmy de la Torre, the Southeast Asian Games marathon record holder, who was with his wife, Celia. They also secured two tickets in the balcony. My purpose was to sleep so I didn’t care about the title of the movie, but I remember it was a cartoon film. A marathon king interested in cartoon film? Hmm.
Several months earlier, I covered the Bombo Marathon in the town of Sta. Barbara and was standing at the finish line when De La Torre, 27, breasted the tape, beating arch rival Herman Suizo by the skin of the teeth.
“Jimmy, you broke the record (in the 20-k event),” I told him. “Ha, na break ko? (oh yeah?),” he replied happily. “Ay salamat (thank you).” I then interviewed him before the awarding ceremony. That was our last brief conversation before the chance meeting in the movie house.
De La Torre was the first back-to-back Filipino champion (1981-1982) of the lung-busting 42.195-k Milo Marathon. He also held the record of 2 hours, 25 minutes, and 16 seconds (Cresenciano Sabal currently holds the record at 2:21:33 he registered in the 29th edition in 2005) for that distance, the fastest in the country and in the SEAG at that time.
Future SEA Games gold medalist Suizo avenged the defeat in Yakult Marathon. I was one of the participants and I finished by the wayside–good for a certificate!
Inside the theater, I went up ahead and saw a few people inside the balcony section. I occupied a seat in the middle row with many vacancies on my left and right. I was seated a spit away from the area where the main lights that transmitted the film to the screen were coming from.
Minutes later, I saw the couple occupy two seats or about five seats away on my left. They didn’t notice the person they met a few minutes ago downstairs. I reclined and closed my eyes.
From time to time I opened my eyes to check the surroundings.
After about five to 10 minutes, I saw De La Torre’s wife leave her seat and go outside.
Celia returned after about five minutes. Some 10 minutes later, a lone gunshot exploded followed by a scream from a woman.
When I checked, I saw a fat guy throw a hard object on the floor and hurriedly walk to my right, passing at the back where I was seated, before going down the stairs, mixing with fleeing moviegoers and exiting through the main door.
As pandemonium broke loose, the lights suddenly switch on. I quickly grabbed my camera and approached a man on the chair twitching in pain and shaking, blood oozing from his temple.
I positioned myself in front of the victim and saw his eyes roll as if begging to save him. By the time I fired the first of my series of camera shots, I already knew the victim was Jimmy de la Torre.
I couldn’t do something to save a dying man as I was shocked and on the verge of tears myself out of pity and sympathy for a sports hero gunned down in a treacherous manner, a senseless murder and whose exploits I covered as sportswriter for several times.
I didn’t leave the place and observed the wife’s demeanor. Budyong TV Patrol broadcasters Ibrahim Calanao and Ranie Jangayo arrived and interviewed me. They then interviewed the wife who was crying but didn’t do something or at least embrace her wounded husband or attempt to bring him to the hospital — or plead to about four people present to bring De la Torre to the hospital.
When Metropolitan Police District Command (Metrodiscom) chief, Col. Achilles Plagata, a future city councilor, and his team of investigators arrived, the wife became more hysterical. They recovered a .38 “paltik” revolver on the floor used in the killing.
The exclusive photo made a headline story in the Visayan Tribune when I gave the paper’s editor-in-chief Herbert Vego a copy.
It was my second eye-witness account exclusive crime photo. Five months earlier during the Dinagyang Festival in downtown, City Proper, I was “at the right place at the right time” when an off-duty cop from Arevalo was peppered with bullets while drinking in a sidewalk in the corner of Ledesma and Valeria Streets.
Murder charges have been filed against the suspect in De La Torre’s murder but were dismissed by city prosecutor Efrain Baldago for lack of evidence.
Some people closed to De La Torre as well as some family members believed the marathon king, who made waves in the Boston Marathon and made many Filipinos proud, was a victim of a love triangle.
This theory has not been proven until today and his unsolved murder remains a mystery.