“Probably the toughest time in anyone’s life is when you have to murder a loved one because they’re the devil.” EMO PHILIPS
By Alex P. Vidal
Ilonggos were still talking about the 4-1 win of Detroit Pistons against Portland Trailblazers in the 1990 NBA finals when interrupted by news of the murder of Jimmy de la Torre, then the country’s marathon king, inside a movie house in Iloilo City on June 27, 1990.
The Pistons versus Trailblazers best-of-seven series, by the way, was the first NBA finals since 1979 not to involve either the perennial finalists, Los Angeles Lakers or the Boston Celtics.
Jimmy’s murder in the balcony of Crown Cinerama (now Allied Bank) on corner Ledesma-Quezon Streets, occurred at around past one o’clock in the afternoon, a rainy Tuesday.
I witnessed it.
I was seated five seats away from Jimmy, 27, and his wife Celia, 26. Some 20 minutes earlier, I bumped into Jimmy, the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games marathon record holder, and Celia in the ground floor while on their way to the theater’s second floor.
We greeted each other briefly. It was our first meeting since I covered the Bombo Marathon in Pavia, Iloilo several months earlier. I was standing at the finish line when Jimmy breasted the tape, beating arch rival and fellow Ilonggo champion, Herman Suizo, by the skin of the teeth.
Jimmy was from Pototan, Iloilo while Suizo hailed from Sta. Barbara, Iloilo. They dominated marathon in the country the way Attila the Hun ruled the Hunnic Empire and the Balkans.
“Jimmy, you broke the record (in the 20-K event),” I told him after the race. “Ha, na break ko? (oh yeah?),” he replied happily. “Ay salamat (thank you).”
Jimmy was the first back-to-back Filipino champion (1981-1982) of the lung-busting 42.195-K National 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), the fastest in the country and in the SEAG at that time.
Future SEA Games gold medalist Suizo avenged the defeat at the Yakult Marathon, where I was one of the participants. I finished by the wayside–good for a certificate!
Inside the theater that fateful afternoon, I went up ahead of Jimmy and Celia. Only a handful of patrons were inside when I entered the balcony. We were watching a cartoon film. I occupied a seat in the middle row and noticed several vacancies on my left and right. I was seated a spit away from where the main lights that transmitted the film to the big screen were coming from.
Minutes later, I saw the couple occupy their seats on my left. They didn’t notice me. I reclined and closed my eyes. I checked the surroundings from time to time.
Some five to 10 minutes later, I saw Celia leave her seat and go outside. Jimmy stayed.
Celia returned after about five minutes. Some 10 minutes later, a lone gunshot exploded followed by a loud scream by 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 downstairs, mixing with fleeing moviegoers and exiting through the main door.
As pandemonium broke loose, the lights switched on suddenly. I quickly grabbed my manual pocket 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 shots, I already realized the victim was Jimmy de la Torre.
I couldn’t do anything to save a dying man as I was shocked and on the verge of tears myself. Jimmy was a pitiful sight. I couldn’t bear watching a sports hero, whose exploits I had covered as sportswriter on several occasions, gunned down in a treacherous manner, a senseless murder.
My instinct as a cub reporter persuaded me not to leave the place until the smoke has been cleared, thus I observed the wife’s demeanor.
Budyong TV Patrol broadcasters Ibrahim Calanao and Ranie Jangayo arrived and interviewed me “live”. They then interviewed Celia, who was crying but didn’t do something–or at least embrace her husband–or plead to about four people present to bring Jimmy to the hospital.
When Metropolitan Police District Command (Metrodiscom) chief, Col. Achilles Plagata, a future city councilor, and his team of investigators arrived, Celia became more hysterical. They recovered a .38 “paltik” revolver on the floor used in the killing.
I gave an exclusive photo of Jimmy, taken while he was gasping for his last breath, to then Visayan Tribune editor-in-chief, Herbert Vego, and it made a headline story.
It was my second eye-witness-account exclusive crime photo. Five months earlier during the 1990 Dinagyang Festival in downtown, City Proper, I was “lucky” to be “at the right place at the right time” when an off-duty cop from Arevalo district was peppered with bullets while drinking in a sidewalk in the corner of Ledesma and Valeria Streets.
Murder charges had been filed against the suspect in Jimmy’s murder, but were dismissed by then city prosecutor Efrain Baldago for “lack of evidence”.
Some people closed to Jimmy, as well as some family members, believed the marathon king, who made waves in the Boston Marathon and made many Filipinos proud of him, was a victim of a love triangle.
This theory has not been proven and his unsolved murder remains a mystery after 24 years.