HE ENTERED the claustrophobic office and retraced the path of a merciless murder. It was like reliving a nightmare.

Welson Chua examined the interiors of the Department of Military Science and Tactics (DMST) office and tried to imagine how his son Mark Welson struggled to breathe while lying on the floor hog-tied, his mouth and nose stuffed with a cloth, his head wrapped in packing tape, and his body wrapped with a carpet.

“Isn’t this where they (witnesses) saw Mark?” he asked the office clerk as he pointed to a spot on the floor inside the Cadet Officers’ Lounge at the DMST office.

After more than a year since the brutal slaying, it seemed that the Thomasian community had forgotten the fallen cadet who was murdered for fighting the graft and corruption in the UST Reserved Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC).

Although a commemorative mass was scheduled for Mark on March 15, the pews of the Santisimo Rosario Chapel remained empty save for Mark’s family and a handful of his friends. Faculty of Engineering regent and mass celebrant Fr. Javier Gonzalez, O.P. decided to move the mass from 4:30 pm to 5:15 pm, in time for the daily afternoon mass.

With tears coursing down her cheeks, Mark’s sister Charmaine prayed that justice be served her brother.

Standing in front of the DMST office during the candle lighting ceremony, she prayed for the students for whom Mark had offered his life. “Sana po lagi nilang maalala ang kapatid ko na ipinagtanggol ang kanilang karapatan,” she said.

Less than 50 candles lined the sidewalk while an enlarged picture of Mark was hung in front of the office. It depicted the beaming face of the young hero before it was distorted by the silver packing tape and decayed by the filthy waters of the Pasig River.

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Searching for justice

Amid his grief, Chua remains hopeful that justice will be served.

Last month, one of the alleged suspects Arnulfo Aparri, a former ROTC cadet officer, surrendered.

“Ayaw niya magsalita pero sa affidavit niya, in-affirm niya na binantayan niya si Mark sa loob (ng DMST office) tapos hinila sa labas, at sinakay sa pick-up. Pero ibinaba siya at hindi daw siya (nakarating) sa safehouse,” Chua said.

Three other suspects remain at large – former Corps Commander Michael Manangbao, former Cadet Lieutenant Colonel Eduardo Tabrilla, and former cadet officer Paul Joseph Tan.

Chua confirmed that Manangbao left for San Francisco on Oct. 5, 2001 with flight number PR 105.

Prior to Manangbao’s flight, however, Chua said the suspect’s father Cabanatuan Chief of Police Superintendent Laverne Manangbao promised him that he would surrender his son.

“(Supt. Manangbao said) that as an officer and a gentleman, he would not stand in the way of justice. It turns out that his son left way before we spoke with each other,” Chua said.

Although extradition proceedings for Manangbao have already been initiated, the aggrieved father only has vague leads of Tabrilla and Tan’s whereabouts.

“Investigators say he is allegedly in Lamitan with his Aunt Cely Tan New who is the former vice-mayor of Lamitan. (Tan is now) probably in Malaysia or Singapore,” Chua said.

Due to this, the arraignment was postponed from March 19 to April 17 at the Manila RTC Branch 18 presided by acting Judge Edelwina Katubig Pastoral.

Despite disheartening circumstances, Chua remains hopeful in his crusade with the support he has been receiving from the Arroyo administration and various groups.

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He said that President Macapagal-Arroyo had already released a million pesos for the funding of Sulong ROTC, an organization aimed to promote the military training part of the newly-approved National Service Training Program (NSTP). NSTP will be rendered effective next school year.

Members of the organization include Eric Esina of Pulso ng Masa, UST-ROTC Alumni head General Saddang, and Air Materials and Wing Savings and Loan chairman Carlie Divinagracia.

Part of the group’s plans is a tele-documentary and a docu-drama series showcasing individuals who have “given up their lives for a cause” and “who did not lose their integrity to the end,” just like Mark Chua.

Outside the DMST office, Chua watched as the candles’ flame slowly flickered and died. A mound of candle wax stuck to the sidewalk as a remnant of Mark’s candle lighting ceremony. It would only be too soon before passersby would step on it, entirely oblivious of what it stood for.

Unlike the candles’ flame, Chua’s courage is unwavering. It would only be too soon when justice would be served for his son.

He took Mark’s picture from where it hung and, as though he was talking to his son, he said, “We’ve won almost half the battle. When they get convicted, even if they are not here, they will not live normal (lives anymore.) And then we’ll hunt for them. We have all our lives to find them.”

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