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A lesson gone wrong


FOR SHAME: Police present to media the suspects in the murder of Rodelas (PDI File Photo/Andrew Tadalan)

A little past midnight on Nov. 6, two young women walked along Macapagal Boulevard in Pasay City, one of them—in a tank top and blue leggings-excited at the thought that she would be meeting a prospective client for another modelling stint.

As they giggled and chatted in the dark, a black vehicle quietly pulled up beside them.  A man came out and hurriedly dragged the woman in the tank top into the vehicle, while her friend was left on the pavement, weeping. She was later spotted by police and brought to a nearby precinct for questioning.

Five hours later, along 18th Avenue in Cubao, Quezon City, a similar-looking vehicle—a black Mitsubishi Montero Sport—was spotted cruising just as gunshots rang out.  The body of a young woman came tumbling out of the vehicle and onto the cold concrete.

It was the woman in the tank top, now dead, with her eyes wide open in shock.

Clutched tightly in her hand was a plastic bag containing a burger and a receipt from a McDonald’s United Nations Avenue branch, indicating a takeaway order for two cheeseburger meals at 2:33 a.m. of Nov. 6.

Before her brutal murder, part-time model Julie Ann Rodelas, 20-whose corpse was unidentified for a day-spent her last hours with her friend, Althea Altamirano, who also modelled for a men’s magazine.

Little did Rodelas—“Jaja” to family and friends—know that her friend had an axe to grind against her.

As Althea herself admitted in media interviews later, she harbored a grudge against Jaja because the latter had told their colleagues about Althea’s two children.  In the fiercely competitive modelling business where nubile young women are a dime a dozen, being 23 and saddled with two kids could spell death to a budding career.

Angered by Jaja’s indiscretion, Althea turned to her boyfriend, 32-year-old Fernando “JR” Quiambao Jr., a businessman who owned a tattoo shop in Quezon City, for advice.  JR, she said, suggested “teaching Jaja a lesson.”

“Pumayag lang po ako na turuan lang ng leksyon. Di ko akalain na papatayin [I only agreed to him teaching Jaja a lesson. I didn’t know he would kill her],” she sobbed to media at the Quezon City Police District (QCPD) headquarters where she was taken on Nov. 10, shortly after her arrest.

“Sabi n’ya magaling daw po siya sa ganun, ginagawa daw n’ya na walang bulilyaso dati. Kaya po pumayag ako [He said he was an expert on such things, that he never bungles a job. So I agreed],” she added.

Police investigation by the QCPD’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Unit (CIDU) would later show that in JR’s hands, the lesson turned into a grisly murder—with one witness claiming that the model was raped in a safehouse before she was killed and dumped in Cubao.

JR and Althea were arrested four days after Rodelas’ body was found dumped on a Cubao pavement.

“Frenemy” Altamirano in police custody (INQUIRER/ MARIANNE BERMUDEZ)

Initially clueless about the victim’s identity, case investigators Police Officer 2 Jogene Hernandez and SPO1 Jaime Jimena checked out the McDo burger receipt clutched in her fist and found in the camera footage of the fast-food shop the image of a tall, tattooed man making the purchase early morning of Nov. 6.

It was the two women’s common friend who identified the man.  That’s JR, she said, of the guy who turned out to be JR Quiambao, Althea’s boyfriend, who was often seen bringing her home to Cavite in a black Montero Sport.

On further police prompting, Althea’s family yielded the sports utility vehicle’s license plate—TWO 505—which police later found, was registered to Quiambao’s mother.

The pieces were falling into place.

After days of police surveillance of the Quiambao residence in Quezon City, Fernando Quiambao Sr. was seen driving away.

Police operatives tailed him all the way to Apalit, Pampanga, where the lovers were holed up.

Of that arrest on Saturday evening, Nov. 10, CIDU homicide section head Inspector Elmer Monsalve, recalled: “There was a girl in the nipa hut. I wasn’t sure she was Althea, so I called her name. ‘Althea,’ I said. She responded, ‘Po?’  I knew then that it was her.”

Though JR had denied any involvement in the crime, Althea easily broke down in police custody and wailed how the murder was a lesson gone wrong.

In interviews with reporters after her arrest, the woman would sob, belatedly apologizing to her dead friend and repeatedly insisting that she never wanted Jaja dead.

Althea recalled how after the abduction, she called up her boyfriend to say that she was at the Pasay City police station, brought there by police who had seen her crying on the street.  At the police station, she had to report the abduction—contrary to JR’s explicit instructions for her to keep quiet about it.

When JR finally fetched her at the police station, the couple kept mum about the crime.

For days, Althea played the innocent friend, even posting on her Facebook several photographs of herself and Jaja, “her twin,” smiling and laughing in happier times as if to tell the world that they were so close that she could never hurt her friend.

When she later confessed to her role in Jaja’s murder, Althea would sob, “Hindi ko naman po alam na gagahasain at papatayan siya (I never thought that she would be raped and killed).”

This prompted one police official to quip that the two women were “frenemies”—a portmanteau of the words “friend” and “enemy.”

A day after her body was found, Jaja’s family came forward to identify the body.

Jaja, according to her older brother Alvin, was a sweet, talkative and playful girl who only wanted to finish school, but had to quit thrice because of their family’s limited means.

Jaja’s friendship with Althea paved the way to his sister’s part-time modelling career, which meant earning enough to put herself through school at the Arellano University where she was taking up hotel and restaurant management.

The modelling gigs also meant that Jaja would sometimes fail to go home in Las Piñas for two to three nights.  But their mother, Luz, always assumed that her daughter was safe with a friend.

“When Jaja tells our mother that she would be home, she would really come home,” Alvin said.  “That’s what she said when she bid us goodbye that Monday night,” he added.

After their arrest, JR and Althea were brought to Camp Karingal in Quezon City.  After further questioning, the two accompanied police operatives to the Salaam compound in Barangay Culiat, Quezon City, to help arrest their alleged cohorts.

These included Jaymar Waradji, 22, who claimed he had offered to help out JR for free, because he would regularly treat him and another suspect, Efren Talib, in expensive restaurants and to good liquor from the Quiambao home.

Waradji, however, claimed that he only participated in the model’s abduction and not in her murder. “Di yun kaya ng konsiyensya ko (My conscience can’t take it),” he told police shortly after he was charged for murder last month. He is now being eyed as a state witness against Althea and JR.

Waradji’s sworn statement was the last piece of the puzzle, filling in the gap between Jaja’s abduction in Pasay City at 12:40 a.m. of Nov. 6, and the dumping of her body at around 5 a.m. in Cubao.

As if to confirm Waradji’s testimony, police managed to trace camera footage that showed him, JR and Talib dining at the Ocean Bay Seafood House on Macapagal Boulevard at around 9 p.m. of Nov. 5, just hours before Jaja was snatched some blocks away.

According to Waradji, the plan was to bring the victim to a safehouse at the Salaam compound in Quezon City. But along the way, inside the vehicle, Waradji inadvertently gave away their identities when he addressed by name the masked JR, who was driving the Montero Sport.

Jaja, he said, immediately recognized the name and begged JR’s forgiveness for her apparent indiscretion about Althea’s children.

Inside the safehouse, Jaja was kept in a room and was heard twice pleading with her captors, presumed to be Talib and another man, Aldos. This fuelled speculations that the model was raped before she was killed.

Later that morning, Quiambao returned with a McDonald’s cheeseburger meal for Jaja that Waradji used as a ruse to check on their victim who was then locked in a room with Aldos.

Jaja, he recalled, even thanked her captors for the meal and said she would just eat the cheeseburger at home.

Waradji claimed that he did not join Efren, Aldos and JR in “bring(ing) Jaja home,” and only learned that she was shot five times when the men returned to the safehouse at about dawn.

It was excellent police work, people would say of the case that was solved quickly and seemingly with all loose ends tied.  The eyewitness definitely helped-and so did the telltale receipt that would seal the fates of those who would take a life for a grudge.

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Tags: Althea Altamirano , Crime , Julie Ann Rodelas , Sunday Inquirer Magazine

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