They would have wanted to remember the happier times, but the recent holidays did not allow for that.
Christmas, Peddy Davantes says, was spent at his daughter Kae’s gravesite at Manila Memorial Park in Parañaque.
“The family is incomplete. It still pains us to know she is no longer with us physically,” the paterfamilias rues.
Ordinarily, he adds, Kae would be baking cookies, excitedly opening gifts, hugging and kissing them, and whispering holiday greetings that were always punctuated by a heartfelt, “Thank you for everything.’”
Three months after Kristelle “Kae” Davantes was found dead under a bridge in Silang, Cavite, her family still remembers the last moments when she was laid to rest, on September 15.
The slain advertising executive was dressed like she was off on a trip: in a rainbow-colored long dress and a turquoise scarf.
Her younger sister, Lysette, had chosen the outfit. “It was her favorite. She loved maxi dresses and scarves.”
“(They) suited her personality,” Lysette had mused during Davantes’ wake at the family home in Moonwalk Village, Barangay Talon V, Las Piñas City.
Indeed, Davantes embodied color and warmth, especially to her family.
With parents Peddy and Beth working abroad in Saudi Arabia, Davantes readily played the elder “Nanang” to her two siblings Lysette and Joshua.
“Kristelle was a very protective and caring sister to her siblings. She did not know how to get angry at them,” her father says of her, in an e-mail interview.
Peddy recalls an eldest child who loved to look after children, who would handcraft holiday gifts for the family and remember the birthdays of house helpers, who liked to travel and eat out with friends, and whose “artistically decorated” cupcakes were the “star of desserts” during family gatherings.
In a touching video-letter addressed to “Nanang” and posted on the Davantes family’s Justice for Kae Facebook page, Lysette remembers her sister as being “the talkative one.” “You were a natural born leader and it was always you who initiated playtime,” Lysette writes.
“I really took pride with her self-confidence and her sense of responsibility,” Peddy says.
Those qualities shone through at work. At 25, Davantes was already senior account manager—and up for a promotion—at the Manila branch of the MRM digital marketing agency under the McCann Worldgroup Philippines. She had started working there only in September 2011.
Davantes also wore to her grave her engagement ring. She was set to marry her boyfriend Benedict Ong in May.
Peddy and Beth recall their last video chat with their eldest, on Sept. 1, 2013: “She was very excited about the progress of preparations for her forthcoming wedding. We were as happy. Our friends in Saudi Arabia were already planning to time their vacations with her wedding so they could attend that very special occasion.”
“We did not know that it would be our last time to hear her voice,” the bereaved father says.
It was the brutal end to an otherwise promising future that drove to outrage a public otherwise desensitized to crime. Davantes was found strangled and stabbed to death, dumped over a bridge in Silang, Cavite on September 7.
Her body was found under the Tibagan Bridge in Barangay (village) Sabutan at 6 a.m. that Saturday morning, her hands bound by a car seatbelt, her mouth gagged with an unfamiliar men’s handkerchief. She had been strangled and then stabbed repeatedly on the neck. The tools believed used to kill her were found near her body: the cable of her own laptop and a kitchen knife.
Davantes was last seen alive around 1 a.m. by her friends as she drove home in her metallic beige Toyota Altis (plate number PIM 966) from a night-out at the Bonifacio Global City in Taguig. Twenty minutes earlier, she had texted her aunt that she was on her way home. By 2 a.m., she could no longer be contacted.
Still unaware of her tragic fate at the time, Davantes’ family and friends started looking for her that Saturday morning, circulating a missing poster online.
By noontime, Davantes’ high school friends based in Cavite learned of the unidentified female body found in Silang. By the afternoon, they had confirmed that it was Davantes.
The perpetrators had taken the Toyota Altis and her other belongings.
The whole sordid affair took less than 24 hours—not even enough time to warrant a missing person report with the police.
By that Saturday evening, the missing person posts on social networking sites Facebook and Twitter turned into the hashtag #justiceforkae.
It proved a devastating homecoming and family reunion for the Davanteses.
“We raised her, took care of her. And then she was dumped like trash,” her uncle Vince, Peddy’s brother, had noted bitterly.
By Sept. 10, no less than President Aquino ordered the Metro Manila police to focus on the Davantes case. Three days after her death, Police Task Force Kae Davantes was formed, consisting of various police units from the metro and Cavite province.
It was slow going for the task force. A week after the crime, the investigators could determine only that there were more than two perpetrators involved, most likely “amateurs.”
Apparent circumstances pointed to the motive of carnapping, although task force head Chief Superintendent Christopher Laxa repeatedly assured the public that “all angles (were) being combed.”
On Sept. 15, the day of her burial, Davantes’ car was found on a dead-end corner in Camella Homes, Barangay Pamplona III in Las Piñas, with its license plate and car seats removed.
Its alarm had been blaring, getting the residents’ attention at around midnight. There was apparently a failed attempt to burn it: The car was soaked in fuel and bore burn marks on the dashboard.
On Sept. 16, the task force, Las Piñas Mayor Vergel Aguilar and President Aquino issued a P2.5 million reward for any information that could lead to identifying the perpetrators.
Meanwhile, the police had been combing through more than 60 closed-circuit television footages along Davantes’ usual route home, and on Sept. 17, retrieved footage from the South Luzon Expressway showing her driving through the Filinvest Tollgate at 1:30 a.m. of Sept. 7.
Another footage from Gate 1 of Moonwalk Village proved more telling: Davantes’ car driving through at 1:41 a.m., and then exiting again 10 minutes later, followed by a red Honda. It was later learned through another video shot that the red Honda (with plate number NYO 517) had entered the village seven minutes earlier than Davantes’ car.
From this, Laxa revealed on Sept. 20, nearly two weeks after the crime, that Davantes was believed abducted in her own neighborhood.
Davantes’ promising life and her brutal death had triggered a flurry of theories online on why she was killed when the suspects could have just taken her car and fled.
The answer came on the evening of Sept. 20, when, acting on a tip, the National Bureau of Investigation arrested amateur hold-up man Samuel Decimo, 19, in Molino, Cavite. Decimo had readily admitted to the crime in media interviews.
According to Decimo, his group had taken the red Honda, driven by a certain Jomar Pepito, for a ride, and had started looking for a random robbery victim that night “for kicks.”
They had spotted Davantes as she alighted from her car to enter their house’s gate. The group quickly gagged her, forced her back in her car, then drove off with it. As the village CCTV footage showed, the red Honda closely trailed the car and followed it out.
Decimo admitted to strangling Davantes, then stabbing her shortly before she was dumped in Silang. He claimed to be acting on orders of the group.
“We had never killed a victim before, but we decided to kill her because she saw our faces and the plate number of the car we used,” Decimo had said.
Decimo’s extrajudicial confession yielded Davantes’ cellphone and laptop, which were sold to a thrift shop in Alabang, Muntinlupa.
The other suspects began to fall like domino chips: On Sept. 21, Lloyd Enriquez, 18, was nabbed in Muntinlupa, while Reggie Diel, 30, surrendered in Las Piñas. Both admitted to the abduction and robbery, but denied having a hand in the killing.
The red Honda was also recovered on Sept. 21, as its owner, Sheila Marie Villa, was convinced to cooperate with the police. Villa was found to have been Pepito’s girlfriend. She said she occasionally entrusted him with the car and her house in Camella Homes.
Villa has been tagged as a witness in the case.
On Sept. 24, the task force filed carnapping and robbery charges with homicide against six suspects at the justice department: Decimo, Diel, Enriquez, Pepito, Kelvin Jorek Evangelista, and an alias Baser Minalang.
Later in the day, Pepito, 23, surrendered in Cavite. Evangelista, 19, followed suit the next day in Cabanatuan City. They admitted to the robbery and abduction charges, but pointed to Decimo as the mastermind of the crime, and the only one who killed Davantes.
Only Minalang remains at large. The rest of the suspects are being held in the Las Piñas city jail while the robbery with homicide case is being heard at the Las Piñas Regional Trial Court Branch 253, under judge Salvador Timbang Jr.
The police task force has since been dissolved and the case turned over to the CIDG. Nevertheless, the case continues to create ripples.
For one, the Moonwalk Village security guard who had allowed the entry of the suspects’ vehicle in the village had been fired. In fact, the United Moonwalk Village Homeowners’ Association Inc. (UMVHAI) will altogether be replacing the security agency they had originally hired.
UMVHAI vice president for administration Paulina Villaflor has said that all homeowners’ vehicles will now be required to register with UMVHAI.
The UMVHAI is also identifying access points in the village that need a perimeter fence. Villaflor has noted that only a creek separates the village from Molino, Cavite.
More security cameras will also be added in the village in 2014, she promised.
The Las Piñas city government has already embarked on a similar measure, with 23 high-definition security cameras installed along the city’s main thoroughfares since September, Aguilar said.
The mayor’s nephew, Councilor Carlo Aguilar, has said that the cameras operate round-the-clock. A command center team which monitors the cameras and communicates in real-time with emergency units on field, will also be operating 24/7 starting this year.
For all the belated measures meant to restore the sense of security among homeowners in the area, the sense of loss that the Davantes family suffers remains unabated.
Days after his sister died, Joshua, in his Twitter account, had said: “I don’t think I’ll be as cheerful as I was.”
A heartbroken Ong, in another post on the Justice for Kae page, says: “Everyone keeps saying that I need to be strong, (but) I don’t know if I’ll be able to (be that). Because she was the strong one. She was the one who made me a better person. Everyone keeps saying that it’s going to be okay and that I need to move on with my life. But it’s not, and I can’t.”
Lysette, meanwhile, tells Kae: “I promise I will be a good ate (elder sister) to Josh, and even to our younger cousins, because I know you taught me well. Oh, you know they once asked me, with you gone, will I be the new Nanang? I told them, ‘No, there is only one Nanang and I can never replace Nanang.’”