26 August 2008

Pray for Tara Santelices

Justice for Tara Santelices

Roots and Wings
By Cathy S. Babao Guballa
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 23:59:00 08/16/2008

MANILA, Philippines - It was a surreal moment. As my husband Hector and I sat across Larry and Anne Santelices, it was like looking at ourselves 10 years ago. Only this time, it wasn’t our son Migi in coma but their daughter, 23-year-old Tara.

When I first told Hector that I wanted to visit Tara’s folks at the ICU waiting area of The Medical City, he wondered aloud if it was the same Santelices he had gone to school with as a young boy in Naga. True enough, it was. No coincidences in God’s plan.

When we arrived, Joee Mejias, Tara’s close friend from high school, was there. She talked about that harrowing night on Aug. 6 when Tara was shot in the head by a .38 cal revolver. The alleged assailant, a burly looking man in his 40s, remains at large.

I was impressed by the calm and collected manner Joee narrated the events. They were waiting for a ride home to Cainta [for Tara] and Antipolo [for Joee] a little before midnight. It was the eve of Tara’s 23rd birthday.

Inside the jeepney, Tara was sitting beside Joee when somewhere in the area of Karangalan village, a dark stretch of road in Cainta, the man pulled out his gun and ordered the two girls to give their bags. Tara’s instinct was to take hold of her things and according to Joee a struggle ensued. It was then that the gunman pulled the trigger, shooting Tara on the forehead.

The man then jumped off the jeepney, leaving Tara slumped on her seat and Joee in shock. “She had blood spurting like crazy from her forehead and we were both all bloodied but she managed to tell me she was okay. So I knew she was still conscious,” Joee recalls.

She then asked the driver to take them to the nearest clinic which was some 20 minutes away. Joee says they could probably have gotten there faster had the driver not made several stops to let the three other passengers off.

Unfortunately, the clinic where they were dropped off was ill-equipped to handle the emergency. Joee pleaded for help from her co-passengers but she says that only a woman named Abigail helped them get a cab that took them to Amang Rodriguez hospital. At the hospital, Joee was met by her mother whom she had called earlier that evening to say that Tara had just been shot.

“We arrived at Amang Rodriquez at around 1:30 a.m. and by then she was already unconscious and had lost so much blood.” Tara was “stabilized” at 4 a.m. on Aug. 6, as dawn’s first light broke on her 23rd birthday.

Larry and Anne Santelices decided to move their eldest daughter to The Medical City that same morning and she arrived at the hospital at around 9 a.m. While there, tests showed that the bullet was lodged in the left side of her head close to the left temporal lobe. Shot at close range, the bullet did not exit. It was a “hollow-point” bullet, one that fragments upon impact.

The Santelices couple were advised of only a 10-percent chance of survival if Tara was to be operated on. But, if she were to survive, she would no longer be the Tara that everyone knew and loved.


Tara is highly artistic and very peace-loving. An AB Political Science graduate of the Ateneo de Manila, she has dreams of one day working for the United Nations. At the time of her accident, she was working for a nongovernment organization called Upland Marketing.

Tara loves music and was the lead guitarist of an all-girl band called Saffron and together with Joee was part of a duo called Storm.

Many questions beg to be asked. Why have no witnesses shown up? Where is the jeepney driver and the taxi driver that brought the bloodied Tara to the clinic and the hospital?

The lone witness, Abigail, according to Joee, now refuses to be interviewed. Tara spent the entire day at home and only asked permission from Anne to leave at 7 p.m. so she could meet up with Joee. In the time that lapsed, was she already being watched by her assailant from afar?

When interviewed by GMA 7, Anne was despondent and admonished all parents to make sure their children would be home early “even if they are young adults like Tara. The streets are no longer safe.”

Tara’s parents and siblings are in anguish over the fate of their loved one. There now exists so much anger and violence in our communities that it has become a difficult time to be a parent.

A criminal continues to be free. If justice will not be served, I know that Divine justice will. We continue to pray for a lead and for God’s hand to manifest itself in the days ahead.

E-mail the author at cathybabao @gmail.com

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