GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
The five-year-old son of mayor Gisela Bendong Boniel of Bien Unido town in Bohol did what he was told.
He threw white chrysanthemums into the sea in between the islands of Olango and Caubian in Lapu-Lapu City on Thursday morning on board a pumpboat, along with his aunts, uncle and other relatives.
“I love you, mama,” he whispered softly, oblivious that he was attending a memorial for his mother whose body was allegedly thrown by his father in the waters where the flowers were floating.
Gisela’s older sister, Mikay Bendong, said they didn’t tell the boy what happened to his parents.
“We told him that Gisela is somewhere in heaven, but we didn’t directly tell him that his mother is gone. We just don’t know how to say it. He’s too young, and he won’t understand it for now,” she said.
Gisela was allegedly shot in the head by her husband Bohol Provincial Board Member Niño Rey Boniel before her body was dumped into the sea at dawn of June 7, 2017.
Under clear skies, Gisela’s four siblings, son and some relatives boarded a pumpboat on All Souls’ Day and went to the area where her body was purportedly thrown.
They threw flowers and lit candles placed on a piece of wood before letting it float in the sea.
“The usual scenario is for people to visit the cemeteries on November 1 and 2. But here we are in the middle of the sea. We neither have a body nor a tomb to visit in the cemetery. The person we love was buried at sea,” Mikay said.
Also present were Gisela’s sisters Jessica and Josephine, brother Julius and other relatives. Her two other siblings were not able to join them due to earlier commitments.
Led by a pastor of the Fountain of Life Covenant Church Philippines, the Bendong family offered prayers and chants, appealing to God to help them recover the body of Gisela, the youngest of seven siblings.
Although it has been about five months since Gisela went missing, Mikay said the pain of losing a loved one has not died down.
“In fact, we have not yet accepted what happened to my sister. She does not deserve to die that way. We’re still hoping that her body will be recovered in due time,” Mikay said.
She said they also did not inform Gisela’s 77-year-old mother about the fate suffered by the Bien Unido mayor.
Their mother has brain tumor and is unable to speak.
“But we feel that she has an idea of what happened to Gisela because there were times when she would cry alone in our house,” Mikay said.
Gisela was allegedly killed by her husband due to marital rift arising from jealousy and financial problems.
One of the suspects, Riolito “Etad” Boniel, confessed that he operated the boat that was used in dumping the body of Gisela. Shortly after he yielded to the police, he accompanied them to the part of the sea where they threw Gisela’s body.
For three weeks, divers scoured the seas near Caubian Island in Lapu-Lapu City but did not find Gisela’s body.
Amid calls from Gisela’s kin and friends to continue the search, the Police Regional Office in Central Visayas (PRO-7) stopped looking for her after assessing that it was humanly impossible for divers to go down beyond the depth of 200 feet.
Niño, the mayor’s husband and the prime suspect in her disappearance and presumed death, is facing parricide charges at the Regional Trial Court (RTC) in Cebu City which has jurisdiction over all newly-filed criminal cases in Lapu-Lapu City.
Charged with murder were Niño’s cousin Riolito, driver Randel Lupas, Wilfredo Hoylar, Restituto Magoncia Jr., Allan delos Reyes Jr., and Lobo Boniel.
The cases against Wilson Hoylar and Brian Boniel Saycon remain at the prosecutor’s office for a preliminary investigation.
Of the nine suspects, five have been arrested with Niño. These include Reolito, Lupas, Wilfredo and Magoncia.
Last October 5, 2017, Judge Anna Lou Fernandez-Cavada of the RTC Branch 57 in Cebu City issued an arrest warrant against Delos Reyes and Lobo.
The arraignment of the arrested suspects was set on December 8, 2017.
The suspects were also charged with kidnapping and serious illegal detention at the RTC in Talibon town, Bohol, for allegedly detaining Gisela’s best friend Angela Leyson and the latter’s 17-year-old son for hours before they were finally released.
Riolito and Lupas have been endorsed by the police as state witnesses after they pointed to Niño as the one who killed Gisela and threw her body into the water.
Like Riolito and Lupas, another driver of Niño, Edgar Tapere, was placed under the custody of the Department of Justice’s Witness Protection Program after he told the police that the board member asked to be fetched at Barangay Punta Engaño in Lapu-Lapu City, an hour after Gisela was killed.
Leyson claimed that she and her son were with Gisela at the Bien Unido Double Barrier Dive Resort in Bien Unido before dawn on June 7 when Niño and his companions barged into their room.
She said she was tasered by one of the suspects. But before she lost consciousness, she said she saw Niño punch Gisela on the stomach. Leyson and her son, who was in the next room, were held for a few hours before they were driven by Lupas to Tubigon town where they were released after they promised not to report to the police.
But Leyson and her son took a boat to Cebu and reported the incident to the police who in turn arrested Niño and four of his cohorts.
In his counter-affidavit submitted to the Lapu-Lapu City Prosecutor’s Office, Niño claimed that his wife was alive and was just in hiding after incurring debts that reached millions of pesos.
Niño said he could not afford to kill Gisela even if they had a spat over money and her infidelity.
Although the search for Gisela’s body had ended, Mikay said they continued to hope that she would be found.
“Bisan og bukog lang ang among makuha (We hope to find even just her bones),” she said.
Although the legal process was tedious, Mikay said they believed that justice would be served in due time.
“Our family is united to secure justice for Gisela. We know we will have that,” she said.
“The pain is here. All we want is justice. We’re hopeful, and we trust our country’s justice system,” she added.
Gisela’s niece Aster Merry Jessa Bendong said she hoped that the other suspects who remained at large would surface and tell the truth.
“They put to waste the life and career of my aunt (Gisela). We are fighting for justice,” she added.
Pastor Pepino, in his message to the family, urged them to keep going and never to lose hope.
“Our hearts are filled with sorrow. But if we trust in God, we know that we will be one with him forever. Gisela is not gone for good. She just went ahead of us,” he said.
“We hope and trust that Gisela is with God now. I hope justice will be achieved one of these days,” he added.
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