Covering inside and out the Ted Failon case

December 22, 2010

THE TED FAILON story was memorable because it was the first time a hard-hitting media personality was linked to the alleged murder of his spouse.

While staking out with other reporters just outside the mansion of Ted Failon in Quezon City in April last year hours after his wife allegedly committed suicide, we noticed a sleek silver Jaguar parked in front of the broadcaster’s residence.

The two-seater sports car turned out to be owned by now controversial real estate developer Delfin Lee, who said in a later interview with business desk copy editor Tina Arceo-Dumlao that he and Failon were good friends.

Except for the sports car and ABS-CBN vehicles, no other vehicles were parked near the mansion in the upscale Tierra Pura Subdivision when we got there.

We found out that Lee was among the first to rush to Failon’s residence on April 15, 2009, after the shooting incident in the broadcaster’s residence.

Lee, president of real estate firm Globe Asiatique, came out of the house, after then Vice President Noli de Castro left between 6:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.

[Failon reportedly owns a unit in GA Tower I, a high-rise condominium on EDSA near the Boni MRT station that Lee built. De Castro was then the chair of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council. Lee was recently charged with syndicated estafa by Pag-IBIG Fund for the billions of pesos he obtained from the fund for his Xevera housing projects in Pampanga using fictitious borrowers.]

On that day, at around 12:30 p.m., I was at the Quezon City Hall when I received text messages from Metro assistant editor Steph Asuncion, my immediate boss, and a source in the police.

New Era Hospital

Both messages said Failon was involved in a shooting incident and the victim was his girlfriend who was brought by the broadcaster to the Iglesia ni Cristo’s New Era Hospital on Commonwealth Avenue.

I immediately took a cab and arrived at the hospital, a few minutes after 1:00 p.m.

I realized that I was the first reporter to get there because I did not see any media person in the area. What I saw were familiar faces from the Criminal Investigation and Detection Unit (CIDU) of the Quezon City Police District at the entrance of the hospital.

I did not join them, but went straight to the emergency room at the right side of the hospital.

Bloodied-checkered polo

As I was approaching the ER door, it swung open. A man in a bloodied checkered shirt wearing a medical mask emerged from the room followed by another man. The man wearing the mask boarded a Mitsubishi Pajero.

I did not recognize the broadcaster until his name was mentioned to me by a member of the hospital staff. But then the Pajero had already left.

I did not try to run after him because in my mind, he was also in media and I was confident that he would grant an interview or hold a press conference on what just happened.

No answer

But I was wrong. He did not answer my calls and text messages asking for an interview. Moreover, details of what happened in the early hours after the shooting incident were sketchy.

What I could only confirm, based on the hospital logbook, was it was indeed Failon who brought his wounded wife, Trinidad Arteche Etong, to the hospital before 12 noon.

Hospital personnel did not want to give additional information. Even the police investigators who finally found their way into the ER could not get answers from the hospital staff.

At that stage, the information I gathered from my different sources varied. One said Failon shot a woman on Commonwealth Avenue over a traffic altercation. The other said he shot his girlfriend in their rented townhouse in Tierra Pura.

Other reporters came and their information was also sketchy.

Scene of crime

I realized that waiting in the hospital would not get me new information. I decided to leave the hospital and asked our photographer Raffy Lerma if we could look for the townhouse, or maybe see the van of scene-of-the-crime operatives (Soco) and police cars.

Being a police reporter I knew that the Soco must be on the crime scene.

But when we arrived at Tierra Pura, the village security head said he had not been informed of any shooting incident and had not received any report about it.

We did not see any parked police vehicle that might indicate that something bad had happened in the house.

After two hours and nearing deadline, all our efforts yielded nothing.

Unconfirmed details

My editor had been asking me why I could not break the news about the incident. I could not. At that moment, all I had were all unconfirmed details.

I really wondered why the details surrounding the incident involving a TV personality could be so scant. And he’s a news anchor, too.

At about 3:30 p.m., my police source told me to go back to New Era, where Supt. Franklin Mabanag, head of the QCPD CIDU, and his men, and other reporters had converged.

Security at the hospital at this time was already strict and media people were not immediately allowed to get in.

Mabanag did not want to say anything yet. He just told us to wait.

A few minutes after 4 p.m., Mabanag and his group started to move out of the hospital. He did not say where his group was going, but we thought they were on their way to the crime scene. We followed Mabanag’s group.

Bigger, newer

While on our way, I found out that we were going to Failon’s house in Tierra Pura (we missed the broadcaster’s house when we first went there, because it was in the area where houses were bigger and newer.)

When we reached the place, an ABS-CBN crew was already there. It was only at that moment that we found out that the victim was Failon’s wife, and that the shooting incident happened inside their house.

All other reporters, except for ABS-CBN news reporters and crew, were not allowed inside the house.

Exclusive photos

I was lucky that I had interviewed the investigators and had known them from previous stories I had reported on. When they asked if they could have a photographer to take photos inside the house, I immediately volunteered Raffy Lerma.

Raffy took so many exclusive photos, each one memorable, especially that of Failon weeping on the shoulder of Vice President De Castro.

While waiting for sporadic reports from the police, I decided to talk to the househelp at the gate right across from Failon’s house.

They said they did not hear any gunshot but at around 11:00 a.m. they saw Failon come out of the house carrying a body to his vehicle.

Fax machines

During the stakeout, we noticed that printers and fax machines were brought into the house by CIDU personnel in civilian uniform.

Asked why the printers and fax machines were brought inside, they said they would use the equipment to get the statements of the people in the house, including Failon.

At around 9:30 p.m., the place had quieted down and I decided to go to Camp Karingal to interview Mabanag and see if there was any development worth pursuing.

Tampering with evidence

He said that his men were waiting for the results of the paraffin test. He added that in consultation with police lawyers, Failon would be charged with tampering with evidence and obstruction of justice.

Mabanag said the broadcaster failed to immediately report the shooting of his wife and that he would be arrested that evening.

He said the CIDU would enforce the law.

With that information I decided to go back to Failon’s house and wait for developments. I was there when I received the information that Failon had tested negative for powder burns.

Who gave order?

At around midnight, Failon was brought to Camp Karingal in Quezon City by the arresting team led by Supt. Gerardo Ratuita, deputy chief of the Quezon City CIDU. The popular news anchor was accompanied by his eldest daughter, Kaye, and his lawyers.

Burly men in black shirts, which I found out were ABS-CBN security men, shielded the way for Failon. Even at the camp, the men in black blocked the stairs to prevent reporters from getting near the broadcaster.

The reporters covering the story were up all night because if you leave you might miss something, or someone might just show up. Like Public Attorney head Persida Acosta, who was early the following day and “kidnapped” Failon out of the camp.

It was not clear who allowed Failon to leave the camp. He went straight to the hospital. The police could not pinpoint the one who gave the order to allow the broadcaster to leave the camp.

The National Bureau of Investigation took over the probe from the police after Quezon City policemen were seen on TV manhandling the couple’s relatives who refused to be taken away from Etong’s hospital bedside for questioning.

Several police officers were suspended.

The NBI eventually exonerated Failon and declared his wife’s death a suicide.

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