Cadaver of ex-mayor’s wife found, family seeks closure

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ILIGAN CITY
 — After a month of searching for his missing wife, former Iligan City m and lawyer Franklin Quijano announced on Thursday (August 1) that the family has stopped the search for Salma Theresa who had gone missing since June 27.

This after the dental examination result of a body floating in Mandulog River, about 300 meters away from the family residence, matched those of the dental record of Salma, according to Quijano, the current administrator of the government’s Philippine Veterans Investment Development Corporation (Phividec) in Tagoloan, Misamis Oriental.

On July 30, Franklin said they decided to have a dental examination matching and DNA test conducted on a body found on June 29, two days after the family discovered Salma missing.

Franklin said family members disregarded the idea that it was his wife because they did not remember Salma having worn any of the clothing found on the woman’s body.

At that time, he said the body was already bloated, the face was deformed and rounded that it did not resemble Salma even a little. The family ignored the possibility that the remains could be Selma’s.

Missed signs

“Maybe we have missed some signs but the general reaction was “it was not her” because the dress is not hers, she is not used to wearing such kind of dress, it was not her because the pants was not hers,” Franklin said.

“After several inputs, which were actually wrong impressions, maybe part of our wanting to find her live body or maybe our denial, we made our wrong conclusion. Scientific determination is lacking because there was perhaps some protocol issues that we did not accomplish because, for us, the body was not hers,” he added.

No one claimed the body and the funeral service company that retrieved it decided to bury the remains at a public cemetery in Barangay Dalipuga after two weeks.

Meanwhile, the family intensified their search efforts.

“We went into searching and every little sign of her possible presence was checked. We went to Bukidnon, to Cagayan de Oro City. We divided Cagayan de Oro into many sections (just to find her). We accepted every input,” the former mayor said.

Second look

However, the efforts to find Salma did not yield any positive result, and Franklin said it was then that they thought of having a second look at the unclaimed body that was now already buried.

The exhumation of the remains went into high gear with the arrival of Salma’s brother, Roberto, from the United States, Quijano said.

It was Roberto who persisted on the possibility that the remains could be Selma’s. But how to find the truth if not to examine the suspected remains?

“That question brought us into requesting for an exhumation, having a second look at it, and performing a DNA matching with the family members–if that is the only assurance and to find closure,” Franklin said.

Roberto said it took them a week before their request for exhumation was approved.

On July 30, government medico-legal personnel examined the remains and found out that the teeth belonging to the body matched with Salma’s dental records.

DNA tests

The next day, the family sent the DNA samples from Salma’s parents, one of her children, and from the cadaver to Manila for matching, according to Roberto.

The result normally comes out after a month but the family requested that it will be expedited.

In this photo, Salma Theresa Gerona-Quijano (center) is seen with former Iligan City mayor and now Phividec Administrator Franklin Quijano (at her back) and their colleagues at the Couples for Christ during the organization’s 31st anniversary in July 2017. (Photo from Ana Merlyn Encarnado)

“Even as dentures may have matched that of the dental record of Titatit (Salma’s nickname), we still cling to that chance that it could not be her, we decided to have a DNA test of the body,” Franklin said.

The exhumed cadaver, whose teeth matched Salma’s dental records, was put in a closed brown casket that currently laid at a funeral chapel in Iligan beside the remains of Salma’s uncle, Rafael Maristela Gerona, who died on July 30, the same day the cadaver was exhumed.

Franklin said, Gerona, who died due to old age, was close to Salma.

What went before?

Franklin last saw Salma on June 26 before going to his Phividec office in Tagoloan, Misamis Oriental, around two hours drive from Iligan City.

He remembered their last moment as a mixture of the usual “banters and jokes”.

The former mayor said their last conversation was on the phone when he shared his talk with their youngest daughter whom he sent to school before going to work in Tagoloan that day.

While in the office at 10:40 a.m., Franklin said Salma texted him about a cheque that had to be replaced because she lost it.

Franklin said he was not able to reply because he was busy. Still on the same day, while he was on his way to Manila, he called Salma, the phone rang but was not answered.

“I just called my children to tell their Mama that we may not be able to talk because I will already be on the plane and when I’d arrive Manila she would already be asleep. She has a routine to sleep at 7 o’clock in the evening,” Franklin recalled.

In the morning of June 27, it was their daughter who saw Salma last as she embraced her mother before she went to school.

Franklin said he called Salma’s phone at 12 noon, the phone did not ring. He called their son and asked where his mother was and answered she was in the other house.

“That was his impression even if he did not see her because he heard there was a conversation at the other house,” Franklin recalled.

The Quijanos live inside a compound owned by the Geronas, where some of Salma’s siblings also hold residence.

Depression, anxiety

In his previous posts on social media, Franklin said Salma was experiencing anxieties due to her menopausal syndrome.

“She had hot flashes as well as other pains and symptoms that usually accompany menopause,” Franklin wrote on Facebook.

Two weeks before Salma’s disappearance the couple attended a prayer meeting of the Couple’s for Christ, where they are members of for 25 years.

“She was in a happy mood,” Franklin recalled.

Although Salma was no longer around, the family marked the couple’s 29th wedding anniversary.

 Investigation

“I think the findings of the SOCO (Scene of the Crime Operatives) maybe sufficient saying there were no bruises, no wounds and that her skin is intact; there are no signs of violence. The conclusion of the (government) doctor is drowning,” Franklin said.

But he made it clear that the family will not oppose any further investigation into the incident “because it is the obligation of the state to do so.”

“At the same time, we are trying to explain the context of her condition, the condition of the family, and the situation where we are in. We are living beside the river,” he said.

Their eldest son, Xerxes, said his mother used to linger in the river, where the body was found, during her childhood.

Franklin recalled that there were times when the two of them wanted to do some walking, the river was the place they went to.

Now that the family is grieving, Franklin asked the public to refrain from making “negative comments and speculations,” especially on social media that will not help them cope with her demise.

“I hope that the public will be more introspecting in making statements so that we will have some elements of dialogue in society more than some amount of prejudgements,” he said. -PNA

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