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Sydney massacre: Survivor is suspect

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SYDNEY, Australia — The survivor is now the suspect.

A 21-year-old Filipino immigrant pleaded innocent yesterday to charges that he stabbed to death his mother, father and sister in their Sydney home last year.

Sef Gonzales was charged in a Sydney court with three counts of murder in the deaths of his parents, Teodoro, 46, Loiva, 43 and sister Claudine, 18. They were knifed to death in their home in North Ryde, Sydney on July 10, 2001. The two women had their throats slit, according to Australian media reports.

Sef was arrested on Thursday at his home in another northern Sydney suburb. He did not apply for bail and was ordered by Magistrate John McIntosh to be held in custody and to reappear before the court on June 25.

Sef’s lawyer, Peter Kincominas, told the court that police evidence was circumstantial and that his client had an alibi for a significant part of the evening of the murders.

Kincominas added that he expected the police to include in a statement of facts the family’s time of death — a fact he claimed would clear his client.

"Police were told on a number of occasions that if they wanted my client, he would present himself to the police station with his legal advisers," Kincominas told the court. "(But) he was arrested without notice this morning."

A spokeswoman for the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs said that due to the high level of interest in the Philippines over the slayings, she advised the Philippine embassy in Canberra of Sef’s arrest. The embassy could not immediately be contacted for comment.

Sef, a law student at the University of New South Wales, said he returned home early that day to find his home ransacked and his family dead.

He reported the murders to his neighbors and later made a tearful public appeal for help in finding his family’s killer: "It is difficult to explain the love and ties in my family, but if you were to picture the four corners of the world, in my world we were the four."

In Baguio City, Teodoro Gonzales’ sister, lawyer and regional Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) officer Annie Gonzales-Tesoro, said she was shocked at the development in the case, adding that they only found out about Sef’s arrest via text messages from Australia.

Tesoro and her younger brother, Frederick Gonzales, immediately flew to Australia after the murders to "seek the truth" behind the killings. She asked reporters to "just wait (for) whatever the result of the authorities’ investigation will be."

Earlier, the Baguio-based Gonzales family refused to believe allegations that Sef may have been involved in the murders. Tesoro, looking frail and shocked, also said they have no definite plans to head for Sydney to personally look into the matter. She said she hoped justice would be served in the slaying of her brother’s family and that Sef would be accorded due process.

It will be recalled that the Baguio City community and its officials condemned the killings and remembered Teodoro as a good public servant who once served Baguio City Hall as its auditor before immigrating to Australia.

Immediately after the murders, Australian newspapers reported that a racist message had been written on the walls of the Filipino immigrants’ home using the victims’ blood. The attack was described by Australian police as "an outrage."

Some probers believe the hate message could have been a ruse to throw authorities off the trail. Detectives commissioned a task force code named "Strike Force Tawas," to track down the killers.

Teodoro and his family migrated to Australia following the killer Baguio earthquake in 1990. They came from prominent families in Baguio, with Teodoro having served as secretary of Baguio City Mayor Francisco Paraan – the officer-in-charge of the city after the EDSA revolution in February 1986.

The slain Gonzales patriarch was a graduate of the Baguio Colleges Foundation (BCF) college of law, where he later taught, while his brother is the owner of the Forest Inn along Legarda Road.

The couple once owned the Queen Victoria Hotel along Legarda Road, which was destroyed by the July 16, 1990 temblor. Artemio Dumlao

ANNIE GONZALES-TESORO ARTEMIO DUMLAO AUSTRALIAN DEPARTMENT OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS BAGUIO BAGUIO CITY BAGUIO CITY HALL BAGUIO CITY MAYOR FRANCISCO PARAAN LEGARDA ROAD SEF TEODORO
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