"I would give anything to have my wife back"
TO the world, she is Blessie Gotingco, murder victim, tragedy.
But to her husband, she was the world -- and still is.
"For me, she was everything. She is and she will be the best thing that ever happened to me," Antonio Gotingco told the Weekend Herald this week.
"Blessie was a wonderful human being, she was a very good wife to me and a perfect mum to our children ... she was my best friend.
"Blessie was the light of our home and without her, we live in darkness. We live a dark, gloomy existence without her and I just wish she was with us ... I would give anything to have my wife back."
Mr Gotingco's gaze shifts to an ornate green-and-gold-patterned urn on a table beside him -- Blessie's urn.
"She was full of life and her smile was infectious. I was just happy to be with her."
Two years ago, the couple were celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary. Now Mr Gotingco is alone.
"She was the glue and the strength that bound us together as a family.
"I miss her so much. Mostly, I miss just holding her hand. I held her hand all the time. Every time we drove in the car, I liked to hold her hand. It was a simple joy. Now all of my simple joys have been taken away."
Mr Gotingco was in the Philippines on a work trip when Blessie was killed. It was a Saturday.
Blessie went to work at Tower Insurance. She was picked up by her colleague and close friend Behula Shah.
She was supposed to get a ride home with Mrs Shah at 5pm, but offered to do a couple of hours' overtime.
Blessie left the Tower Insurance office in Auckland's CBD about 7pm. She took Birkenhead Transport's 973 bus from Lower Albert St to Birkdale Rd and was walking the 700m to her home when she was spotted by Tony Douglas Robertson.
The convicted sex offender and abductor had been released from prison just five months earlier. He was was subject to an extended supervision order, which included 24-hour GPS tracking.
He ran Blessie down in his car, breaking her leg. He stopped, threw her into his car and drove to his home nearby.
There, he raped her. He stabbed her to death. And then he put her back in the car and drove her to the Birkenhead Cemetery, where he dumped her body.
At 3.15am on Sunday, Blessie's daughter, Bea, got home from work and could not find her mother.
Worried, she called her two brothers and then the police. At 6am, Bea found her mum's cellphone on a grass verge in Salisbury Rd. Also scattered around the verge were Blessie's shoes, and Tupperware containers in which she took food to work.
It was clear that something was very, very wrong.
"I got an early-morning call from my son telling me that my wife was missing," Mr Gotingco recalled.
"Initially I didn't believe it. Police thought probably just hit-and-run, maybe my wife was hurt, or disoriented. I was really hoping that my wife was alive ... that it was just some sort of an accident.
"But then it sank in -- if this is not an accident, this is something more sinister. I was very worried."
He was in Cebu at the time, where he and Blessie were born and grew up, and booked flights home immediately.
Thirty-six agonising hours later, he landed in Auckland.
"All the while I was still hoping she was alive. When I arrived, my children were there together in the airport with the police. They were crying.
"Then I knew that she was gone ... My head was spinning around. I told my children, 'I'm very sorry that I wasn't here, that I was away when it happened' ... I cannot find the words to express our emotions and grief during that time, even up to today."
Blessie was murdered four days after her 56th birthday. She would have turned 58 yesterday.
On May 20, 2014, she had lunch with daughter Bea and sons Vincent and John at a pub in Greenhithe. They continued celebrating with a family dinner at Urban Turban in Wynyard Quarter that night.
"I have some photos they sent me on the phone from that day," Mr Gotingco said.
"We talked on the phone ... I could not believe that four days later, she'd be taken away from us."
Blessie was "very happy" in her last days. Mr Gotingco was due home on June 15 and she was excited that she'd soon see him. He was supposed to fly home before her birthday, but his work trip was extended.
"The last time I spoke to her over the phone, she said, 'Come home'. I was kidding with her, 'Do you miss me already?'" Mr Gotingco said. "I thought that in just another two weeks I'd be there ... That was the last time we spoke."
30 years married
The couple met at primary school. Blessie, two years older, was in the same class as Mr Gotingco's sister and he was friends with her brothers.
She was the oldest of six, and a much-respected and loved sibling. The couple started dating on February 21, 1979, shortly after Mr Gotingco's family moved into the same suburb when he was a teenager.
"That's a special day for me. I used to play basketball and hold the number 8. But when we began dating, I chose the number 21."
In 1980, Mr Gotingco finished his business degree and got a job -- but it was in a difference province.
After four years of long-distance love, the couple decided to marry. Their big day was in April 1984.
"We just celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary in 2014, and a month later, she died.
"We were together about 35 years. That is a very good partnership."
The couple emigrated to New Zealand with their kids in 2004. Blessie loved to get out and about and see the sights of Auckland, and New Zealand.
She was big on collecting vouchers and visiting new restaurants and taking her family on adventures. When she and her husband had days off work they would go on long drives together. One of her favourite places was the Hamilton Gardens.
"My wife took care of our children very well. We provided them with as much as we could, the comforts in life within our reach. We're not that rich but as much as possible we tried to provide.
"That's why she liked moving to New Zealand, she thought we could provide a better future for our children. She really was the perfect mum ... She gives us inspiration on a day-to-day basis."
"I hate him very much"
Mr Gotingco never mentions the name of the man who killed his Blessie. Mr Gotingco is a well-spoken man, gentle and warm. But when asked about Robertson, his eyes darken. He remains measured when he talks about him, but behind his words, his pain and anger are visceral.
When he first heard about the killer's background, he was "very angry".
"I hate him very much. I don't know how to say it in English but in our Cebuana dialect we call this particular person a pisting yawa."
The best translation for the term is a devil pest, someone dark and evil.
"If this had happened in the Old West I could have just bought a gun and shot him. But we live in a civilised society ... I think it's a normal reaction, you want to strike back," Mr Gotingco said.
"It sank in and we just had to control ourselves."
Even though two years have passed, the immense feeling of hate has not.
The Gotingco family believe that the Government, particularly the Department of Corrections which was charged with managing Robertson, could have and should have done more. They say while Robertson was the one who chose to kill Blessie, he was "enabled" by the authorities.
An independent inquiry, the findings of which were released this week, cleared Corrections and the police of any major failings in relation to the monitoring of Robertson.
While areas were identified where the management of high-risk offenders such as Robertson could be improved, Justice Minister Judith Collins said the inquiry also concluded that "Robertson and only Robertson can be held responsible for what happened to Mrs Gotingco".
Mr Gotingco described the inquiry as a "whitewash".
He is considering taking civil action action against Corrections for the wrongful death of Blessie and a Givealittle page has been set up to help him fund it.
"All the legal expenses will be huge. We're appealing to the general public if they can help us in raising financial resources. Those who have supported us in the past, I'm sure, will readily support us again. This is the biggest challenge of our life," he said.
I compare this to the epic battle of David and Goliath. But I am fighting the Establishment ... I'm very angry and I'm in a fighting mode now. I'm going to war.
Mr Gotingco said he could not fathom how a Government that was supposed to protect its citizens could put a dangerous, "evil" criminal into the community.
"It should have never happened, not only to my wife but to anyone. The Department of Corrections have blood on their hands ... They have neglected public safety ... They are the ones who put that criminal there, [they] facilitated the actions of the criminal when they put that evil person in our neighbourhood. They gave him the opportunity to kill somebody.
"We have to fight back because if not, this will happen again and again. My wife is the one in front of this, but we are doing this for the welfare of everybody here in New Zealand. I hope that the Government will make changes that will benefit the public in the future. This is what it's all about, really.
"Let's show the Government the power of the people. Let's tell them, 'Never again', that we deserve something better."
- NZ Herald