The recent death of Trinidad Etong, wife of prominent Filipino broadcaster Ted Failon (Mario Etong in real-life) has spurred a lot of speculation about the circumstances of the case especially amongst bloggers and internet forums, particularly the question of suicide (which is the currently positioned angle of the Failon household) and the possibility of parricide, homicide, or murder which is being investigated by Philippine authorities on the case.
Obfuscating the case findings are the instances of tampering with evidence on the part of Failon’s househelp, which are placing them under accusation of obstruction of justice, as well as instances abuse and brutality on the part of the Philippine National Police in the conduct of the investigation. Furthermore, the recent finding that no one in Failon’s household tested positive for gunpowder burns, including the now-deceased Mrs. Etong, raises more doubts and speculations about her death.
As for me, I won’t dwell on questions of speculated guilt (whether Mrs. Etong’s, Ted Failon’s or others) here–as there are already a growing number of commentaries on this subject. Browsing through the numerous facts, theories, and speculations on the case thus far has brought my curiosity onto one undisputed piece of evidence in the Etong case: the suicide note of Mrs. Etong.
There’s already a sizeable amount of research done on the nature and context of suicide notes. Not all cases of suicides are accompanied by notes, but many studies have partly established the suicides normally accompanied by notes.
On age trends:
- Suicide notes written by young people were longer, rich in emotions, and often begging for forgiveness.
- Suicide notes written by the elderly were shorter, contained specific instructions, and were less emotional.
- Most note leavers mention their difficulties.
Among the elderly:
- Most were unknown to psychiatric services, and used a non-violent method of suicide.
- Those that left suicide notes used less violent methods of suicide such as suffocation by plastic bags, electrocution, or car exhaust.
- Those that died by more violent means such as hanging, drowning, jumping, immolation, or wounding, were less likely to leave a suicide note.
- Those written by those using violent methods contained less joy, less love for others, less humor/irony, less thanks, suggesting a greater amount of alienation from significant others.
- Those written by women were found to show less intrapersonal hostility, gave fewer instructions concerning final affairs, accepted less personal responsibility, and used fewer absolute terms than those written by men.
- Higher proportion of letter writers in female populations, and suicides by more lethal methods such as carbon monoxide, hanging, or sharp instruments.
- Non-letter-writers had tendencies to commit suicide for reasons of psychiatric disorders.
Most common reasons that people contemplating suicide choose to write a note include:
- To ease the pain of those known to the victim by attempting to dissipate guilt.
- To increase the pain of survivors by attempting to create guilt.
- To set out the reason(s) for suicide.
- To give instructions as to disposal of remains.
- Occasionally, those who have committed murder or some other offense will confess their acts in a note.
Those occasions where people fail to write a note are:
- They are so focused on the practicalities of what they are about to do (e.g. loading a pistol or tying a noose, etc.) that the idea of leaving a note does not occur to them
- Their choice to commit suicide was impulsive, or at least hasty enough that there was no time to compose a suicide note.
- They have nothing to say and/or nobody to say it to — common for those without surviving loved ones or other social relationships, such as the elderly.
- They feel that they cannot express what they wish to say.
- They simply do not wish to write about their choice, or cannot see any point in doing so.
- They are functionally or completely illiterate, or uncomfortable with written language.
- They hope the suicide will be considered to be an accident or homicide. This is common in those who wish to be buried in consecrated ground or hope their families will be able to collect on insurance.
Which brings us back to Mrs. Etong’s suicide note, which I requote here.
Papa, I’m so sorry. Gustong gusto ko pong magsabi sa iyo ng totoo. Pero hindi ko po alam kung papaano ko uumpisahan. Sobrang takot na takot po ako. Aaalis po muna ako. Kasi hindi ko po kaya at nahihiya po ako sa iyo. Sana po mapatawad mo ako. Sorry, sorry – Mama.
Papa, I’m so sorry. I really want to tell you the truth. But I don’t know how to start. I’m really so afraid. I will take my leave for now. Because I can’t handle it and I am ashamed to face you. I hope you forgive me. Sorry, sorry – Mama.
Just analyzing the note’s characteristics, against the research above:
- It appears haphazardly done, and ambigious — suggesting that it was done either in haste, or in an unfocused state of mind. This is consistent with the method of suicide–as violent methods of suicide (e.g. stabbing, hanging, gunshot, drowning) are more consistent with impulsiveness and lack of preparation, however these are also usually cases of suicides which do not normally leave a note.
- It appears to dwell on the emotional disposition of the writer, rather than the reasons prompting the suicide, and with no apparent instructions to those the victim is leaving behind. The note emphasizes on apologizing for a wrongdoing. This kind of composition is consistent with suicides among younger age groups, rather than suicides among the elderly.
- It contains some curious syntax, like the word “po”–which is usually an honorific reserved for addressing elders, and uncommon between married couples (e.g. it’s a word normally used by children addressing their parents/grandparents). Also as of this writing, it has yet to be made public whether the note is consistent with other samples of handwriting from the deceased.
Generally speaking, the suicide note either contradicts the usual profile of violent suicides or the age and profile of Mrs. Etong herself. However, I’m not drawing any conclusions on this matter here.
Just saying if Mrs. Etong’s suicide note is genuine, it simply begs the further question of why her case should fit the exception, rather than the rule.
 Suicide notes: what do they tell us?
 The significance of suicide notes in the elderly.
 THE CONTENT OF SUICIDE NOTES: DOES IT VARY BY METHOD OF SUICIDE, SEX, OR AGE?
 Differences in characteristics between suicide victims who left notes or not
 Suicide Note – Wikipedia