One Sunday morning, I went to church to hear mass. A wedding was going on. I was quietly praying when I spotted him kneeling on a small pew—at the altar! My boyfriend was the bridegroom, and his bride was someone I later learned he had been seeing while we were together. My heart sank. I never expected to catch him red-handed. He had been lying to me all that time, and I was the clueless fool.
Coming from the hurt of betrayal, I wanted to do myself and other cheated-on women a favor. I didn’t need a hit spy movie to inspire me or any Bond girl to emulate; that heartbreaking experience was all it took to make up my mind. It was only natural that I was lured to the ways and tactics of detective work.
I decided I wanted to be an NBI agent. But because I lacked a law or accounting degree needed for this kind of career and because of my petite build (I’m 5’2” and 110 lbs.), I knew I wouldn’t make the cut. I contemplated becoming a policewoman, but I was still too short. I decided to go for a career in private investigation—after all, my small, dark, waif-like features made me shoo-in for undercover work.
Back in college, I already fancied myself an amateur sleuth and crime fighter. Between 1993 to 1996, I shifted to Criminology after taking up Psychology. For two years, I relished spending nights volunteering at the PNP headquarters as part of the Auxiliary Police.
One time, I worked with a group that raided a popular bar after we were tipped off about rampant marijuana use by some customers on the premises. As we arrived on the scene, the other female cops and I apprehended the suspects, shouting “Freeze!” like they do in cop shows. During situations like this, it’s the female police who are asked to take charge because, generally, suspects trust women more. I stayed with the Auxiliary Police for around two years.
After graduation and a couple of jobs as an in-house department store detective and a secretary for a realty company, I answered an ad from a reputable detective agency that was looking for investigators. I applied and passed the screening and interviews. With my previous experience, training was a breeze. Soon enough, I was asked to accompany an agent to a neighborhood investigation. After that assignment, I was given my own case to lead.
In 2002, I was assigned my first surveillance mission. A female client came to us, suspecting that her 50-something husband was cheating on her. She gave us an address to check out.
On the first day of operations, I waited for my subject’s car to come up the driveway of a condominium in an upscale area of San Juan, then watched as he came down from his vehicle and entered the building. I followed the man, telling the security guard I was there to inquire about units for sale. A convincing story is usually the trick to get people to spill. It helps, too, if you’re a woman because there are less chances that a subject will doubt your credibility and ask questions. The guard fell for it and showed me the way to the administration office. Then, I followed my subject into the elevator and up until he entered the unit, which I took note of for the client. Later on, I found out that the man I was following did, in fact, have a mistress. Imagine the rush and excitement I felt when I finally uncovered the truth. “Challenging pala!” I said to myself. I was hooked.
What thrills me most are the “rewards” that diligent surveillance work bring. I get a high when our efforts bear fruit and we are able to gather proof that our subject has a mistress. One of the more memorable missions I worked on was what our agency codenamed Project Polo*, yet another case of a woman suspecting her husband of having an affair. As we pursued the case, we found out that the husband, who was 45 years old, had a mistress who was 28.
In my experience, the “other woman” is always younger and almost always prettier. But what makes me really wonder is why these mistresses bother to entertain these male subjects who aren’t even close to handsome. When this is the case, I assume the woman must be after the man’s money.
This seemed to be the case with Project Polo. On the first day of operations, my team and I followed the subject from his home in a posh village in Cainta. The man worked in Manila, but that day, he went straight to a mall in Ortigas. He circled the area a bit before going into the mall to park his car. We did the same, moving at a safe distance and watching as he went into a restaurant to order takeout. On foot, he went to the nearby office building and waited near the elevators until a girl came out. They kissed.
When you see your subject in a moment like this, you have to make sure your cameras are ready. If we can get close enough, my team uses a small, handy digital camera and takes photos liberally albeit discreetly. But in our car, several meters away, we used wide-lens cameras.
The man and his mistress both walked to his car in the parking lot, where they spent 15 minutes making out. His car wasn’t tinted, so it was easy to monitor them. From inside the car, it’s okay to pull out the entire video camera. But from the outside, we record from a distance using a special hidden camera.
They left the carpark, and our subject dropped the girl off at her office building. He drove around the Ortigas business district, running several errands as we continued to monitor him. They met again at 5:00 PM that day and had dinner.
All these scenes were caught on camera. With this kind of investigation, you have to make sure to catch every single act and moment, and that the correct sequences are kept. For instance, you need to be inside the restaurant, know what they ordered, what they talked about, and be as close to them as possible to build a strong case.
After a while, I followed them into the restaurant and sat at the table right next to them to listen to their conversation—it’s important to record even this, and it’s not always easy because the subjects usually whisper or speak in hushed tones.
I learned that the girl needed money and was asking for several thousands of pesos from our subject, who willingly gave her the cash right there and then. Then, they talked about going to the mall and having a vacation in Batangas. After dinner, the man dropped off the girl at her place in Mandaluyong. We couldn’t follow them throughout since we might blow our cover. I decided to walk the rest of the way.
Having acquired the girl’s address, we followed up with a secret investigation at her place. I probed, pretending to need to deliver a package to the girl. The best people to get the dish from are street vendors. Many of them, in my experience, are fond of gossip. After just a few questions, I had her whole name and had a good idea of the kind of life she led.
CHEATERS GET CREATIVE
If I weren’t an investigator sworn to protect my client’s identities, I’d make the perfect tabloid reporter. Our clients and subjects are usually rich and high profile. We get our fair share of celebrities, taipans, and politicians. I’ve caught many of my subjects sitting pretty in the lavish homes of their mistresses, COD (Care of Daddy), of course.
You’ll marvel at how creative cheaters can get. One time, a colleague of mine conducted surveillance after work hours, and found nothing on the male subject. But the female client insisted her husband was having an affair. When we diverted our operation to the early hours of the morning, they got positive reports on him. We caught him having breakfast regularly with the mistress. In fact, we discovered they already had a child together!
I can’t say why men cheat, really. Sometimes I think most men (my subjects, at least, who have been married for a long time) are really just looking for variety or a new, alternative thrill. But I don’t completely understand why they go to great lengths to cheat on their spouses. Is it that their partners do not fulfill a certain need? Or maybe they’re just jerks.
It brings to mind another case—a woman simply wanted to know what her husband was doing and why he went home so late all the time. All she knew was that he was a golf fanatic. While that was true, he’d also go to the casino afterward to gamble and have a drink. As it turns out, our subject also had a girlfriend on the side. He was only using the golf, casino, and barkada as covers. One day, we followed him picking up a pretty young girl from a mall, then proceeding to a condo along UN Avenue.
WOMEN CHEAT TOO
Though I’ve found men to be less prone to suspecting their partners of cheating, 2 out of 10 cases I’ve handled involved men hiring me to spy on their wives. One time, a male American client in his 50s came to us. He suspected his 22-year-old Filipino wife, whose college education he was paying for and whom he'd bought a house for, of cheating. During one of his frequent trips to the US, he asked us to check on her activities. We were able to gather proof that the she was, indeed, seeing someone her age. She’d meet her boyfriend at her house in Quezon City and even went on swimming trips with him to Bulacan. We tailed them throughout their excursion even though my partners and I did not have any swimming gear. Just to get close enough to see and hear them, I joined them in the water in my T-shirt and shorts!
When they emerged from the water, I dried myself and approached them, pretending to be from a car rental service, “Ma’am, baka gusto niyo po mag-rent, pabalik na rin kami ng Maynila (Would you want to rent a car, Mam? We're on our way back to Manila),” I ventured, aware that they didn’t have a car with them. They took the bait. It was the perfect setup—our car was equipped with audio and video recorders that caught all their kissing and romantic conversations on tape.
But even before we could present the proof to our client, he caught his wife carousing and drinking with her boyfriend and other men in front of their house. They had an argument which ended with the girl promising not to cheat on him again.
ALL IN A DAY'S WORK
In my line of work, I’ve heard all sorts of alibis cheaters give their partners. “Work” is their excuse 85 percent of the time; “meetings,” “overtime,” “company outings”—I’ve heard it all. But these experiences haven't made me lose faith in men. I’m still capable of trusting people, especially my husband.
I met my husband in the same agency. Being married to each other actually makes everything easier—we don’t really explain much when either of us comes home from a mission at 4:00 AM. As for our two kids, they never wonder or ask, all they know is that Mom and Dad go to the office every day.
My friends have a vague idea of what I do. I just tell them, “I do investigative work,” but never offer details. When they wonder why I go home so late sometimes, I jokingly say, “I’m a prostitute. Is there a problem?”
I don’t take pleasure in breaking up marriages with the evidence I provide. If at all, I’d rather a couple resolve their issues, infidelity or otherwise, than split up hastily, especially if they have children. Of course, at the end of the day, when I get positive results from my subjects, I’m only too happy because I’ve been successful. But I can’t help but feel sad when I see things like these happen to a family. It’s so hard to build and care for a family, after all. In the end, I still hope that people work all their issues out and do the right thing.
* Names have been changed by request from those concerned.
(First published in Marie Claire Magazine, Features section as "I bust cheaters for a living" in March 2007; recounted to Arlene Sy; adapted for use in Female Network)
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