Friends remember Robert Martirez as karaoke fan; NYPD urges witnesses to come forward

By Cristina DC Pastor

Four days before he was killed in what appeared to be an unprovoked attack, Robert Martirez, 56, was chilling at a friend’s house and singing karaoke.

“Walang bisyo, he just loved to sing,” said a friend from Woodside, Efren de Leon. “His favorite song is ‘Wonderful Tonight.’”

Efren remembered meeting Robert five years ago when he (Efren), newly arrived in New York, was looking for an apartment.

“He came to New York many years ahead of me so he knew where to look,” said Efren, who spoke to reporters outside the Kennedy-Roth Funeral Home on Woodside where a June 27 viewing was held for Robert by members of his family.

The funeral home was several blocks away from where Robert, identified in media reports as a limo driver, was knocked down in a fatal punch on June 22. He died at the Elmhurst General Hospital two days later, rousing the Filipino American community to indignation over reports the attack might be a “hate crime.” The Philippine Consulate has cautioned FilAms against any rush to conclusion, urging them to await the results of a police investigation.

Robert was not a limo driver, stated Efren, who works as a staff in a local school. What he knows is that this quiet and affable man was a chauffeur for a member of the politically-connected Romualdez family. He was a long-time driver for the family of a granddaughter of former Philippine Ambassador to Washington D.C. Benjamin “Kokoy” Romualdez, who happens to be a brother of former First Lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos.

“I don’t know why they’re calling him a limo driver,” said Efren. “Ang alam ko family driver siya.”

As a chauffeur of about 20 years, Robert is quite happy with his job because it allows him to spend time with his family and children. He has two children, Allan and Alex, from his ex-wife Andrea, a nurse at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx. He has a daughter, Apple, from a previous marriage, but she is a resident of California.

Efren remembered sharing plates of food with Robert, which turned out to be their last meal together. Robert halved everything – the eggs and the fish — on his plate and put it on Efren’s plate. “O ayan, pare, hati tayo,” was his friend’s last words.

At this point, Efren got emotional and wiped a tear away

According to another friend, Ernie Santos, Robert is a quiet family man, who loves to play some poker when he has some free time.

Ernie said he met Robert because his uncle is Robert’s primary care physician. They would run into each other in the past year during Robert’s occasional visits to the clinic, until they became friends.

“He is from Tondo,” said Ernie suggesting Robert was no stranger to the gritty side of life and would know how to protect himself. He said he was surprised to learn he had died from the attack.

Consul General Mario de Leon came to the June 27 viewing together with members of the consulate’s Assistance to Nationals unit headed by Consul Felipe Carino. They were huddled at a private receiving room with family members and police investigators for almost an hour.

“The family wants justice to be done,” said De Leon to reporters who were waiting outside the room after he emerged from the meeting. “That’s all they’re asking.”

He said the NYPD has vowed to pursue the investigation as “high priority,” and treat it as a “high profile” case. But they are also asking members of the FilAm community who may have witnessed, or knew something about, the attack to come forward. The Woodside neighborhood in Queens has a heavy Filipino population.

“We need eyewitnesses,” he said. “There might be some angles they (police) haven’t seen.”

If the witnesses are reluctant to cooperate directly with the cops, De Leon said they could come to the consulate and his office would be happy to help coordinate the sharing of information with investigators.

Robert’s remains were cremated June 28.

Consul General Mario de Leon Jr. speaks to members of the Martirez family. The FilAm Photos

Consul General Mario de Leon Jr. speaks to members of the Martirez family. The FilAm Photos

At the wake. Family requested privacy as NYPD confiscated cameras.

At the wake. Family requested privacy as NYPD confiscated cameras.

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