We were eating lunch at a Daly City home and watching “Eat Bulaga!”, the popular noontime variety show on GMA TV, when someone commented that he read on Facebook that two of the show’s hosts, Vic Sotto and Joey de Leon, were involved in the gang rape of a young Filipino American actress named Pepsi Paloma in 1982.
Three young Filipino kids, all recent immigrants, joined in the conversation and said that they also heard of the Pepsi Paloma rape case. I expressed surprise because it occurred long before any of them were born. They explained that they learned of the rape from the song “Spolarium” composed and performed by the Eraserheads, their favorite Filipino rock band.
When I Googled the lyrics of “Spolarium” by the Eraserheads, I found these words:
at ngayon di pa rin alam
kung ba’t tayo nandito
pwede bang itigil muna
ang pagikot ng mundo
umiyak ang umaga
anong sinulat ni enteng at joey dyan
sa gintong salamin
di ko na mabasa
pagkat merong nagbura ahhh…
(And we still don’t know why we’re here, please stop the turning of the world, the morning cried, what did enteng and joey write in the golden mirror I couldn’t read because someone erased it).
According to these diehard fans of the Eraserheads, “enteng” is Vic Sotto and “joey” is Joey de Leon and the something that was erased was their criminal record. The meaning of the lyrics of this song, the kids shared, has been a popular subject of discussion in Manila universities as well as in the social media.
When I Googled “Pepsi Paloma”, I saw the link to the video that had been downloaded on Facebook by as many as 66,000 viewers The “Eat Bulaga – Pepsi Paloma story” reported the tragic tale of Delia Smith, the eldest daughter of Lydia Duenas, a native of Borac, Northern Samar, and Kenneth Smith, an American letter carrier who deserted his family when his four children were still young.
When Delia was barely 13, her mother introduced her to talent manager Rey dela Cruz who changed her name to “Pepsi Paloma” to join his stable of other “soft drink” beauties which included Sarsi Emmanuel and Cola Nicolas. Dela Cruz secured Pepsi’s starring role in her first movie, a “bold” feature called Brown Emmanuelle in 1981.
Less than a year later, according to her account, while promoting one of her movies, Pepsi met the three comedian hosts of Eat Bulaga – Vic Sotto, Joey de Leon and Richie D’Horsey (Richie Reyes). The three men took her out to a bar, drugged her, and then gang raped her in a hotel room. (Because she was only 14 at the time, these comedians were pedophile rapists.)
To prosecute a crime in the Philippines, you cannot just rely on government prosecutors, you have to hire a private prosecutor otherwise the case will be dismissed for lack of prosecution. For this job, Pepsi sought the help of then Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile who referred her to the senior partner in the ACCRA law office, Atty. Rene Cayetano, the father of Sen. Pia Cayetano and Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, who offered his pro bono services to Pepsi.
If convicted of the rape charge, the three comedians faced the death penalty, a sentence that was meted out previously in 1967 to the four rapists of movie star Maggie dela Riva. Three of the men were executed in 1972 on live TV while the fourth escaped the electric chair by dying in prison.
To prevent the same fate from befalling his younger brother, Sen. Tito Sotto quickly went to see Pepsi Paloma while she was still securing the services of Atty. Cayetano. According to her account of this visit, Sen. Sotto “coerced” her into signing an “Affidavit of Desistance” to drop the rape complaint against his brother and his cohorts.
[But how could that affidavit be legal when she was only 14 when she signed it and she did so without the presence of her attorney? But this happened in 1982 during martial law and the Sottos were said to be favored by the Marcos dictatorship.]
How was she coerced? In her November 3, 2012 column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Rina Jimenez David described this incident as follows: “Paloma eventually dropped the charges after she was allegedly visited by one of the trio who said he had only talked with her, but only after placing a pistol on the table in front of her.”
As a result of Pepsi’s signed affidavit of desistance, no criminal charges were filed against the three comedian rapists even after they went down on their knees on their show “Eat Bulaga!” and asked forgiveness from Pepsi Paloma for raping her when she was only 14.
Three years after her rape, on May 31, 1985, Pepsi was found dead in her apartment with a rope looped around her neck. The police concluded that it was a suicide caused by “monetary problems” and this was the official story that appeared in the headlines of the newspapers.
But her manager, Babette Corcuerra, disputed the press account. “She was earning well and was fully booked for dancing performances. She just finished the Pepsi Paloma Show at the Bughaw and 10 other beerhouses,” Corcuerra said, and she had three film offers lined up, she added.
It just did not add up, Corcuerra said. “She was looking forward to celebrating her 18th birthday next year. She made me promise to throw a big party for her at a hotel because it would be her debut,” Corcuerra told the Times Journal.
Was she murdered? Before he passed away, in an interview on ABS-CBN that was not aired, self-confessed hitman Kit Mateo intimated as much.
“Eat Bulaga!” is now entering its 35th year as the longest-running noontime variety on air program in the history of television, making millionaires of its comedic stars.
Sen. Tito Sotto is still in the Philippine Senate serving as the proud champion of the Holy Roman Catholic Church in his staunch opposition to the Reproductive Health Act and to all forms of contraception.
Pepsi Paloma would have celebrated her 47th birthday this year.
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