Was Pepsi Paloma murdered?

Pepsi Paloma, a Filipino American who was born Delia Duenas Smith, starred in her first movie, Brown Emmanuelle, when she was only 14. While promoting the movie several months later, she was gang raped by three well-known Philippine TV personalities. Three years later, after starring in 9 movies when she was still only 17, she committed suicide. Or did she?

One of the few dailies allowed to publish during the martial law regime, the Times Journal on June 1, 1985 carried the banner headline, “Pepsi Paloma Kills Self by Hanging.” The front page news article reported that the day before, Pepsi Paloma’s “limp body, clad only in a flimsy yellow night gown, was found hanging inside a closet from a three-inch thick and 36-inch long cotton sash.”

Pfc. Willy Borgonia, the officer in charge of the Quezon City police investigation at the scene, told reporters that his “suicide” conclusion was based on the presence of the cotton sash around the victim’s neck and the discovery of her personal diary which indicated that she was depressed because of “monetary problems.”

There is no record that the Quezon City police checked for any fingerprints around the closet to determine if there was any foul play involved. There was no report of the presence of any stool or box inside the closet to provide some indication of how the victim managed to hang herself. There was also no attempt to verify if the handwriting of the diary actually belonged to Pepsi Paloma.

It was an open and shut case as far as Private First Class Willy Borgonia was concerned so there was no need to bother with forensic crime scene investigation. Except that Pepsi’s manager, Babette Corcuerra, disputed the official police explanation of “monetary problems” as the cause of her alleged suicide.

“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” which paid her at least 2500 pesos per performance (a large sum in 1985) and she had three film offers lined up, Corcuerra said.

Even though she was only 17, Pepsi had adopted a 4 month old son whom she was reportedly very close to. She wanted to provide for this child what she did not have. From all indications, Pepsi Paloma was a remarkably responsible young girl, not the type who would just loop a sash around her neck and just kill herself.

Corcuerra told the Times Journal that Pepsi was so looking forward to celebrating her 18th birthday the next year. “She even made me promise to throw a big party for her at a hotel because it would be her debut,” Corcuerra added.

One reader recalls attending the funeral wake of Pepsi Paloma when he was only 9 years old and noticing visible marks around her neck which indicated to him that she was “strangled”. Even a 9 year old boy knew then that a cotton sash could not have caused the marks he saw around her neck.

A friend used to joke that it was a waste of time to use metal detectors on Filipinos traveling to the US because Filipinos do not blow themselves up in planes.“It’s not in the DNA of Filipinos to commit suicide,” he observed. Even Filipino Muslim jihadists in the Philippines detonate bombs from a distance rather than blow themselves up“, he added.

Generally, only those suffering from severe mental depressions are likely to commit suicide and there was no indication that Pepsi Paloma was experiencing bouts of clinical depression that would cause her to end her life.

So if she did not commit suicide, was she murdered?

Pepsi Paloma was only 14 years old when she and another actress named Guada Guarin reported that they were drugged in a bar and brought to a room at the Sulo Hotel in Quezon City where they were “gang raped” by Joey De Leon, Vic Sotto and Richie D’Horsie, the comedian hosts of the popular TV show “Eat Bulaga!”

Pepsi Paloma reported her gang rape to her mother who contacted the police authorities where it made the headlines of the dailies. But the police would not file criminal charges against the rapists unless and until Pepsi Paloma hired a private prosecutor to pursue the criminal case. Pepsi sought the help of then Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile who referred her to Rene Cayetano, the lead attorney of the ACCRA law offices, who agreed to represent Paloma for free.

But while Cayetano was preparing to file the formal complaint with the police authorities, Pepsi Paloma was suddenly reported missing. In 1982 martial law Philippines, no one got abducted or “salvaged” unless it was done by the Metrocom Intelligence Security Group (MISG) led by notorious human rights violators Col. Rolando Abadilla and Capt. Panfilo Lacson and they did not abduct Pepsi Paloma. Assigned the task of finding Pepsi Paloma, Abadilla and Lacson knew exactly where to find Pepsi Paloma.

They tracked down Bienvenido Mendoza known infamously as “Ben Ulo”and their suspicion proved accurate when they found Pepsi Paloma held captive by Ben Ulo. They knew he was the likely suspect because he was known as the main enforcer of the Castelo clan which is on the maternal side of the Sotto family.

Ben Ulo had been sentenced to life imprisonment for the June 15, 1953 murder of Manuel P. Monroy who was a prosecution witness against then Secretary of National Defense Oscar Castelo (the uncle of Vic and Tito Sotto). The Philippine Supreme Court affirmed his murder conviction on May 30, 1964 (G.R. No. L-10774) but it is not certain how much time he actually spent in prison.

Ben Ulo readily confessed to Col. Abadilla that he was an “accomplice of the Castelos”. Despite his arrest and confession, however, there is no record that Ben Ulo was ever charged with any crime connected with the abduction of Pepsi Paloma.

After her rescue, Pepsi reported that Tito Sotto visited her and “coerced” her (by reportedly placing a pistol on the table in front of her) into signing an “affidavit of desistance” for her not to press rape charges against Sotto’s brother and his cohorts.

In exchange for the dismissal of the rape charges, Joey De Leon, Vic Sotto and Richie D’Horsie issued a public apology to Pepsi Paloma which was published in the People’s Journal on October13. 1982:

“We hope that you will not allow the error we have committed against you to stand as a stumbling block to that future which we all look forward to. We therefore ask you to find it in your heart to pardon us for the wrong which we have done against you.”

In the Philippines, people do not commit crimes, they only commit “errors”. It was simply an “error” for Joey, Vic and Richie to drug a 14-year old minor and then gang rape her.

If this “error” had occurred in the US, the perpetrators would have been charged and sentenced to the maximum allowed by law and that wouldn’t even be their worst fate. While in prison, they would likely be “gang raped” or even killed by convicts who rate child molesters and child rapists the lowest of the low, the most depraved of the depraved. If they somehow managed to survive their incarceration, they would be required to register as “sex offenders” in every place they move to for the rest of their sorry lives.

If this “error” had occurred in India, well it actually did. On December 16, 2012, in New Delhi, a 23-year old female intern was beaten and gang raped by five men. The woman later died from the beating in a case that ignited widespread protests all over India. The perpetrators were arrested and charged with sexual assault and murder. One of them hung himself while in police custody; the rest went to trial and were found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. [Coincidentally, this week the Delhi High Court affirmed their death sentences.]

But there were no protests in the Philippines against the gang rape of Pepsi Paloma in 1982 and no calls for an independent investigation of the mysterious circumstances surrounding her death in 1985. No charges were ever filed against any of her rapists or abductors.

Instead, 57-year old Vic Sotto is the reigning box-office king of Philippine movies and has been linked romantically to a succession of beautiful actresses from Dina Bonnevie and Pia Guanio to Pauline Luna.

Joey de Leon was 36 years old when he participated in the gang rape of 14 year old Pepsi Paloma, who was young enough to be his daughter.

There were very few commentaries about the rape of Pepsi Paloma at the time but one was found by former Sen. Heherson Alvarez who posted it on his blog: “Tito Sotto’s talent in politics was first tested in October 1982 when he spearheaded the settlement for the rape case filed by sexy stars Pepsi Paloma and Guada Guarin against Tito’s younger brother Vic Sotto and his “Eat Bulaga” co-hosts Joey de Leon and Richie D’Horsie.” (Talk Show, Fundy C. Soriano).”

Vicente “Tito” Castelo Sotto parlayed his “talent in politics” into a successful run for Vice Mayor of Quezon City in 1988 followed by two successive terms in the Philippine Senate from 1992 to 2004 and then another senate election in 2010 and possible reelection 2016.

Would Tito Sotto have enjoyed his political success and Vic Sotto and Joey de Leon their commercial success if Pepsi Paloma had still been alive to serve as a constant reminder to the public about her gang rape when she was just 14? Who knows?

When my article was published in the Inquirer online edition on March 5, 2014, I expected some response from the TVJ principals. But none of them responded to deny any of the assertions of the article although a number of their rabid fans rose to their defense by wildly speculating on what my motivation may be for bringing up the issue now.

To them, I quote Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “The arc of the moral universe may be long but it bends towards justice.”

One fan of Tito, Vic and Joey even used the name “Jim Paredes” to defend his idols. The real Jim Paredes immediately posted on his Facebook page that an impostor had maliciously used his name to express a sentiment he did not share. The real Jim Paredes wrote: “I also wish to say that like many people, I believe Pepsi Paloma did not get justice.”

So far, over 128,000 people have expressed a similar sentiment and downloaded and shared my Pepsi Paloma article on their Facebook pages. It has officially gone viral. Perhaps it will spur a movement to boycott Eat Bulaga and the show’s advertisers to finally retire it after 35 long years. Perhaps people will now openly talk about what happened to Pepsi Paloma.

There was no social media and no free press in the Philippines in 1982 when a 14 year old minor was gang raped nor in 1985 when a 17 year old girl with a 4 month old adopted son committed “suicide”. There is no excuse for silence now, for perpetuating the culture of impunity.

Justice for Pepsi Paloma.

(Send comments to or mail them to the Law Offices of Rodel Rodis at 2429 Ocean Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94127 or call 415.334.7800).