PEPSI PALOMA, who was born Delia Duenas Smith, starred in her first movie, “Brown Emmanuelle”, when she was only 14. While promoting the movie, she was invited to appear at the popular noontime show, “Eat Bulaga.” After the show, Paloma was invited by the show’s hosts to join them for drinks at a bar by the TV studio. While in an intoxicated state, Paloma was brought to the nearby Sulo Hotel where she was gang raped by the TV hosts. 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, 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.”
It was reported in the article that 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 was no record of the presence of a stool, wooden box or chair that would have facilitated the “suicide.” The Quezon City police officer at the scene did not bother to check for any fingerprints around the closet to determine if [there was] any foul play involved. There was no attempt to verify the handwriting of the diary to determine if it actually belonged to Pepsi Paloma.
As far as the Quezon City police investigation was concerned, it was an open and shut case: Pepsi Paloma committed suicide because of monetary problems as she explained in her suicide note.
But 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 beer houses” which paid her at least 2500 pesos per performance (a large sum in 1985) and she had three film offers lined up, Corcuerra said.
Pepsi had just adopted a 4-month-old son, her nephew, whom she was reportedly very close to. She wanted to provide for this child what she did not have growing up. From all indications, Pepsi Paloma was a remarkably responsible 17-year old girl, not the type who would just loop a sash around her neck and 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 young boy knew then that a cotton sash could not have caused the suspicious marks that were visible around her neck.
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 told her mother about the gang rape and she reported it to the police authorities where it made the headlines of the newspapers. 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 and it was suspected that she was “salvaged” (extrajudicial killing) . 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 denied that they abducted Pepsi Paloma.
Assigned the task of finding Pepsi Paloma, Abadilla and Lacson knew the likely culprit. 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 the main enforcer of the Castelo clan which is on the maternal side of the Sotto family.
“Ben Ulo” was serving a life sentence 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 but it is not certain how much time he actually spent in prison.
“Ben Ulo” readily confessed that he had abducted Paloma and that he was an “accomplice of the Castelos”. Despite his arrest and confession, however, “Ben Ulo” was never charged with any crime.