Pepsi Paloma's Legacy Lives On 35 Years After Her Death
This year marks the 35th year anniversary of actress Pepsi Paloma's death. On May 31, 1985, Paloma took her own life in her Sta. Mesa Heights apartment in Quezon City. She was only 18 years old then.
Top Story: Pepsi Paloma's Life in Photos
The death of the Softdrink Beauty was dubbed a case of "Stella Strada Syndrome." Stella Strada, a top '80s sexy star of Seiko Films, also died in a very similar manner at the age of 17. The cases of suicide came one after another after Strada's death.
There was only a five-month gap between the death of the two young sexy stars. "Walang nagmamahal sa akin," Strada wrote on her suicide note. While investigators found this written in Paloma's diary: "Hindi ko alam kung itinuturing akong tunay na anak ng nanay ko."
Former actor Gil Guerrero is one of Paloma's friends who has never forgotten her. Guerrero spoke about Paloma's start in showbusiness on May 29. Both actors were discovered by talent manager and optometrist Dr. Rey dela Cruz.
Guerrero recounts "May ginawa kaming pelikula ni Pepsi noong 1981, yung Brown Emmanuelle. Ako ang leading man nila ni Myrna Castillo, at si Celso Ad Castillo ang direktor. Love triangle kami nina Myrna at Pepsi. Nakasama ko rin si Pepsi sa The Victim, ako ang leading man niya."
According to him, Dela Cruz discovered Paloma in Sariling Atin, a popular beerhouse in Quiapo, Manila. "Si Pepsi, na-discover ni Rey dela Cruz dahil may nagrekomenda sa kanya. Nakita siya ni Rey sa Sariling Atin. "Ang tunay na pangalan niya, Delia Smith. Ininterbyu na ni Rey at pinag-picture-picture, naging artista na siya," he says.
Katorse may have been the launching movie of Dina Bonnevie with Regal Films in 1980, but Paloma was a real-life 14-year-old when she started her career in the industry. That's why her characteristics were still childish.
"Talagang childish si Pepsi, siyempre bata. Masayahin siya, nakakatuwa, at saka mabait si Pepsi, lalo sa mga kapatid," Guerrero says. But behind this happy facade, Paloma was hiding a deep sadness. "Malungkot ang buhay ni Pepsi dahil sa nanay niya. Ang nanay niya kasi mukhang pera."
"Mahirap lang talaga ang buhay nila sa Santa Rita, Olongapo. Sa bukid ang tirahan nila. Narating ko ang bahay nila, kubo-kubo rin. Pero mabait si Pepsi. Talagang tumulong siya sa magulang at saka sa mga kapatid. Kaya lang, yung ugali ng nanay niya... Wala na akong balita sa nanay niya, pati sa mga kapatid niya. Magaganda rin ang mga kapatid niya," he says.
In Guerrero's case, however, he turned back on showbusiness because he went to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in 1985. There, he learned of the sad news of Paloma's passing. "Nasa Saudi na ako nang mamatay si Pepsi. Ang sabi, nagbigti nga raw. Eh, hindi naman natin alam kung ano ang nangyari sa kanya dahil nakita na lang, nakabigti," he says.
When Paloma passed, a lot of news came out that she had been abusing drugs. Guerrero denies this, however: "Gumagamit siya ng marijuana, pero [hard] drugs, hindi. Marijuana lang talaga. Pero sa drugs, wala!"
Guerrero witnessed the challenges that Paloma faced in her life as he became the driver of Paloma and their manager back then. "Oo, kasama ako. Naging driver ako. Pumupunta kami ng Olongapo, 'tapos uuwi kami ng Maynila. Ako ang nagmamaneho sa kanila," he says.
One of the most traumatic moments in her life is the alleged rape that involved popular comedians Vic Sotto, Joey de Leon, and Richie D'Horsey in July 1982. There was a rape case, but it was withdrawn. "Hindi ko na kasi alam ang nangyari noon. Bigla na lang nawala yung kaso. Ako naman, eh, nagmamaneho lang, hindi ko alam kung bakit nawala na," Guerrero says.
The lawyers of Paloma then were Atty. Rene Cayetano and Atty. Lorna Kapunan. Atty. Cayetano went on to be a senator and the father of House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, Senator Pia Cayetano, and Taguig Mayor Lino Cayetano. While Atty. Kapunan became known for being a lawyer of several celebrities including James Yap, Hayden Kho, Jr., and Rhian Ramos.
According to Guerrero, "Yung kaso ni Pepsi, nagpunta pa kami kay Juan Ponce Enrile, sa PNP (Philippine National Police)." Back then, Enrile was the defense secretary of President Ferdinand Marcos. "After sa PNP, punta kami kay Gus Villanueva sa People's Journal."
"Pumupunta kami sa mga television show, pumupunta kami sa Balita, kay Mario Cabling, sa mga newspaper office. Pero, hindi ko na alam ang nangyari dahil biglang wala na yung kaso. Siyempre, abogado sa abogado ang kaso, so closed na. Hindi ko alam kung nagkaaregluhan," he says.
In an 2016 appearance at DZMM and an 2018 ABS-CBN News Report, Senator Tito Sotto says the rape case was a publicity stunt by Dela Cruz. "Para ho sa kaalaman ng lahat... gimik ho ni Rey dela Cruz yun. Hindi ho totoo yung sinasabi. Pinagtangkaan nilang magkaso kasi tinira sila ng libel nina Vic at Joey. Idinemanda sila ng libel kaya pinagtangkaan nilang balikan ng kaso," Sotto said.
PEP.ph also asked actor Ernie Garcia about what he remembers about Paloma. Garcia worked with the actress in films Virgin People and Snake Sisters. "Pepsi was a regular innocent girl, but was thrown in the jungle of bold and even bolder film as it was the experimental films," Garcia says.
"She's an ordinary teenager having crushes, especially when we got together again in Snake Sisters. She must be 15 to 16 that time. She was a sweet girl but very troubled, as she said people close to her could not care for her but what she makes. She was very lonely as she longed for love just like every girl her age, so it didn’t come as a surprise when she committed suicide. It was sad."
TV reporters Mario Dumaual and Lhar Santiago of ABS-CBN and GMA, respectively, had the chance to personally know Paloma when she was starting out in the entertainment industry. Dumaual says she was "soft-spoken, magalang" with a "small sexy frame, pero maganda."
The reporter interviewed Paloma when he was writing for Times Journal during the Manila International Film Festival in January 1983. "Malakas ang brilyo ni Pepsi. Sunud-sunuran siya kay Rey dela Cruz. At home siya sa optical shop ni Rey. At that time, nagtatawanan kami sa Softdrink Beauties, magandang gimik daw. Very promising actually si Pepsi," he adds.
The Softdrinks Beauties were a group that comprised of Paloma, Coca Nicolas, and Sarsi Emmanuelle.
Like Dumaual, Santiago was also a frequent guest at Dela Cruz's optical shop in Quiapo since it was where his talents hung out. "Nagsisimula pa lang ako noon na writer, palagi akong ipinatatawag ni Rey, kaya pati si Gil Guerrero, kilala ko, kaibigan ko. May tirahan si Rey sa second floor ng clinic niya sa Quiapo. Ipini-pictorial niya doon sina Pepsi, Coca Nicolas, Sarsi Emmanuelle, mga sikat na sila noon. Si Rey kasi, magimik. Pero parang balewala kay Pepsi ang mga sexy pictorial. Wala siyang malisya, saka malambing siya kay Rey."
It was in 1999 that Dela Cruz was killed in Quiapo, Manila. Until now, his murder case hasn't been solved.
The legacy of Pepsi Palomo still lives on. Interest in her case and the details surrounding her death is still the stuff of showbiz lore. These past few days, Paloma has been a trending topic on Twitter for the younger generation that knows about her story.
This story originally appeared on Pep.ph. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.