One beautiful socialite, who is said to have used pepper spray against another beautiful socialite, has hurt Tim Yap's efforts yet again to rehabilitate the reputation of Embassy, the high-end night spot he co-owns.
Located at the Bonifacio Global City, Embassy has succeeded in attracting the rich and famous and influential by marketing itself as an "exclusive" club that promises patrons even more layers of "exclusivity" within its walls. Despite this—or because of this—the club has also attracted brawls, confrontations, and altercations among its well-heeled clientele.
Between two and two-thirty in the morning of November 19, socialite Patricia Panlilio-Cu-Unjieng, a former model and the daughter of the late jeweler Fe Panlilio, allegedly used pepper spray to hurt stockbroker and fellow socialite Neny Montinola.
Pepper sprays, according to www.PepperSafe.com, have toxic elements that can cause temporary larynx paralysis, which can induce gagging, wheezing for air, and the sensation of vomiting. At its worst, these toxins can cause painful sores on the cornea, and inflame the eyes' protective layer, which can cause blindness. In addition, for asthmatics, there is the risk of death.
In other words, a pepper-spray incident is not a simple misdemeanor. Yet, except for random blogs and a few vague lines in a broadsheet, no report of the alleged incident has reached the public.
A few days after the incident, Philippine Entertainment Portal (PEP) interviewed some people present at the club during the hours of the alleged incident.
Four of them, including actresses Angelu de Leon and Maricar de Mesa, have confirmed that the incident did happen.
However, a fifth, Ricardo Po Jr., has said that he saw no such thing, and that he was just "three feet behind" Patricia at the time she was supposed to have used pepper spray on Neny.
TWO GUESTS BACK NENY. Two sources, who refuse to be named but who claim to have been at the Embassy on the night of November 18 and the early morning of November 19, narrate what they saw.
They say Neny Montinola arrived at Embassy Fly around 10:30 p.m. She was spotted with a group of friends, which included actresses Angelu de Leon and Maricar de Mesa.
The occasion was the 40th birthday of Ilocos Sur Representative Ronald Singson, who was once romantically linked to Angelu. Ronald is the son of Luis "Chavit" Singson, former governor of Ilocos Sur and the man generally credited with (or blamed for) bringing former president Joseph "Erap" Estrada down. Ronald had reserved the club's Fly section for the night.
About an hour later, according to the two sources, Patricia Panlilio-Cu-Unjieng arrived with her date Ricardo Po Jr. The handsome couple joined a cluster of guests a few meters away from Neny Montinola's group.
Patricia may be remembered by the public as a finalist in the 1987 Supermodel of the World Philippines search, which Tweety de Leon eventually won. The tall and stunning model is separated from Philip Cu-Unjieng, an editor-at-large at ABS-CBN Publishing, although their marriage is yet to be annulled.
If society talk is to be believed, Trish, as she is called by friends, was once romantically linked to Side A band's Joey Generoso and businessman Jojo Manlongat. She is now the girlfriend of Ricardo Po Jr., an industry player from one of the richest families of the Philippines.
Neny Montinola is a petite and demure stockbroker who was once married to Mandy Boy Eduque, himself a society figure, who, according to The Manila Standard Today, is an "international currency trader." In her social circles, Neny is known as a graceful and lovely woman who has weathered single parenthood well.
The two witnesses say that the incident actually unraveled in the early morning hours of November 19, Wednesday. That was the hour Neny was said to be making her exit. "It was around 2:00 or 2:30 a.m," the first source says. At just about the time Neny was heading toward the club door, the sources say, they spotted Patricia also going in that direction.
According to them, once Patricia got close to Neny by the club entrance, the much-taller girl gave the smaller one a big hug. This must have surprised Neny, speculates the first witness, who adds that, although at one point in their high-school years Patricia and Neny found themselves in Assumption: "They are just mere acquaintances."
While Patricia was still hugging Neny, says the same source, Patricia sprayed something in the air, which hit guests standing nearby. Then Patricia, she notes, sprayed the same thing directly at the face of Neny.
The two sources add that Ricardo, the man they named as Patricia's date and boyfriend, was standing just behind Patricia when all this was happening. But after the spraying, says the first source, Patricia "walked out of the club alone, casually," with Ricardo following soon after.
THE "PEPPER-SPRAY INCIDENT." Just minutes after the big hug, says the second source, a commotion ensued. According to her, the other party guests began noticing a foul smell in the air, although no one could put a name to it.
Meantime, says this witness, Neny had managed to walk out of the club, but not long after, she was seen gasping for air and panicking, just outside Embassy, right by a big Christmas tree.
They say Neny was screaming, "I can't see! I can't see!"
This witness, still agitated days after the incident, says categorically: "Patricia sprayed pepper spray at Neny at close range. Twice! Others got sprayed. Maraming natamaan!"
The witness then recounts that Neny's friends, along with some Embassy staff, rushed out of the club, bringing with them a bucket of water and glasses filled with water, and threw everything they had on Neny's face. The woman's blouse was soaked, according to this source. She also recalls that one of the guys, attempting to flush the irritant out of Neny's eyes, took water into his mouth and blew it directly at the victim's eyes.
But none of this dousing seemed to help, say the two witnesses. Neny was still heard screaming, "I can't see! My eyes are burning!"
(If the offensive weapon was indeed a pepper spray, then the burning sensation may be explained by the presence of capsaicin, an active ingredient in pepper spray which, according to the wikipedia, is not soluble in ordinary water. Capsaicin is derived from the fruit of plants in the capsicum genus, which includes chili.)
The same two witnesses narrating the rescue effort outside the club then tell PEP that Angelu de Leon was the woman of the hour. Says one of them admiringly, "She brought Neny to Makati Med [Makati Medical Center] and drove like a madwoman!"
MARICAR BACKS NENY. In a phone conversation with PEP's managing editor Karen Pagsolingan at around 7 p.m. of November 24, five days after the alleged incident, Maricar de Mesa says that she was present at the Singson party.
Maricar, an occasional actress married to cager Don Allado of Talk 'N Text, says that she and Neny Montinola shared the same cocktail table with Angelu de Leon and two non-showbiz friends that night. Maricar says that she started hanging out with Neny a few months ago, after being introduced by a common friend.
Maricar's memory of the Embassy incident goes this way: "I went downstairs. Pag-akyat ko uli, mabaho na. Amoy acetone! Masakit sa throat!"
She did not witness the alleged pepper-spraying, she admits, but says she saw her friend Neny in pain. "She was screaming, ‘I can't see... My eyes are burning!'"
Maricar says she then splashed glasses of water on Neny's face. She also corroborates the account of the witness who said that one fellow tried helping Neny by shooting water out of his mouth and into her eyes. Maricar would later identify him as "the former manager of Members Only [Club]," an exclusive section within Embassy.
Maricar says, "At around 4 a.m., Angelu drove her to the hospital. Convoy kami."
ANGELU BACKS NENY. Angelu de Leon, regarded as one of the better actresses in the country, says she first met Neny Montinola through Maricar, who played Angelu's sister in the GMA-7 TV series Sana ay Ikaw na Nga (2002). Angelu also bumps into Neny now and then at parties.
The 29-year-old actress confirms reports that she was part of Neny's group that night. In a phone interview on November 25 at 3:30 p.m., Angelu tells Karen Pagsolingan: "We left between 2:30 a.m. and 3 a.m. Nauna si Neny with a friend. I stayed to say bye. I was also looking for Maricar."
She says that after a few seconds, "Naamoy yung ammonia, parang acetone."
Angelu adds, "I was clueless. Who would do it? Baka pinauuwi na tayo. Nobody knew what it was. Everybody was asking what it was. Who did that? Feeling namin, may nag-spray sa hangin. Everybody started going down. Nagpo-progress na sobrang sama na ng smell."
Angelu recalls that Neny walked down the steps leading out of the club: "Bumaba si Neny at yung friend niya. Kasunod kami. Pagbaba, Neny went straight to the Christmas-tree area.
"Maya-maya, Neny felt parang nasusuka siya. Then nag-i-intensify yung burning sensation!"
Their group attempted to give Neny first aid, she recounts calmly. "We started to fan her, give her water. Nagwawala na siya. Masakit na masakit ang mata niya. I asked her to remove her contact lens. A friend removed them, and Neny was crouching that time. Excruciating pain yung dating niya."
All she could do, Angelu adds, was to keep the lady calm. "I kept on telling her, ‘Stay calm. Don't panic. Don't worry, your face is still buo. Relax.'"
Then Angelu made the crucial decision to drive Neny to the hospital.
Continuing her story, Angelu says, "Nakababa yung windows para mahanginan yung mukha niya. We went to E.R. 'Tapos flinush siya with sterile water. Kasi kung ordinary water daw, may chlorine pa rin, e. I was holding her hand. I was trying to open her eyes."
That was also when, Angelu says, she learned that the ammonia smell had come from a "pepper spray," and that her friend had just been a "direct target."
She recounts, "The doc said, ‘Good thing, naka-contacts siya kasi direct hit sa mata yung pepper spray, e. Posible na ma-damage yung cornea.'"
Angelu recalls that Neny herself tried recalling bits and pieces of the story "habang nakahiga sa E.R."
According to Angelu, "Sabi ni Neny, twice siyang na-sprayan. Naramdaman daw niya yung spray. Nakita niya kung sino yung gumawa. Sabi nga ng doctor, ‘It was a direct hit.' Meron din daw mga nakakita sa mga nangyari."