The narrative that follows contains: 1. The PEP investigation of two witnesses—we shall call them Witness No. 1 and Witness No. 2—who say they observed a few things that transpired inside the restaurant on the night of March 28.
2. The PEP interviews of six showbiz persons who had been guests at the party—Leo Martinez, Michael Flores, Epy Quizon, Elaine Lozano, Bobby Andrews, and Joel Torre—all of whom, except for one, replied to our text messages, Facebook post, and telephone calls.
INVESTIGATING THE TWO WITNESSES. Witness No. 1 was a bystander in the restaurant premises. Witness No. 2 was a guest at Mark Reyes's party.
We have the basic information on their names, jobs, addresses, and associations. However, they agreed to volunteer information on the condition that they remain anonymous.
Witness No. 1 said quite honestly that he was worried for his life and his job: "Baka naman ako buweltahan ng kabila. Ang pangamba ko lang, e, parang makulong. Ako lang po ang inaasahan ng pamilya ko. Iyon po 'yong parang 'pinapangamba ko."
On another occasion, he repeated this: "Actually, Ma'am, kasi takot din ako sa gan'yan. Kasi bubuweltahan ako ng kabila, na kung madamay ako if ever sa kaso, na makukulong, parang ganu'n."
Witness No. 2, for his part, forewarned us. He said he had seen too little to make a difference in the telling of this story: "Parang walang bearing ang sa akin kasi naisip kong ganoon ang kilos ni Richard matapos lang akong kuwentuhan nung tao." By "tao," he meant Witness No. 1.
WITNESS NO. 1. The fellow was seated a few meters away from the restaurant, in a mini park facing the bay. From his spot, he had a fair view of what was happening inside the restaurant, whose walls were made of clear glass and whose interiors were well lit. He also happened to have nothing to do, so he busied himself watching the goings on inside. By his account, he witnessed this curious scene:
"Mga 1:20 [a.m.] po, naglakad po ako rito [papunta sa likod ng restawran] para ang purpose ko po sana ay makita yung dagat, para hindi naman masyadong mainit.
"Pumunta po ako rito. Dito po ako nakaupo. Tabi po kami ng isang driver. Eto po yung kay Michael Flores [mga apat na metro ang layo]. Yung upuan po niya.
"Si Bobby Andrews [kasama sa mesa ni Michael], umalis na po. Bale, nag-iisa lang po siya [Michael]. Parang nakaganu'n [nakatungo] na lang po siya. Sobrang lasing.
"Eto yung parang restaurant, a, clear siya, parang bar siya. Eto yung parang pinaka-CR nila. Dalawa po kasi ang parang entrance nito, e. Eto po yung daanan [sa gilid ng restawran], 'tsaka may daanan dito sa loob [ng restawran].
"Around 1:20 [a.m.], umupo po ako rito. 'Tapos nagkukuwentuhan kami nung driver, tinatanong ko po kung sino pa'ng 'andiyan. 'Tapos 'tinuro niya po sa akin. 'Tapos mga around 1:30 [a.m.], napansin nitong isa na [driver] si Richard, galing po sa loob. Labas-pasok na po doon sa clear [exit] mga three times...
"Kita ko, parang nakatingin po lagi kay Michael Flores.
"'Tapos, Ma'am, nung nakikipagkuwentuhan na ako dun sa driver, tinanong ko. Sabi po niya sa akin, 'A, parang may gulo.' Kasi nga po, hindi daw po ganun yung style ni Richard pag yung normal. Parang talagang balisa na ikot nang ikot. Parang may kaaway.
"Sabi niya [driver] po sa akin, 'Pre, tignan mo si Richard. Parang may away, kasi iba yung galaw niya.' 'Tapos sabi niya, 'Kilala ko 'yan kasi dito ako nagwo-work.'
"'Tapos po, ganun. Nung sabi ko, 'Ano? May away ba?' Tinanong ko siya. Actually ang narinig daw po nitong driver, may nagsabi din po sa kanya, kaya panay ang tingin ni Richard kay Michael, e, regarding doon sa bad comments niya sa Zorro. Pero narinig lang niya. Kaya po nung sinabi niya po sa akin, nag-focus na ako doon. Nag-conclude din ako na kaya siguro ganu'n ang tingin ni Richard kay Michael Flores."
Then Witness No. 1 told the story of an alleged near-encounter between Richard Gutierrez and Michael Flores just outside the restaurant lavatory.
"Nung nagkuwentuhan kami nung driver, itong si Michael Flores, talagang lasing na po. Nakaganyan [nakayuko]. Pumunta po siya ng C.R.
"'Tapos si Leo Martinez po, sumunod. Di ko po gaano napansin si Leo Martinez kung sa loob [ng restawran] galing o sa labas. Basta ang nakita ko po, nandito [malapit sa C.R.] si Leo Martinez.
"Nung paglabas po ni Michael Flores, parang tinapik siya ni Leo na parang, ang sa akin lang po ha, parang ang pagkakatapik nang ganoon, sinasabi niya na 'Tama na,' o parang nang-aawat.
"Nag-conclude ako dahil dun sa sinabi ng driver na nagkakainitan yung dalawa. Kaya yun po yung isip ko."
Meanwhile, Michael returned, according to Witness No. 1, to his table outside the restaurant, in the cocktails area, and took more sips of his liquor. Leo Martinez, still according to the witness, remained inside the restaurant. Dingdong Dantes arrived at about that time, and passed by Michael's table. After about "five minutes," Witness No. 1 continued, Michael got up again.
"Tumayo po ulit. Going to C.R. ulit. Paglabas, doon po ulit kinausap ni Leo Martinez si Michael Flores. Sabi nung driver, 'Tignan mo, nagkakainitan na sila.'
"Dito lang po [near the restaurant's exit door ] si Richard. 'Tapos si Joel Torre, parang nang-aawat din kay Richard. Actually, yung lakad ni Richard, parang iba, e. Para talagang nakatingin siya kay Michael. Si Leo talagang paikot-ikot din siya, e, 'tapos sabay tapik kay Michael Flores. [Si Joel naman], nakatayo lang po siya sa tabi ni Richard."
WITNESS NO. 2. Witness No. 2, a guest at the party, had only this to say: "Ang napansin ko lang nung gabing iyon, di mapakali si Richard. Aligaga. Labas masok siya. Nakatingin siya sa grupo nina Michael Flores, na kasama sa table sina Bobby Andrews at Michael Fornales. Basta masama iyong tingin ni Richard sa kanila."
COMMENT. The two witnesses were not friends of Richard Gutierrez, but they were also not the actor's enemies. They were, to our mind, disinterested parties. Having thus no reason to make up a story, their eye-witness accounts were considered fit for review. They are one reason why the PEP editorial team could not immediately clear Richard of any involvement in any incident.
At our March 31 press conference, we had not interviewed these two witnesses at great length. The press conference was mounted, at Annabelle Rama's behest, within 18 hours from the time we uploaded our Correction, Clarification & Apology on our website. At the time, we had only the bare bones of their story.
When, at the press conference, I made mention of having at least one witness "inside the restaurant," I was actually referring to Witness No. 2. I did not know yet that there would be another witness, whom we now call Witness No. 1, who had more to say about the goings-on inside the restaurant.
Since then, we went back to the two witnesses three times over a period of three weeks, sending a different interviewer each time. Witnesses No. 1 and No. 2 were asked to retell their stories, in interview sessions conducted separately, and on dates not known to the other. In all three times, the two witnesses stuck to the same story.
However, from the start I had one big discomfort with their accounts. Their stories struck me as largely subjective and speculative. True, they actually saw the movie stars they were talking about, but their conclusions could have been shaped by their preconceived notions of how these stars were feeling at the time. In other words, their account was not a cut-and-dried rendering of events as they flowed.
THE MOVIE STARS. Our next step was to verify the story of the two witnesses. To do this, we cross-checked their facts and details against the facts and details that other interviewees would provide.
We limited ourselves to the stars mentioned by the two witnesses. We got in touch with four movie stars and one line producer.
We posed this common question to them: Did you notice any commotion, altercation, confrontation, fracas, or squabble inside the Oceana restaurant, during the party hours of 8 p.m. of March 28 to 3 a.m. of March 29?
Here in chronological order are the statements of the celebrities we spoke to within the period of March 29 to April 27.
LEO MARTINEZ March 29, 2:54 p.m., responding to PEP managing editor Karen Pagsolingan's query: "Wala, wala. I didn't notice anything. I was with Richard [Gutierrez] the whole time, and we even went to his unit after the party. We were all together. In fact, Michael [Flores] was with Bobby [Andrews]. We were inside [the restaurant]. They were outside."
Did he try to prevent a possible confrontation between Michael and Richard outside the lavatory?: "I don't know where that came from. Wala! You can ask the others who were there—Michelle [Madrigal], Bubbles [Paraiso], Bianca [King]."
Could he have missed a commotion? "I cannot confirm because I didn't notice anything."
MICHAEL FLORES March 29, 5:55 p.m., in a phone interview by Karen Pagsolingan:
PEP: Michael, may report kasi na nakarating sa PEP about this incident, which happened early this morning at the party of Direk Mark Reyes, and it involved your name.
Michael: Ha? Ako?
PEP: Yes, didn't you have any encounter or confrontation with Richard Gutierrez during the party of Direk Mark?
Michael: Wala namang nangyaring ganu'n. Wala...
PEP: Are you friends with Richard?
Michael: Acquaintance. Nagkasama kami dati sa Kamandag. Minsan, nagkakakuwentuhan kami. Ganu'n lang.
PEP: But did you make any nasty comment about him or Zorro during the party? Ang nakarating kasi na report, sinabihan mo raw na pangit ang Zorro, or "lousy actor" si Richard, or something like that...
Michael: Ha? Bakit ako magko-comment ng ganu'n? E, gusto ko ngang makapasok dun, e. 'Tsaka kaibigan ko si Direk Mark, bakit ko gagawin yun? Ako, pumunta sa party niya, 'tapos pipintasan ko yung show niya? Wala...Walang ganu'n."
PEP: Salamat ha, pasensiya na sa abala. If I have questions pa, we'll get in touch with you. Hope that's okay...
Michael: Kelan lalabas ito?
PEP: Hindi ko nga alam, e, kasi ongoing pa ang investigation. Baka hindi na ilabas...I will text you just in case we put it out.
COMMENT. Michael would later complain that he found the time line strange. He was interviewed on the phone at almost 6 p.m., yet the story about him and Richard Gutierrez having an "altercation" was posted as early as 4:15 p.m. In other words, the posting happened ahead of the interview!
Michael was right. Something needed explaining here. But since he made his observation on television, and not on PEP, we were unable to give him an answer. Until now.
Meantime, Jun Lalin, the Gutierrez publicist, had been asking the same question of the PEP staff. I gave him a call. I explained: "Kaya gan'yan ang mga oras ay dahil wala talaga kaming malay ni Karen na may naka-upload nang istorya. Nung ininterbyu ni Karen si Michael sa telepono, nag-iimbestiga pa lang talaga siya. Hindi niya alam na ang istoryang iniimbestiga niya ay nakalabas na."
I myself knew that a story this sensitive—involving a possible altercation, with a possible gun in the premises—would take at least five to seven days to complete. I was stunned when my attention was called to the story by Annabelle Rama's phone call at a little past 7 p.m. of March 29, the day after the party.
I knew the PEP story, in its state, was unfit for uploading.
And that, precisely, is the reason I apologized. Within a day after the upload, I had apologized to Richard, Epy, Michael, and the public, through a Letter from the Editor posted in PEP; and again the very next morning, I apologized, through a PEP press conference held before TV, radio, print, and the web.
In fact, investigating this so-called incident has taken more than the usual five days. It has taken an entire month. That is why this report is coming to you only now.
EPY QUIZON March 29, 11:30 p.m., via a Facebook post with PEP staffer Rommel Llanes: "False news as usual. There was no fight at all. We left the party together and as matter of fact I even said goodbye to Michael. It is weird how someone can create such bs story."
And again on April 27, 11:20 p.m., via a phone conversation with Jo-Ann Maglipon: "I arrived around 12 midnight. Michael [Flores] was with Bobby [Andrews]. I shook Michael's hand. The whole night I was with direk Leo [Leo Martinez], JT [Joel Torre], Bubbles [Paraiso], TJ [TJ Trinidad], Richard [Gutierrez], and me, and people who would join.
"I was tired from work, but I was having fun. It was the Zorro cast bonding. Around 2 a.m., the party was winding up. I walked out na, said goodbye, Ms. Lilybeth Rasonable. Michael was near. Then we went to Richard's house mga 2:30 [a.m.]. 'Tapos I had to excuse myself, basta before sunrise iyon. Leo and JT left with me. I went home.
"Bubbles calls me about 3 to 4 [p.m.], sabi me balita raw na nagkagulo! Nung punta ako ng site, wala na ang artikulo. Nandun pa iyong link pero pag-click mo empty page na. Tanggal na, kaya di ko nakita. Pero talagang walang nangyari that night."
BOBBY ANDREWS April 15, via a phone conversation with Anna Pingol of YES! magazine: "Nothing happened. I'm finding it weird that people are insisting that something happened when nothing really happened."
ELAINE LOZANO April 16, 2:10 p.m., via a text message from Karen Pagsolingan. Background: Witness No. 2 said that Elaine Lozano, GMA Films line producer, may have details that can help make the story whole because her table at the party was beside Richard Gutierrez's. So the PEP managing editor sent her this text message: "Good afternoon, Ms. Elaine. This is Karen from PEP. Is it all right to give you a ring about the Richard Gutierrez-Michael Flores incident at the party of direk Mark?" Unfortunately, Ms. Lozano never replied.
On April 26, we tried again. The text message was sent to the same number, but there was still no reply. We then dialed the same cellphone number, but the message said that the number dialed was out of reach.
JOEL TORRE April 25, 5:15 p.m., via a phone conversation with Jo-Ann Maglipon: "There was nothing. We were all together that night. It was so much fun. We were blissfully having fun. Michael sat at the table with Bobby Andrews. We were hanging out, sa loob, labas, ang saya-saya namin.
"Richard said, 'Ituloy natin ang party sa bahay,' and we did. Kung me nangyari, di sana napag-usapan na namin sa bahay niya, nung kami-kami na lang. Pero wala, e. Walang bad vibes. I'm a sensitive person. Pag may gan'yan, mararamdaman ko, and I usually play peacemaker. Pero wala talaga. Masaya talaga kami."
COMMENT: Consistently, all four movie stars we spoke to said "Walang nangyari." As far as they knew no untoward incident happened at any time inside the restaurant. They had all stayed at the party way into the night. And throughout Mark Reyes's party, they experienced only good "vibes," found everything "ang saya," and felt good to be among friends. To a one, they say they were all "happy" that night.
Some readers may still have doubts. They could think: Three out of four of these stars are in the cast of the primetime adventure series Zorro, which Richard top-bills. Only Michael Flores is not, but he has already told the country he wants to be in it. The roles the three play in Zorro are big ones, too: Leo is Don Carlos Pulido; Epy is the Chinaman Shihong; and Joel Torre is Don Roberto Pelaez. It is not in the best interest of these stars to go up against the lead star of a big production.
Therefore, the public could suspect that these stars have reason to cover up the incident.
In cases like this, PEP just has to go by its instincts.
Our managing editor Karen Pagsolingan personally spoke to Leo Martinez. The veteran star and director was the first to be interviewed, with the time of the interview taking place just hours after the March 28-29 party had wound up. When he said he could not confirm that there was no commotion—therefore, there could have been one—since he was present only inside the restaurant, Karen knew she was going to believe him. He had not swept away the question, nor was he agitated by it. He simply told what he knew. And he did so even about the so-called "lavatory" incident, which was as close to a would-be "altercation" as anything that went on that night. (In fact, nothing happened.)
It was again Karen who spoke to Michael Flores. He was the second person to be interviewed, and also on the same day of Leo's interview. Karen said, "He was totally clueless. He was shocked nga, e. You could tell that he didn't know anything talaga. I was convinced wala talagang istorya involving him." (Again, nothing happened.)
Anna Pingol of YES! Magazine was tasked to make the call to Bobby Andrews, a personal friend from her days as a television reporter. Anna kept asking Bobby if something, anything, had been said that night to trigger any ill will, big or small, between Michael, who was at a table with him, and Richard, who was in another table. She asked him in various ways—seriously, jestingly, then seriously again. Throughout, Bobby's answer was consistent. He said they were having a good time. (One more time: nothing happened.)
I personally spoke to Joel Torre. First, I sent a text message, he said to call him, and just so I didn't miss anything I asked that we speak over the landline. We did. Throughout our conversation, which eventually went into other topics as Joel and I have common friends, he did not skip a beat. His homey Bacolod accent, his straight and clear answers, and the certainty and joy with which he recalled that evening—everything told me I had to believe him. (So, nothing happened.)
I also spoke with Epy Quizon over the phone. He said everything was good that night. He was tired but happy; he had a tummy ache but was happy. I believed him. (Yes, nothing happened.)
We at PEP have become more convinced that Witness No. 1 and Witness No. 2 saw what they saw—but made subjective interpretations of this. They seem to have read into the body language of stars who were far enough for them not to hear the conversations. Theirs seem to have been a misinterpretation of the scene before them, giving plain movements and gestures more meaning than these were worth.