Inquirer editor, reporters protest takedown of Pepsi Paloma stories after Sotto request

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 5) — Online news portal Inquirer.net took down its articles on the controversial rape case of the late sexy starlet Pepsi Paloma following the request of Senate President Tito Sotto, but some of its reporters are not taking the move sitting down.

Several staff members of Inquirer.net and the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) expressed their displeasure on Twitter when the online news site on Wednesday took down three stories on the death of the '80s aspiring actress.

Inquirer.net reporters tweeted that Sotto got his way when the site decided to bend to his request.

Path Roxas, Inquirer.net's reporter in the House of Representatives, questioned the decision to kowtow to "those in power" and junk the news outfit's decades-long legacy of "editorial independence."

Other reporters said the move set a dangerous precedent in violating the freedom of the press.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) released a statement Wednesday, saying the day would "forever be remembered as one of the darkest days in the annals of Philippine journalism."

Mere days after Sotto took his oath as Senate President, he wrote to Inquirer President Paolo Prieto and asked to delete the articles "The Rape of Pepsi Paloma," "Was Pepsi Paloma murdered?" and "Tito Sotto denies whitewashing Pepsi Paloma rape case."

The articles, written by Inquirer contributors Rodel Rodis and Totel de Jesus, claimed that the hosts of the television show "Eat Bulaga" Vic Sotto, Joey de Leon, and Richie D'Horsey (Richie Reyes) drugged and raped Paloma, who was only 14 years old at that time. These also said that Tito Sotto "coerced" the young actress to drop the rape complaint she filed against the three comedians.

In his letter, the Senate President said these "unverified articles" had been "negatively affecting" his reputation for the longest time.

Several Inquirer reporters said they would continue to speak the truth.

Several netizens also shared screenshots of the articles on Twitter, pushing "Pepsi Paloma" to the Top 10 trending topics on Thursday morning.

PDI Associate Editor and columnist John Nery said he was looking for a way to reverse the decision to take down the articles.

Inquirer.net said the removal of the stories pending a review was not a cutrailment of the freedom of the press as they were merely verifying the claims in the stories.

"Like what we do to similar requests on stories posted on our site, we asked Atty. Rodis to substantiate some of the allegations he made on his contributed pieces through an email we sent to him on June 23, 2018. Up to now, we haven't received any reply from him. We believe this is not a question of press freedom but the veracity of a story," it said in a statement on Thursday.