Roxanne Acosta-Cabañero. ABS-CBN News
Roxanne on alleged rape: 'Most horrific moment of my life'
MANILA - (UPDATED) Former pageant contestant Roxanne Acosta Cabañero, who has accused actor-host Vhong Navarro of raping her in 2010, recalled the alleged incident as the "most horrific moment" of her life.
Cabanero formalized her complaint against the ABS-CBN star last Wednesday at the Pasig City Prosecutor's Office, amid the controversy surrounding a January 22 mauling incident wherein the actor sustained serious injuries.
Speaking with ABS-CBN News' Doris Bigornia on Friday, the 24-year-old Cebu resident said the alleged rape happened during her stint in a pageant in Manila.
She said she met Navarro when she and her fellow candidates visited the studio of "It's Showtime," which the actor co-hosts, to promote the competition.
"May babae kasi sa 'Showtime' -- I don't know her name -- bigla lang niyang sinikreto, na puwede bang hingin 'yung number. Hinihingi raw 'yung number [mo] ni Mr. Vhong. Sabi ko, 'Okay.' And then I just gave my number to this girl.
"Nadala lang siguro talaga ako kasi idol na idol ko siya. Siya iyung pinaka-unang artista na nakasama ko, na kinausap ako. Very first... And then 'yon, nung kinausap niya ako... Nag-text siya sa akin. I can still remember the number. Sabi, 'Hi, ito si Vhong. How are you?'"
Cabanero, who was staying at a hotel in Pasig for the duration of the pageant, said Navarro "was texting me, texting me, texting me all throughout until nag-invite na nga siya sa akin lumabas."
"At first, gusto niyang pumasok sa hotel kung sa akin kami nag-stay. And then, sabi ko, 'Hindi puwede, may mga kandidata, eh. Bawal din kasi kami magdala ng bisita dito at may curfew kami sa paglabas.' Sabi niya, 'Sige, I'll pick you up na lang,'" she said.
"So ayun, he picked me up. But during the conversation before pa niya ako i-pick up, tinatanong ko siya sa text, 'Saan tayo pupunta?' Sabi niya, 'Diyan lang sa tabi-tabi.' Sabi ko, 'No, seriously, where?' Sabi niya, 'Let's just talk about it over coffee.'"
According to Cabanero, Navarro changed plan as soon as she got into his car. "Nagtinginan kami, nagtawanan kami like 10 seconds. And then 'yun... After no'n, sinabi niya sa akin, 'Let's go somewhere private,'" she said.
"And I was shocked. I'm like, 'What? I thought we were going to have coffee?' Siyempre kinabahan na ako."
Cabanero said she was nervous because it was around 12 midnight. Turning emotional, she recalled the actor supposedly insisting on his plans. Cabanero claimed Navarro drove and parked his car under a tree, where he supposedly sexually assaulted her.
"Medyo madilim na, there's no one. Wala nang masyadong tao... He pulled the car and he started doing what he was doing. He violated me, he threatened me. It was the most horrific moment of my life," she said.
"I trusted him with his image na komedyante siya. It's so unfair kasi I [felt] safe, and when he did that, he just turned into this monster."
She said she was forced into the act for fear that Navarro might have her killed. Cabanero claimed that the actor, who was supposedly accompanied by his bodyguards, threatened that he would leave her to them.
"Sabi niya, pag hindi ako mag-ano, may tao siya sa labas at sila na bahala pag umayaw ako... Pag umayaw ako, papatayin niya ako," she said.
Asked if there were any witnesses that she and Navarro spent time together on that night, Cabanero said a fellow pageant candidate saw her alight from the actor's car after the alleged rape.
She declined to name the witness but said the fellow candidate positively identified Navarro as her companion.
Even then, Cabanero said she couldn't tell her fellow candidate about her alleged experience with Navarro, citing her fear over the actor's supposed threats.
Cabanero recalled only being able to tell her sister, who was 16 at the time, and a friend, whom she trusted would not judge her.
"'Yung kapatid ko, I told her... I didn't tell her the whole story, I just told her like, 'Yeah, I knew Vhong and he did something to me.' We cried that day. And then she just told me, 'Do you want some ice cream?' 'Okay.'
"But I have a friend, pinagsabihan ko ng buong detalye. Siya lang ang nakakaalam sa lahat. Sabi niya, 'Ipasa-Diyos mo nalang 'yan.' I told her because feeling ko parang hindi ko na kinakaya inside and if sasabihin ko sa mga kaibigan kong babae, they're just going to blame me. And so I told this person because I know she will not judge me," she said.
According to Cabanero, Navarro continued to contact her via text message after the alleged rape in 2010. She admitted responding to him, and supposedly pretending to be "friendly," saying she feared he might get angry if she ignored him.
"[I got a text from him] on that night (of the alleged rape). He seemed friendly -- from being a comedian, monster, and friendly. I stayed friends with him kasi takot ako. I just put that face na, 'Okay, hindi ako magsasalita,' kasi sabi niya, pag nagsalita ako, talo ako. Swerte pa nga raw at k***** pa niya ako. Sikat na ako,'" she said.
"Takot ako sa kanya. And as much as possible, ayokong lumapit sa kanya, kasi I know if lalapit ulit ako sa kanya... We don't know kung anong gagawin na naman niya sa akin. So I just stayed friendly, but away from him."
The last message she got from Navarro, Cabanero claimed, was in 2013. She said the actor asked him if she had any plans for the night. Cabanero added that the actor said he could visit her at her condominium unit.
She said she declined meeting Navarro and told him that she was already in a relationship. Cabanero said she erased Navarro's text messages, out of concern that her boyfriend might find out that the actor was communicating with her.
Over the years since the alleged rape in 2010, Cabanero said she has been avoiding watching "It's Showtime" or any TV show or film that starred Navarro, in the hope of forgetting about the alleged incident.
Inspired by Deniece
When the January 22 incident involving Navarro made headlines last month, Cabanero recalled being shocked. "And then when I heard about Deniece's situation, na-inspire ako sa kanya," she said.
Cabanero was referring to model Deniece Cornejo, who filed a rape complaint against Navarro last January 29.
In her affidavit, Cornejo alleged that she was "rescued" by businessman Cedric Lee's group from being sexually assaulted by the actor, which supposedly led to the mauling.
Navarro denied this, saying he was set up by Cornejo for an extortion attempt allegedly led by Lee. The actor said he was blindfolded, tied up, and attacked by "six to seven men" inside Cornejo's condominium unit in Taguig.
The actor has since filed six criminal charges against Cornejo and Lee's group: serious physical injuries, grave threat, grave coercion, unlawful arrest, blackmail, and serious illegal detention, which is a non-bailable offense.
"Noong nalaman ko 'yung storya [tungkol kay Deniece], everything, lahat ng nangyari nag-flash back sa akin... Isang buong araw, I was crying," Cabanero said on Friday.
"So after three days, I told [my boyfriend]. Naghanap na kami ng tao na puwede na malapitan. And it so happened that a good friend of mine knows Mr. [Virgilio] Batalla," she said, referring to her legal counsel in her rape complaint.
No ties with Cedric
Cabanero denied speculation that she has ties with Lee, who earlier claimed he knows several other women, aside from Cornejo, who were supposedly willing to come forward and say that Navarro also made sexual advances on them.
Navarro's legal counsel, Atty. Alma Mallonga, earlier said their camp expected this new rape complaint, citing Lee's statement. Mallonga also called Cabenero's filing a "distraction" from the ongoing investigation into the mauling incident.
"Hindi ko sila kilala," Cabanero said. "And as much as possible, ayokong maapektuhan ang kaso ko dahil dito. Ayokong ma-link sa kanila. 'Yung kaso ko, kaso ko. Sa kanila, sa kanila."
Asked if she can categorically deny being paid by Lee, Cabanero added, "Hindi ko nga siya kilala. Paano niya ako babayaran? And if he ever comes up to me, I'll say, 'Please, huwag mo muna ako lapitan. Let me finish this one and then you can talk to me if you want to talk to me.'"
Cabanero was also quick with an answer when asked to react to comments that she only wants publicity, supposedly to help launch a showbiz career.
"Wala kasi akong plano mag-artista o maging politician or whatever," said Cabanero, who is currently a freelance research analyst. "This is not about being famous. I'm seeking justice, that's what I want."
"Magduda sila. Basta ako, wala akong pakialam sa kanila, kay Cedric o Deniece. Basta sa akin, sa akin. I'm here for one thing -- justice. And this is my way to heal, kasi hindi ko na talaga kaya. I cannot. I need to move one with my life. This is like a ghost na sunod nang sunod sa akin, haunting me, every night."
While she acknowledged that the timing of the filing of her rape complaint might raise suspicions, Cabanero said she has resolved to face the case head-on so she can move on with her life.
"I've talked to my parents, my boyfriend kung desidido na ba talaga ako. This is going to be really, really tough -- a bloody war. And I said, 'Let's do it.' That's why I'm here.
"Kung hindi ako lumabas, kailan pa? I cannot keep this forever. I want to face it. I've been living in fear for four years at takot na ako matakot. Ayoko na maging sheep, tupa na palagi nalang susunud-sunod at natatakot," she said.
Asked for her message to Navarro, Cabanero said, "Wala akong message. I'll just see him in court. Gusto ko siyang makita sa korte. At doon na siya mag-message. Not trying to be sarcastic, but if he wants to say something, sabihin niya na lang doon."
Vhong's camp: 'Walang karahasan'
In a separate interview on Friday afternoon, Navarro's camp said the actor knows Cabanero, but denied that he sexually assaulted the former pageant contestant.
Speaking with radio dzMM, Mallonga said she asked Navarro about Cabanero after the latter's lawyer, Batalla, confirmed in an interview last Wednesday that they filed a rape complaint.
"After nagsalita na 'yung abugado ng bagong complainant... And they're coming out openly na nakakapagtaka, because if you are a true rape victim, ayaw mong... Nabanggit ko na, tinanong ko na si Vhong, 'Kilala mo ba?' Sabi niya, 'Oo.'"
"At ang masasabi ko lang po, wala pong ginawang karahasan sa kanya si Vhong," said Mallonga, adding she will most likely handle the new rape case lodged against Navarro.
Noting their camp has yet to receive a copy of the Cabanero's complaint-affidavit, Mallonga said she and her client will put off commenting further on the case.
Meanwhile, Mallonga said she is pleased with the progress of the Department of Justice's preliminary investigation into the criminal charges filed by Navarro, noting that four of the eight respondents -- Cornejo, Cedric and Bernice Lee, and Zimmer Raz -- have formally submitted their counter-affidavit.
The panel will hear the side of two other respondents in the charges -- JP Calma and Jed Fernandez -- on February 28.