(TRIGGER WARNING: This story has potentially upsetting content. Readers should exercise caution.)
The director and star of the anti-bullying short film “Thank God, I’m Free,” which drew a public high school in the city embroiled in controversy over two years ago, were arrested early Thursday evening on child abuse and rape charges.
Orlando Ilarde Ropero, alias “Direk Errol Ropero,” and indie film actor John Raymond B. Angeles, also known as “Kuya Pochie”, were arrested at the Puerto Princesa International Airport (PPIA) on November 3 by intelligence agents of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and members of the PNP Aviation Security Command (AVSECOM) on charges of lascivious conduct filed by two students from Palawan National School (PNS).
A third suspect, Jhun Paulino Distajo, Jr., is still on the run. He was identified in a complaint filed to the City Prosecution Office by the NBI as the location manager and production staff of Ropero, who raped one of the victims.
Ropero and Angeles were on their way back to Manila when they were detained by NBI and AVSECOM personnel led by supervising agent Edgardo Baldemos and special investigator Cedric Caabay.
The warrants to apprehend them were issued by Judge Arlene Guillen of Branch 13 of the Family Court, 4th Judicial Region in Puerto Princesa City.
Caabay told Palawan News that the alleged child abuse and rape were committed against the minors after their hiring as TGIF talents in 2019.
He said that based on their investigation, Distajo raped the first victim on October 27, 2019. At that time, she was only 16 years old, and was fooled into believing that what the suspect would do to her was normal and that she needed it to achieve her dream of becoming a celebrity.
Caabay added that she tried to stop Distajo, but the suspect pushed her onto the bed; her strength couldn’t compete with his.
A copy of a joint resolution obtained by Palawan News from the prosecution office, said the victim cried but the suspect did not listen and continued to abuse her. When he was finished abusing her, she informed another talent, who simply “shrugged it off.”
The following day, October 28, 2019, she was raped again after Ropero allegedly threatened her because the entire cast had apparently learned about what Distajo had done to her.
She claimed that Ropero told her that the only way she could be forgiven for telling other people about what happened was to agree to Distajo’s demands.
“When she asked direk if there was any other way, he told her it will be her choice if she wanted to have a break; that at more or less 11 o’ clock in the evening of that day, Jhun went to her room and ra— her again,” the court document stated.
The suspect forced himself on her again on December 22, 2019, while they were on a trip to Ilocos Norte, and on December 30, 2019, in Quezon City.
The second victim, on the other hand, claimed that he was abused in the afternoon of December 9, 2019, at a city lodge by Ropero and Angeles. Caabay said that, according to the victim, he was coerced into committing unwanted acts out of fear for his life.
“Ang director, inuutusan niya ang 13 years old na lalaking biktima, na gawin ang mga malaswang bagay doon sa kasamang artista/talent nito (Angeles), habang kinukunan pa niya ng video gamit ang cellphone niya, tapos may mga pagkakataon na nagtatawanan pa ang talent at itong Direk Errol,” Caabay said.
The second incident occurred on January 21, 2020, in a hostel, also in the city, where the male victim was allegedly subjected again to coercion but refused to comply with Ropero’s demands.
Ropero is charged with six counts of lascivious conduct, while Angeles is charged with five counts, for violating Republic Act 7610’s Section 5(b), which punishes individuals who behave lewdly around a child.
Distajo, on the other hand, will face charges of lascivious conduct, rape under Article 266-A, Paragraph 1 of the Revised Penal Code, and child sexual abuse.