The ghost of Nida

THEN & NOW - Norma Japitana -

THEN: Catch a flashbook of an evening in Sept. 2002. Get a glimpse of the murderer of Nida Blanca.

Ever since Nida Blanca was murdered on Nov. 7, 2001, the police has been looking for her killer. What makes it hard for them is the fact that the whole country has turned detective.


The theory of “The butler did it!” in most American whodunits, has turned into “the husband did it!”

It seems easy to pin the crime on Nida’s husband Rod Lauren Strunk. But his friends, like Chito Ponce Enrile, ask: What was his motive?” He was better off with Nida alive.

The other side has its points, too. He did not even look inside the car when he saw it park inside the Atlanta building. When Nida’s body was brought to the morgue, Rod stayed away. It was Nestor de Villa and close friend Caridad Sanchez who went with the body to the military lab where it was brought.

Caridad told me: “I was still numb up to that point, but when I saw her feet dirty and knowing how fastidious she was, I just broke down.”


On the second day of Nida’s wake, I went with Cesar Montano and Sunshine Cruz to pray in the church at White Plains. Nida’s only daughter, Kaye Torres, was still in the US and it was only Inay, her 86-year-old mother and Rod who greeted people and accepted their condolences.

Another evening, I went with Rico J. Puno. This time, Kaye had already arrived from the States. Rod was in one corner, hardly talking. When the TV camera crews arrived, he put on a cowboy hat, and this was his undoing. People who never liked him whispered about the attire. This could be the first time people started to think of him as a suspect.

Happy person

The month before Nida’s death, we had our usual once-a-month lunch with Caridad and Perla Bautista to keep track of each other and to share industry gossip. We had been doing this for the past two decades. Nida was always a happy person. As usual, she would order something for Rod that she could bring home. That image of Nida keeps coming back to me.

So I was one of those who could not imagine Rod doing it. “Nida would know. A woman always has this gut-feel about her man.”

That morning of Nov. 7, I got an early text from Willie Revillame about Nida’s death. Unbelieving at first, I showed it to my neighbor Rey Pacheco who was in my house with his wife. He called GMA 7 to check and confirmed the sad news. I wanted to rush to Atlanta, but my first grandson, JV, was born. In the afternoon, looking at the beautiful baby, the irony of life and death hit me hard: The birth of a beloved grandson and the death of a very dear friend all in one day.

“Justice for Nida” started in earnest after Nida’s funeral. There was such an uproar about the death of this beloved celebrity that the police were getting embarrassed by the questions, especially with media getting in the fray.


Then entered Philip Medel. He confessed that he killed Nida Blanca and named Rod as his accomplice. He raised his arms like the messiah. People were stunned and incredulous. But not for long. The next instant he came back screaming that he was tortured by the police to admit the crime. Then he exonerated Rod as well, who was at the NBI compound.

Rod was running out of funds. But he was able to leave for the US to be with his dying mother.

Justice for Nida!

Last month, a group of people seeking “Justice for Nida” met to make sure that the murderer of Nida will not go scot free. I got the call from Manay Ichu Maceda last Aug. 8 to meet at Edsa Shangri-La.

Generals Gualberto and Verzosa briefed us on the case. They have more witnesses now: Elena de la Paz, once reticent to talk, has given her statement. The loyal Elena, who has been with Nida for 45 years, was with her in fact, when we met to discuss her book.

But the main reason for the meeting was to raise funds for the “Justice for Nida” campaign. Dolphy gave P150,000, JV Ejercito promised P1-M for any information. Others who helped were former President Joseph Estrada with P100,000 and Bong Revilla and Tony Tuviera.

Kaye Torres is being represented by lawyer Harriet Demetriou, who is working pro bono. We all felt good having the former justice with our group, and she was the one who taught us how to go about forming the foundation that will be headed by Kaye Torres and Marichu Maceda.

The second meeting of the group was held at Sampaguita Pictures. We learned from Sen. Tito Sotto that here was a time Nida sought his help with the drug dependence of her husband. But that was more than 10 years ago, according to the senator and when he talked with Nida later, she told him that everything was okay.

More and more evidence is coming in. The NBI is working overtime on the Nida case. With the group behind “Justice for Nida” now working with Kaye and Marichu, there is a big chance that we will soon see the face of the murderer of Nida Blanca.

The Now: April 8, 2010

Rod was allowed to leave the country to be with his dying mother. But he was not able to make it to her side. She died before he reached the US. His close friends here still profess his innocence. Nida’s daughter thinks otherwise. She is still grieving for her mom and has been praying for closure.

General Jesus Versoza now the country’s top cop is director general of the PNP. Soon to retire, he has moved on to other affairs of state. Sen. Sotto is running again for the Senate. Philip just died of blood poisoning and pneumonia. General Versoza commented in a newspaper interview that there should be an investigation on the real cause of Medel’s death. It was recalled that Rod committed suicide while staying in a poor man’s hotel in the US. He died under suspicious circumstances.

My grandson JV, who was born on the day that Nida was murdered, is now nine. The Nida Blanca case is still unsolved. Her murderer is still running around scot free.

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