Miss Mauritius: I'm also a victim

FUNFARE - Ricky Lo () - June 29, 2010 - 12:00am

Maybe the rest of the world simply shrugged off the sad news about the suicide of 1994 Miss Mauritius Viveka Babajee as one of those things. But to Filipinos, it came like a bolt out of the blue because the beauty queen has a spot, not so flattering though it may be, in their hearts.

You see, Viveka figured in the 1994 Manila Filmfest scam only a few weeks after she competed in the second Miss Universe pageant to be held here, won by India’s Sushmita Sen (with our very own Charlene Gonzalez finishing among the Top 5).

According to the reports, one of which came out in Gulf News dated June 27, Viveka was found hanging from the ceiling fan of her living room by her neighbors in an apartment building in Bandra West, India. She was 37. In India, Viveka “shot to fame in the 1990s” as a supermodel who endorsed, among other products, Kamasutra condom. Although she starred in a Bollywood movie called Ye Kaisi Mohabbat Hai, Viveka didn’t make it as an actress. Friends said that Viveka was depressed after she broke up with her boyfriend.

Viveka was never able to clear herself in that 1994 filmfest scam. She gave Funfare an exclusive interview (her last in the Philippines) a few hours before she sneaked out of the country on June 26. She never came back. Viveka was very clearly clueless about her participation in that scam as shown in that memorable interview (Funfare, June 27, 1994) which I am reprinting so that Viveka may have a “closure” (better late than never). The irony of it all is that she would take her own life on the scam’s 16th anniversary.

Funfare is requesting readers to say a prayer for the repose of Viveka’s soul.

Here’s Viveka’s last interview:

Some people have started calling her Miss Malicious (in the spirit of the characteristically Filipino sense of humor). Others say that her name should be changed from Viveka Babajee (“Vi for short,” she smiled… you know, as in Ate Vi) to Babayka Babayo — as in ‘bye-bye now and good riddance, see you never!

Suddenly, because of the Manila Filmfest Gabi ng Parangal brouhaha (where the names of Ruffa Gutierrez and Gabby Concepcion were called when the real winners, they say, were Aiko Melendez and Edu Manzano for Best Actress and Best Actor respectively), this fashion model and fashion-designing student from that small but exotic country off the Indian Ocean is getting the publicity and media attention she hardly got when she competed at the Miss Universe Pageant last May.

Yesterday, Miss Mauritius gave her first exclusive interview with Funfare which is reproducing it verbatim, straight from the tape recorder, unedited and unexpurgated, as spontaneous as the conversation was conducted. Funfare isn’t passing any judgment, leaving it to a fact-finding group organized by Manila Mayor Fred Lim who has “subpoenaed” Miss Mauritius, together with Ruffa, her mom Annabelle Rama, her brother Rocky, Gretchen Barretto, Nanette Medved, Gabby Concepcion and Lolit Solis (Gabby’s manager) to a confrontation of sorts at Manila City Hall this afternoon.

Let’s listen to Miss Mauritus:

What can you say about reports that there’s a “plot,” some kind of a “conspiracy?”

“I think there’s a real conspiracy but I don’t know anything about it. Everything went so quickly. I said what I had to say; what I saw on the piece of paper given to me. Maybe they were using me for something that I didn’t know anything about.”

Who are they?

“I don’t know. That’s the problem. I’m a stranger here and I hardly know anybody.”

What was the name that you saw on the paper?

“It was Ruffa… Ruffa Gutierrez.”

Written in pentel pen, as initial reports said?

“No, it was written in ballpen. In blue ballpen.”

According to the tape (replayed over and over again on TV), you beat Gretchen Barretto into announcing the winner’s name, even before you could look at the piece of paper (from supposedly the official auditing firm, Sycip, Gorres & Velayo).

“We were supposed to say it together. Gretchen was saying. ‘The winner is…’ and then she stopped and I don’t know why. That is the black point. I don’t know why she stopped.”

Where’s that piece of paper? They couldn’t find that piece of paper.

“I tell you one thing… there were so many pieces of paper on that table. There were the cue cards and all sorts of papers. I didn’t have any chance to keep the paper.”

At one point, you were telling Rocky (Gutierrez, Ruffa’s younger brother, who was Gretchen and Miss Mauritius” co-presentor) to “Take it, take it!” and Rocky was shown putting what looked like a folded envelope into his pocket. What did you mean?

“Everybody has been asking me that question. You know after we said “The winner is…,’ he was supposed to give the trophy to the winner. When I said, ‘Take it, take it!’ I was referring to the trophy for him to give it to Ruffa.”

Gretchen has accused Lolit Solis of asking her (reportedly under “threat”) to read Ruffa’s name, even if somebody else (in this case, Aiko Melendez) won, but Gretchen said she refused. Do you know Lolit Solis?

“I’ve came to know her through the TV news and the newspaper stories about the incident. I didn’t know her because she was not the one who approached me that night. It was a man, I don’t know who, who asked me if I wanted to be a presentor. He didn’t tell me if it was going to be for the Best Actress or for something else. He just said if I wanted to be a presentor. So I asked Annabelle (Rama) and Annabelle said yes. I went backstage and there I got my instructions. But no envelope was given to me.”

What kind of instructions did you get?

“That once we go onstage, Gretchen was to name who the nominees were and we were supposed to announce together the name of the winner. If I was lying that night, why didn’t she correct me right away?” (Gretchen said she was stunned and caught unaware and it was too late to make the correction. Two days later, she decided to tell what happened at a presscon. — Ed).

Are you a house guest of Ruffa’s family?

“I stayed with them a few days after the Miss Universe contest and then I went back to my country. I arrived here on the day of the Manila Filmfest parade, a day before the awards night. I’m now staying somewhere else but I’m sorry I can’t tell you where for security reasons.”

How do you feel about being described as a “suspect?”

“That’s really weird. I mean, how can they suspect me without investigating first, just hearing Gretchen’s side and not hearing my side. Now, even if they investigate and find out I was telling a lie, the whole thing has already created a big mess in my life. I don’t like this. I don’t like being called all kinds of names. I just wish the Miss Universe people were still here to attest to my character and my good behavior during the pageant.” (Miss Mauritius also competed with Ruffa at the 1993 Miss World contest in South Africa in which Ruffa won Second Princess. — Ed)

And how do you feel about reports that you could be “deported” or declared a “persona non grata.”

“I don’t want to be mixed with politics. I came back because I thought that the people were hospitable and friendly. Now I’m having this bad experience all because I wanted also to be friendly and I agreed to be a presentor, thinking that I could make everybody happy. I don’t understand what’s happening. I tell you, I’m also a victim. I’m not guilty of anything. I came back to be with Ruffa on her birthday and look what I have gotten into.”

You seem to be very affected by this incident.

“Oh yes, I am! It’s going to mark me all my life. I came here for the Miss Universe contest and I’ve made friends. And now this is happening to me.”

Do you have a movie industry in Mauritius?

”No, we don’t have any.”

You’ve been reported to have plans of embarking on a movie career here. And you still pushing through with it? (Reports said that she has signed up with Viva but Miss Mauritius said that everything is still on the negotiation stage. Ed.)

“If being in showbiz is like this, I don’t want to be in it anymore! Actually, I came back to enjoy myself, to see more of your country.”

What does your country’s embassy here say about it, or your family?

“My country doesn’t have any embassy here. My family hasn’t heard of it yet. All I can say is that I am telling the truth and I want my name cleared and my reputation restored before I go back to my country. That’s all I’m asking for now.”

(E-mail reactions at rickylo@philstar.net.ph or at entphilstar@yahoo.com)

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