By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan
(Also published on ABS-CBNnews.com as “What didn’t air from Boy’s interview with Vhong”)
Vhong Navarro’s televised tell-all interview with TV host Boy Abunda from the actor’s hospital bed on January 26 set off a week-long scandal that hogged the national headlines and dominated Filipinos’ conversations.
At a college forum nearly a week later, Abunda revealed that Navarro’s camp was hesitant about letting the actor speak out until minutes before they began what the host called a “tough” exchange.
“Both (Vhong’s) lawyers were in front of me. They were debating: ‘Ano ba, papayag ba tayo dito?’” Abunda said as he detailed to mass communication students at the University of the Philippines – Diliman how he handled the interview.
He recalled Navarro’s lawyers, Atty. Alma Mallonga and Atty. Dennis Manalo warning the actor: “Kasi, Vhong, ‘pag magsalita ka rito, this is coming out later. Lalabas din ang video. Your life is going to change, you may not be able to come back to your career.”
Abunda and his TV crew had arrived at St. Luke’s Medical Center in Quezon City two hours before the airing of Abunda’s live Sunday talk show, “Buzz ng Bayan,” where the interview was slated to air.
After a half-hour wait outside Navarro’s hospital room, Abunda told the lawyers that if they agreed to the interview, they should start at once since it still had to be edited.
Abunda admitted that he had scant knowledge about the brewing case involving the actor before they began the interview.
“Nung dumating ako doon, ang alam ko lamang ay binugbog si Vhong Navarro. But I had basic info,” he said.
The host had read the police blotter that had the actor’s signature which alleged that he was caught sexually assaulting a woman.
Abunda had also picked up basic information of the case already made public, but found no source yet who was directly involved in the encounter.
Abunda said he did not prepare questions or talking points. Knowing little, however, worked to his advantage, he added.
“When you do an interview, sometimes it is good to know a lot. Sometimes it is good to know just enough so that there is a lot of space to probe. Sometimes it is good not to know anything, so that the whole panorama of energy that makes you interested in a subject is there,” he told the students.
“And that’s what happened to me when I was doing the interview with Vhong. I had not much with me.”
“I told (the lawyers), don’t tell me what not to ask, but I’ll give you the power to stop me if I’m treading on dangerous ground, I mean legally,” he said.
‘Tell me your story’
With Navarro’s lawyers present and Abunda’s two cameramen rolling, the host began: “Vhong ang dami naming naririnig. Tell me your story.”
There the “It’s Showtime” host bared his version of how he got beaten up by a group of men at a condominium in Taguig and the series of events that led to it, such as his late-night meetings with model Deniece Cornejo, whom he named for the first time.
“Vhong Navarro was tough, because I had to air at 4 (p.m.). It was really tough. But the advantage was, he’s a natural storyteller,” Abunda said.
The host let the actor talk for most of the more-than-30-minute interview, interrupting to clarify critical points.
“Pinauulit-ulit ko ‘pag hindi naka-klaro sa akin,” Abunda said.
Navarro denied that he raped Cornejo and claimed that the group of men led by businessman Cedric Lee tried to extort up to P2 million from him.
Abunda said the most sensitive question and the most sensitive answer during the interview did not air.
“It’s a very tough interview, dahil kaibigan mo ang kausap mo. And then, you have to be fair. You have to be sensitive to your audience,” he said.
The part where Navarro confessed what happened between him and Cornejo during their first meeting at the condominium was edited for sensitivity, Abunda said.
“(When Vhong) was breaking down and saying ‘Binaboy ako,’ I wanted to know, paano ka binaboy? Because I wanted my audience–I wanted myself–to appreciate the pain. I wanted to appreciate the tears,” he said.
“Ayaw muna niyang magsalita, which meant that he was not willing to be graphic, to be specific about it,” he said.
In the interview that aired, Navarro said that he was gagged, forced to strip his pants, say in front of a camera that he raped a friend, and beaten when he refused to. He said that the men also violated his genitals and took video of it.
At the forum, Abunda was asked up to where does he pursue questions especially in a sensitive interview like the one with Navarro.
“Doon ka maninimpla. Is that necessary to the story? Is that necessary to the narrative? And you’re (thinking) this while you’re doing the interview,” he said.
It also depends on how the questions are phrased and delivered, he said.
“When you’re given that answer, you know when to stop,” he said.
To date, Abunda’s interview with Navarro is the only on-camera account the actor has given about the ordeal.
The interview also made “Buzz ng Bayan” the most-watched show on local television that day, according to Kantar Media.
Navarro has since filed a sworn statement with the NBI that mirrors his ABS-CBN interview with Abunda. He has also taken his alleged attackers to court.