On 6 November 2001 at 12:30 pm, 65-year old actress Nida Blanca, drove her car from her home in White Plains, Quezon City to the MTRCB office in Greenhills, San Juan, Metro Manila.
The Movies and Television Review and Classification Board was located at the 33rd floor of the Atlanta Centre Building. A veteran actress and respected in the entertainment industry, Nida Blanca served as a board member attending screenings and rating movies and television shows twice a week. The MTRCB board usually ends their screenings at around past five or six o’clock.
One co-worker said she saw Nida received a telephone call and then left. It was reported that Nida told MTRCB employees that she would be attending a wake at Santuario de San Antonio in Forbes Park, Makati. “See you again tomorrow,” Nida said cheerfully at around 5:00 p.m. before she left.
At 10:00 p.m. Elena Dela Paz, Nida’s personal assistant, noticed that Nida hadn’t arrived home yet. So she called Nida’s friends to find out where she was. But friends said that they had not seen her.
Accompanied with two relatives, Elena went to the Atlanta Centre to look for Nida. The guard told Elena that Nida’s car was there. Thinking that Nida went out with a friend on a different vehicle, Elena returned home at 11:30 p.m and told Nida’s husband, Rod Strunk, that they had not found her.
The next morning, 7 November, at around 8:00 a.m., a roving security guard of the Atlanta Centre was inspecting the 6th floor parking lot and found blood on the floor. The trail of blood led him to a parked car a few meters away. The car was a green Nissan Sentra owned by Nida Blanca. The security guard found the car locked but the actress was found slumped in the backseat.
Nida Blanca was born as Dorothy Jones to an American soldier and Filipina mother. Dory, as close friends called her, became an actress at the age of 14. She became one of the leading movie stars of LVN Studios, had won awards for film and TV, and appointed as a board member of MTRCB. She was once married to Victorino Torres and gave birth to her daughter, Kaye. When Kaye was two years old, Nida separated from her husband.
Rod Strunk was born Roger Lawrence Strunk in Fresno, California. As a singer-actor, he was popularly known as Rod Lauren. As an actor, he worked mostly on TV during the ’60s and had appeared in episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. As a singer, he was a one-hit wonder with the song “If I Had a Girl” which landed number 31 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1960. After that, he had a string of low-budget Hollywood movies from 1962 to 1969.
While filming John Derek’s “Once Before I Die” in the Philippines, Rod met Nida. They got married in the United States in 1979.
The Crime & Initial Investigation
The autopsy report showed that Nida Blanca sustained 13 stab wounds mostly small, superficial, and indiscriminate. These were at the left side of the face, neck, and thorax, three wounds of which were near the armpit. The most fatal wound was at her throat coming from the left, cutting through the right, hitting the jugular vein.
Initial report said that the wounds came from at least two short knives as the wounds were not identical. However, in the extradition decision from which I based my notes, it was stated that Nida died from a single bladed weapon measuring at least 5.5 centimeters.
She had bruises on her face. There were no signs of defense wounds associated with a struggle. And there were no signs of struggle inside her vehicle, too. In a television show, a medico-legal said that the wounds were post-mortem, meaning it might have been done after she died.
The approximate time of her death was set between 4:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. of 7 November 2001, around three to four hours before the security guard found her body. According to a SOCO officer, rigor mortis hadn’t set in fully when they retrieved the body out of the car.
From the blood trail which the security guard saw, it showed that the body was dragged from one place to her Nissan Sentra.
The 6th floor parking area had allotted 6 spaces for the MTRCB. It was dark and, aside from a wide-angle mirror, did not have a security guard station nor surveillance cameras. Photos show that Nida’s Nissan Sentra was parked at the very end, near the wall and was partially covered by a concrete pillar.
Connecting The Pieces
Immediately after this crime was reported, there were three theories that surfaced as to why Nida Blanca died.
The Casino Connection
During the initial investigation, a witness said that she saw Nida Blanca and her friend Candelaria “Ding” Tantoco at Casino Filipino on the night of November 6th. Tantoco was known to be Nida’s frequent companion at the casino. Rumors surfaced that Nida had incurred a large amount of debt from a syndicate that lends money to gamblers. Another rumor said that Nida lends money to gamblers.
The Jose Velarde Bank Account Connection
The name Jose Velarde came about during the impeachment trial of President Joseph Estrada. There was a rumor that one of Nida’s cheques had a money trail linking to the Jose Velarde bank account allegedly owned by the former president. The impeachment happened in January of 2001 and Nida died in November, too far to be a coincidence. However, if you would look at the names of the suspects and accomplices, one would really come up with this kind of theory.
Properties, Will, and Insurance
So far, this is the most acceptable and believable theory among the three.
Nida and Rod’s marriage was no longer working. According to a household staff, they slept on separate rooms. Sometime during the ’90s, Rod was caught using drugs but Nida forgave him. Rod’s finances were out of control and Nida had complained to Kaye about it before. He had become a freeloader and had interests on Nida’s properties and insurance.
Nida Blanca had Php 85 million worth of properties which, as stated in her will, would be given to her only daughter, Kaye. She had disinherited Rod Strunk. Had Nida annulled their marriage, Rod would not get anything. But if Nida died before she was able to terminate the marriage, Rod Strunk would be entitled to a portion of her assets as a legal spouse under the law.
Here Comes Medel
On 18 November 2018, police presented a man named Pedro Philip Medel, Jr. who surrendered to them and made a sworn statement admitting that he killed Nida Blanca.
Medel said that Mike Martinez had called him in early October 2001 to participate in a project they called “Tantoco Project”. The project involved intimidating a swindling wife of a Chinese.
On 6 November 2001, Martinez called Medel and they agreed to meet. While waiting for Martinez at around 5:00 p.m., a Caucasian man came and asked if he was Medel. Medel confirmed and when he asked about Martinez, the Caucasian said that they would meet him some place else.
So they drove past the Kamayan Restaurant in EDSA where Medel had been told that Martinez was waiting. They went to another location but the Caucasian didn’t find the man he was looking for. They returned and arrived at the Kamayan Restaurant at around 9:00 p.m. They had dinner and while having dinner, Medel was instructed to observe and intimidate a wife of a Chinese. Martinez never showed up.
Medel and the Caucasian, whom he referred to as “Rad”, left the restaurant at around 10:00 p.m. and went to the 6th floor of the Atlanta Centre. They parked next to a dark green car (which was Nida’s Nissan Sentra) and waited until 12:00 midnight.
Rad told Medel that he is leaving and Medel had to wait in the backseat of the green car. So Rad unlocked the car and let Medel in. Medel spent his time waiting by texting some friends and fell asleep. He woke up at around 1:00 a.m. by the lights coming from a car that parked at the adjacent space. Medel saw Rad and two other women got out of the car.
Rad pushed the woman wearing a striped blouse and dark-colored pants into the back seat. Rad and the other woman kicked and struck her. Medel joined in, hitting the woman and stabbing her with his knife. He stabbed her on the left side of her body and neck.
Medel, Rad, and the other woman left the parking lot at around 2:00 a.m. He went home and hid the knife under his kitchen sink. Medel was shocked to learn that the victim was the famous Nida Blanca.
With this confession, the public learned that Medel was referring to Rod Strunk and Ding Tantoco. In one of Medel’s interviews, he referred Rod as a gay and Tantoco as a lesbian.
Rod Strunk denied the allegations. Ding Tantoco also denied her involvement and passed the lie detector test.
On 23 November 2001, during a televised preliminary investigation, Medel recanted his statements in open court and claimed that he was tortured and forced to make a statement under duress.
This made things more complicated and confusing.
Inconsistent and Conflicting Statements
There were many sworn statements that were gathered during the course of the investigation. Of those testimonies, a few were used as basis to pin Medel and Strunk on charges of murder.
Leonilo Gonzaga worked as a security officer for an agency of which Rolly Kintanar was president. Kintanar was a nephew of General Galileo Kintanar. Gonzaga and Medel used to live together in an apartment and claimed that he first met Medel in Gen. Kintanar’s house. Gonzaga claimed that on 10 November 2001, Medel admitted the murder and wanted to surrender. Gonzaga told this to Rolly Kintanar and it was Kintanar who facilitated Medel’s surrender. Their statements said that Medel communicated with Rod before the murder. Gen. Kintanar, on the other hand, denied that he knew Medel and Strunk.
During the course of the investigation, Mike Martinez was missing and was presumed dead.
Also, a year after the murder, Rod went to the United States to visit his dying mother and never returned. The government requested for an extradition so that he could face trial here in the Philippines. However, due to the submitted evidences, the US court on 12 November 2003 denied the petition and ordered Rod to be free from the Sacramento County Jail.
On 11 July 2007, Rod committed suicide by jumping from a second-floor balcony of the Tracy Inn in Tracy, California, where he had been staying for three days.
Philip Medel remained in jail until his death on 7 April 2010 due to sepsis secondary to pneumonia.
18 years had passed, and the case’s status remained at the presentation of evidence stage. It will never go on trial because it is in our law that once the accused dies, the criminal liability is extinguished.
So this murder case will remain unsolved forever.