Filipino showbiz lost an icon today in Eddie Garcia, the actor, director, and local entertainment’s quintessential professional. He lived through two of Philippine cinema's golden ages, and learned about discipline from the studio system, and the great Manuel Conde, his director in his first film, Siete Infantes de Lara. Garcia was never late, memorized all his lines, and stayed away from the controversies many of his peers constantly found themselves in.
Six years ago, Garcia sat down with ANCX executive editor Ces Drilon for the show Pipol. Then 84 years old, the actor shared snippets from his life—in his own clipped, matter-of-fact, almost shoulder shrugging way. The interview revealed a simple man who accepted whatever life handed him. Who knew that was the recipe to becoming a legend?
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The boy from Bicol
Born Eduardo Verchez Garcia in Sorsogon, the kid was nicknamed Eddie. He had Spanish blood. His grandfather was a captain in the Spanish army when he came to the Philippines in 1870, a good two decades before the revolution. He married a lady from Pampanga and decided to retire here. “I never got to see him because he died before I was born,” Garcia, who never got to visit Spain in his lifetime, said in the Pipol interview. “All the stories I know came from my uncles and aunties.”
Garcia’s lolo and lola settled in Naga where the actor spent his younger days. He grew up in a coconut plantation, playing in the rice fields and swimming in the river. “I’m also so used to typhoons,” he shared. “We would have like six to seven typhoons and floods a year.” The young Eddie would spend his vacations in Manila and stay with his aunt.
Curiously, Garcia never dreamed of becoming an actor. He wanted to be in the army. He joined the Philippine scouts, completing his basic training in Clark Field in Pampanga. “After six months, we were shipped to Okinawa, pulling military duties. I was the provost sergeant in a military police company.”
When the group disbanded, Garcia was supposed to go back and reenlist. But he met a friend who told him of an opening for new actors for a movie by the late Manuel Conde. His friend managed to persuade him to audition. After a screen test, they were advised by the director to come back after two weeks for the results. They both got cast.
“I wrote to my commanding officer colonel Mayers saying, ‘Sir, I won’t be able to reenlist,” he recalled. “I joined the movies. He wrote back to wish me luck. That’s how it started.”
A job’s a job
Did he have an inkling back then that this is what he was going to do for the rest of his life? “I was 20. To me, acting is just a job. It’s an honest way to make a living,” he told Drilon. “Nothing highfalutin about it. It’s just a job. You do it right, and it would be the best recommendation for your next film.”
To Garcia, it doesn’t matter what the job is as long as you do it well. “You could be a carpenter. Let’s say you do a table, and you do it well. Somebody will say, ‘What a beautiful table. Make one for me.’” Same thing for the movies. “Whatever role is given to you—if you’re doing comedy, make them laugh. If you’re doing drama, make them feel it. If you’re doing horror, scare them.”
After his first film, he and the Siete Infantes actors all went to different studios. It was the era where studios were king. Garcia went to Sampaguita Pictures where he learned the ropes and developed the professionalism he came to be known for. “There were no managers then, so the studios would assign each person to a different film,” he shared. It was a good system, he said, and he appreciated that punctuality was given a premium. “The late Ms. Vera would be there at 7:30 in the morning, and the schedule was 8. The clock was right behind her.” Like regular office employees, the stars at Sampaguita had to time in. Actors were fined for tardiness, and the fine would be automatically deducted from their weekly allowance. “I remember one actor there who didn’t get his weekly allowance because he would always come late,” he said. “That never happened to me.”
Garcia later found his footing as the perennial kontrabida, a role that most show biz aspirants would balk at. “Well somebody had to play [these roles], and it happened to be me,” the actor shared. “No matter the role, or how small it is, you have to give it your best.”
For Garcia, fulfillment in his chosen craft came not from critical acclaim, but in the film’s commercial success. If a movie does well in the box office, it easily means another job, another project. “Sometimes, you get an award on the side as a bonus for a job well done. That’s it.”
Garcia said he didn’t have a method to his craft. “Actually, I don’t have a formula. When I get hold of the script, I read it and base it from there,” he said. “I always base it on the script.” But what of characters that are so far away from his daily existence—like that of his role in Bwakaw where he played a senior gay man afraid of growing older alone? “I’m a keen observer. When I do true life roles, I make it a point to talk to that person if they are still alive—how he moves, pick up his mannerisms.”
After several years as an actor, he moved into the director’s chair. His first directorial stint was the 1961 film, which starred Rita Gomez and his Siete Infantes co-actor and friend Mario Montenegro.
Before he started working behind the camera, he spent time observing editors how they would cut a film, and he was always with director-friends talking about movies. “I told myself it would probably take 15 years for me to be a director. Luckily, it only took 12.” Garcia has 37 films where he is credited as director. These include Abakada… Ina, Imortal, and Saan Nagtatago Ang Pag-ibig?
Aim and shoot
Outside of acting, he did have one serious hobby: target shooting.
“It’s just like people playing golf. Mine just happens to be target shooting. It’s just a sport,” he said. “It’s a good sport. You’re taught the proper handling of guns and discipline.” He regularly competed and trained on weekends, and became good enough to compete internationally.
Garcia used a race gun for target shooting, a super 38, and joined open competitions. According to him, discipline and dry firing—or firing without bullets to develop muscle memory—are important to becoming a good shooter. One needs concentration and constant practice. “You go to a range and shoot about 200 rounds.”
When asked about his opinion on the need for stricter gun control in the Philippines, he said, “There are enough safe guards. The crimes done here are not done by licensed firearms, but mostly by loose firearms. No one is crazy enough to use his own licensed firearm in a crime. It would be traced to him.” He believed what the government should look at are the loose firearms.
Off into the sunset
As Garcia was intensely private, not a lot is known about his family life. Garcia lost his first wife to cancer, his eldest son to a motorcycle accident, and his youngest daughter to heart attack.
Losing one’s child is possibly the hardest thing for any parent to deal with. And, while he admitted it was tough, Garcia had no choice but to move on from these losses. His second son is still alive, however. Garcia was blessed with seven grandchildren who are all happy and working.
Garcia never remarried, but he remained a one-woman man. After his first wife passed away, he met his longtime partner, Lilibeth Romero. “I was directing a film in Ayala Alabang, and I was looking for locations. She was in the house I was filming at because the owner is a friend of hers.” Garcia said that he fell for her sense of humor, her being "kengkoy."
The two have been together for the past three decades, but according to this 2013 interview, they never talked about tying the knot. “It’s just a piece of paper. Nagkakasundo naman eh,” he explained. “That’s what’s more important. May papel nga pero ’di naman maganda ang pagsasama. Wala rin.
“Saka matanda na tayo, ’di ba?” he said with a laugh.
At the time of this interview, Garcia said he has already lived a full life and was ready to meet his creator. “I already paid for my cremation. Binayaran ko na,” he shared.
“Then my helicopter pilot friend will pick up the ashes from the crematory and spread them in Manila Bay.” Rather than leaving some with Lilibeth (“baka mapuwing lang siya eh”) or any of his children, he’d rather spread his remains in the ocean, preferably during a beautiful sunset.
Was there anything else he wanted to accomplish? “Probably I’m not a dreamer,” he admitted, “so whatever comes, yun na yun eh.”
In the 2013 interview, one of Drilon's final questions asked Garcia if he's ready to face the pearly gates--and did he think he will be easily let in?
“Wala naman akong inagrabyado," he replied. "Ginawa ko kung ano ang nararapat gawin ng matuwid. Wala akong inapi. Bahala ka na kung papasukin mo ko, o hindi.”