Tribute: Ramon Revillla Sr. lives on as PH cinema's 'hari ng agimat'

Leah C. Salterio

Posted at Jun 26 2020 06:42 PM | Updated as of Jun 27 2020 02:21 AM


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MANILA -- He was known for his legendary amulet or anting-anting, which he admittedly possessed. Not surprisingly, as he lived really long. However, at the age of 93, actor-turned-politician Ramon Revilla, Sr. finally said goodbye.

Revilla passed away at 5:20 p.m in his home in Bacoor, Cavite, his son Sen. Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr. said. The former movie icon and senator died of respiratory failure due to pneumonia.

"He fought a good fight, lumaban siya hanggang sa huli," the younger Revilla told ABS-CBN News.

The older Revilla was in and out of the hospital this past year due to heart disease and pneumonia.

Born Jose Acuna Bautista on March 8, 1927, Revilla adopted the name Ramon Revilla when he entered showbiz in 1951. He was popularly tagged “Hari ng Agimat,” after playing a number of characters onscreen.

Revilla came from a big family – the youngest of 10 children of Ildefonso Bautista and Andrea Acuna – so it was not surprising that he also had many kids. He finished Commerce at the Far Eastern University (FEU) and held his college degree even before he joined showbiz.

Tall, muscular and undoubtedly good looking, Revilla was said to have been spotted while pumping gas. Subsequently, he was cast in bit parts in a number of movies.

Revilla was married to Azucena Mortel, with whom he had seven children: Marlon, Rowena Bautista-Mendiola, Jose Mari (Bong Revilla), Rebecca Bautista-Ocampo (Princess Revilla), Edwin (Strike Revilla), Andrea Bautista-Ynares and Dianne.

With Genelyn Magsaysay, Revilla had nine children. The eldest, Ram Revilla, was murdered in 2013. The others are Ramona Belen (Mara), Ragene Anne, Ragelyn Gail, Ram Joshua, Ramon Joseph (RJ), Raphael Julius, Reuben Jesse and Ramlyn Gabrielle.

There was a familiar lore that the actor sired more than 80 kids. However, that number was never totally accounted for. This was confirmed by movie columnist and TV host Lolit Solis, a close friend of the Revilla family for a long time and also the talent manager of Ramon “Bong” Revilla, Jr.

“There was a time, after the senator had a stroke in 2008, that he made it a point to require those claiming to be his children, to undergo DNA test,” Solis disclosed. “That way, talagang may proof kung siya talaga ang tatay.”

Most prominent among his children is his namesake, Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., who followed in the footsteps of the dad as an actor and politician.

Two offsprings from Nueva Ecija were accounted for – the late Ramon Revilla Nicholas Bautista, Jr., once the mayor of the town of San Leonardo; and Evelyn Bautista-Jaworski, wife of basketball superstar Robert Jaworski.

“All those na napatunayang anak ni senator, nasa will na niya,” Solis added. “For sure, may mga mana na sila. Kabilang na sila sa mga recognized na anak ni senator.”

In June 2018, Revilla Sr. was confined for pneumonia at St. Luke’s Global. Yet, he was still very sharp, attested grandson Jolo Revilla.

“He no longer ate solid food, couldn’t talk clearly and he just couldn’t walk anymore,” said Jolo, who called Revilla Sr. “Daddy.” Meanwhile, Jolo calls Revilla, Jr. “Papa.”

“I am very thankful and blessed that he shared with us everything he learned about showbiz and politics,” Jolo added. “He always told us to be humble. Kailangan passionate ka sa lahat ng bagay – in showbiz and also in doing public service. Think about the fans or your constituents before yourself. That was the best advice I wouldn’t get from just anybody.”

At the time of his death, the actor-politician was “okay” with everybody. “Everything was well with the family,” Jolo said. “Wala kaming naging problema. He invested a lot when he was still an actor and even before he became a senator.”

Real estate properties in Cavite became Revilla’s investment when he became an actor, according to Solis. Among the assets are areas where SM Bacoor and Robinson’s Imus are located. The family also owns two cemeteries in Cavite and a cockpit. The Revilla family’s mansion or more widely known as the family’s ancestral house, is also in Cavite.

While Revilla, Sr. was younger, Jolo noted the senator was very strict. “He was even more strict than my dad. Kung paano siya naging matapang before, naging malambot siya when he got older. There was no major issue that he got mad about,” he recalled.

Revilla joined showbiz in 1951 and initially played bit parts in many films such as “Pepeng Saclaw,” “Ulila ng Bataan,” “Recuerdo,” “Mister Kasintahan,” “Mga Umaga Pang Darating,” “Balisong,” “Kurdapya,” “Gorio at Tekla,” “Matandang Dalaga,” “Scout Rangers,” “Walang Himala,” “Sa Dulo ng Landas,” “Abak sa Panalangin,” “Balisong,” “Tarhata,” “Binibining Kalog,” “Walang Daigdig” and “Bim, Bam, Bum.”

However, Revilla had a change of heart and left showbiz to work in the Bureau of Customs, where he became head of Secret Service Unit in 1965. Apparently, that was not God’s plan for somebody whom He blessed with immense acting talent and love for show business.

In 1972, Revilla returned to showbiz and gained fame for playing “Nardong Putik: Kilabot ng Cavite” (Leonardo Manicio), the amulet-wielding gangster-turned-folk hero of Cavite. The character became iconic that Nardong Putik undoubtedly became closely associated with Revilla.

The late Fernando Poe Jr. and Revilla even did a film together, “Iyo ang Tondo, Kanya ang Cavite,” where the latter was identified as a tough guy from Cavite, while Poe represented Tondo.

Revilla also portrayed Pepeng Agimat, a character that spewed invincible superhuman powers and became also iconic to Filipinos.

ABS-CBN adapted Revilla’s memorable films into a teleserye, “Agimat: Ang Mga Alamat ni Ramon Revilla,” that featured characters with amulets and super-natural abilities.

Season 1 had “Tiagong Akyat” (Gerald Anderson) who had speed and the strength to climb high walls, “Tonyong Bayawak” (Coco Martin) or the monitor lizard, “Elias Paniki” (Jake Cuenca) who battled with witches and warlords, and Pepeng Agimat (Jolo Revilla), who killed vampires.

Season 2 featured Bianong Bulag (Jason Abalos), a blind, young man who got hold of an amulet that made him a sharp-shooter, and Kapitan Inggo (Jolo Revilla), a guy who had the power to ward off bullets and defeat his enemies.

Revilla’s acting did not go unnoticed. In 1973, he won a FAMAS Best Actor Award for “Hulihin si Tiyagong Akyat.” In the same film, Revilla’s eldest son, Marlon Bautista, got the Best Child Actor trophy.

Many films of Revilla were bankrolled by the family’s outfit, Imus Productions, which was accorded with the Outstanding Film Production award in 1975. The following year, Revilla was recognized as Outstanding Producer of the Year.

In 1979, Revilla got the Most Outstanding Actor and Box Office King. In 2011, Revilla was given the Lifetime Achievement Award in the 33rd Catholic Mass Media Awards (CMMA).

In 1992, Revilla joined politics and was elected senator. He served in the senate for two terms and made sure that he authored important bills, particularly the amendment of the Family Code of the Philippines in 2004.

If you are an illegitimate child and you are using the surname of your father, credit Revilla for amending the bill. “The child should not suffer the stigma of his illegitimacy,” stressed Revilla.

“If their affiliation has been expressly recognized by the father through the record of birth appearing in the civil register or when an admission in a public document or private handwritten instrument is made by the father.”

More than anything, the amendment worked well for Revilla’s love children sired out of marriage. However, that did not pose a real problem even to the legitimate ones.

No bad blood happened through the years. Although not everyone was properly accounted for – there were talks there were only 45 children and not more than 80 – the siblings lived harmoniously.

In March 2017, on Revilla’s 90th birthday, his family unveiled a 10-meter bronze statue made by National Artist Eduardo Castrillo, in the family residence in Bacoor, Cavite.

Revilla’s children also opened Memo Revilla, a museum showcasing Revilla’s vintage photographs, film memorabilia and other important items identified with the actor, such as the amulet (anting-anting), agimat and sword (panday).

The actor’s 90th birthday party was attended by some of the biggest names in showbiz and politics. Two former presidents – Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo – were among the top personalities who graced the occasion.

Revilla’s health started to deteriorate as early as 2008 after he had his first stroke. -- With reports from Mario Dumaual, ABS-CBN News