Remembering Mat Ranillo, Jr., the King of Visayan Movies

Leah C. Salterio

Posted at Sep 26 2020 01:02 PM

Mat Ranillo, Jr.

MANILA -- Last September 12, on the 51st death anniversary of actor Mat Ranillo, Jr., widely known as the King of Visayan Movies, his son, Dandin Ranillo, lovingly made a Facebook post to remind everyone about the well-known achievements of his dad.

Ranillo shared excerpts of his dad’s award-winning Visayan film, “Badlis sa Kinabuhi (Line of Life),” with his mom, Gloria Sevilla and Frankie Navaja, Jr., directed by Leroy Salvador. The film was shown in 1969 and received 12 FAMAS awards out of its 14 nominations.

Subsequently, “Badlis sa Kinabuhi” also became the Philippines’ entry to the ASEAN Film Festival in Indonesia and was showcased under the informative division of the Berlin Film Festival. By 1970, “Badlis sa Kinabuhi” was released in its original Visayan version in Manila and made a killing at the tills.

In 1969, however, Ranillo, Jr. died in a plane crash that left his young family devastated. He and Sevilla had five children when he passed away. The eldest in the brood was Lilybeth, followed by Archie, Suzette, Jojo and Dandin.

The kids were all merely one year apart. At that time, Sevilla was seven months pregnant with their youngest, Juni, who was born in November 1969 without seeing his dad.

“I was only nine then when my father died,” recalled Ranillo, the youngest at that time his father died. “Since my father was basically the breadwinner, life did drastically take a turn for the bad. My mom was in shock for a while and didn't know what to do.

“Us, kids, were too young to understand and how to carry on. The family’s movie production company [MG Productions] went downhill, although my mom tried to continue on. She grew up being an actress and that was all that she ever did. My father did the rest. The family suddenly lost direction. And nobody was there to guide us.”

Mat Ranillo, Jr. and Gloria Sevilla

On that fateful day, Ranillo’s dad was on board Philippine Airlines BAC-111 from Cebu, said to be on its final voyage then, since the plane would be phased out.

“Nobody exactly knew what the cause of the plane crash was,” Ranillo shared. “From what I gathered, it was attributed to pilot error. Including daddy, there were 45 passengers who perished. It happened on a Friday, September 12, 1969.

“The plane came from Cebu and was about to land. It was circling around, waiting for its turn to land, when the plane crashed on the hills of Antipolo. My dad was busy campaigning for the Liberal party candidates in Dipolog City, his hometown.”

The senior Ranillo was coming home from Cebu after collecting proceeds from the showing of his and Sevilla’s Visayan movie. “He was in a hurry to come back home to celebrate his birthday on September 21,” Ranillo shared. “He would have turned 41. Then, their 15th wedding anniversary on September 24.

“They said Daddy also wanted to attend the rally in Manila of then presidential candidate, Serging Osmena. We were all at the airport then, waiting for Daddy’s plane to arrive. I vividly remembered how simple the airport fence looked like. You could see the planes and passengers disembarking. Now called Terminal 4, that was the only airport we had then.”

Even if Ranillo was only nine at that time, he could still recall the details of everything that took place 51 years ago. “At the airport, after minutes of waiting and questions of ‘Where is he?’ and ‘Why isn't he here yet?’, I heard someone say, ‘The flight might be delayed. Let's just wait for him at the house.’ Then, we all got into our station wagon and left for home.

“When we got home, I saw mommy going straight to the phone. I think I sat near the top of the stairs listening to what was going on. The rest of my siblings, I guess, went to their rooms, as we were all tired. I continued to hear mommy dialing, contacting and informing her good friend, then Mayor Joseph ‘Erap’ Estrada about her concerns regarding my dad's flight and that she is asking for help.”

Mat Ranillo, Jr. and Gloria Sevilla with their five children

Ranillo remembered knocking off that night in the nearest bedroom from sheer exhaustion. By the time he woke up the following morning, things took a totally different turn.

“When I woke up, I heard a commotion in the master's bedroom,” he recalled. “When I went there, I saw my mom laying on a bonbon, crying and wailing, while some people comforted her.

“Then, I saw the rest of my siblings sitting in line at the right side of the bed. I remembered asking one of them, I forgot which one, ‘Why? What happened?’ To which I got a reply, ‘Daddy is dead!’ It didn't sink at all, but after seeing my siblings all crying, I decided to sit with them and cried, too.”

Estrada, then San Juan Mayor, went to the Ranillo’s house that morning to break the tragic news to Sevilla that her husband had died. Estrada hugged Sevilla tightly as he also cried with her.

Picking up the pieces when Ranillo’s dad died proved to be a major challenge for the family. The death of the Ranillo patriarch was truly heartbreaking, if not devastating. Yet, they all managed to move on.

“I really don't know how we were all able to manage after dad died,” Ranillo shared. “Mommy continued producing, then made Suzette an actress. Followed by Mat. Then, we all appeared.

“I guess, we relied more on the popularity of Mat then, to make it through. Until we became actors, too, making money on our own. I had to start living for myself, putting myself to school, while being an actor, too.”

Mat Ranillo, Jr. and Gloria Sevilla

Ranillo remembers his dad as a very lovable person whom everybody, even male friends, loved. “He was gentle, always smiling, handsome, a perfect father and person,” the son said. “He worked as a lawyer at the Bureau of Customs. He was an actor-producer of Visayan films. He also made a couple of Tagalog movies.”

As a father, Ranillo, Jr. was a spoiler. “He spoiled everybody, even my cousins, whom he also bought gifts for,” he said. “He made sure we all got something. There was nothing more you could ask for. Since he worked at the Customs, most of our gifts were imported.”

In rare times, the dad had his limits, too. “The only time he got mad and spanked us was when we, kids, were unruly or when we fought,” Ranillo recalled. “Upon the urging of my Mommy, she would instruct him to, ‘Spank them, Daddy!’ Dad would simply just follow orders.”

Asked about the favorite film of his dad, Ranillo singled out “Badlis Sa Kinabuhi,” the only full-length Visayan film he saw completely where Ranillo, Jr. played the lead.

“That movie went on the win FAMAS awards for mommy as best actress and Frankie Navaja, Jr. as best child actor,” Ranillo said. “Daddy was also honored posthumously by FAMAS. As for their other movies when they were younger, I didn't get to see those.

“My dad guested in a Visayan movie that they produced. In ‘Hain Man ang Langit [Where Is Heaven?],’ Daddy appeared as Mommy's security guard-husband, who got shot and killed in the beginning of the movie. I also happened to see glimpses of Daddy's other movies where he was a supporting actor or guest. I remembered Felix Villar’s ‘Pantalan Trece’ and Tony Cayado’s ‘Kurtinang Bakal.’”

All the Ranillo boys carried their dad’s name, Matias, originally taken from their grandfather, Matias Ranillo, Sr. Archie is Matias Archibald III, Jojo is Matias Jonathan IV, Dandin in Matias Bonifacio V, Juni is Matias Junius Ferdinand VI.

Although the tradition was not strictly passed on to all their children, Ranillo was the only one who named his son Matias Yeshua, with JC as the boy’s nickname. His wife’s name is Alice.

Mat Ranillo, Jr.

Not one of the Ranillo boys followed in their dad’s footsteps to embark on a legal career. “Dad was a lawyer,” Ranillo disclosed. “None of us became one. Dad was one of a kind. I guess nobody took after him. If he were alive today, none of us will be in showbiz. And things will be a lot different. But, that's life for us.”

Life was never the same for the Ranillo children after their dad died. Their mom eventually remarried two years later. Although the kids didn’t agree with their mom’s decision, they never countered her choice. They eventually had a half-sister, Czareanah, from their mom’s second husband, the late actor Amado Cortez. The latter was previously a co-star of Ranillo, Jr. in a few films.

“We learned to accept Tito Amado Cortez,” Ranillo said. “There was no other choice. It was mommy's happiness at stake. And to some extent, her sanity, too.”

One of Ranillo’s best memories of his dad was when they lied down on their beds, “played with his uncovered tummy, stuck our mouths against it, while trying to make funny noises that sounded like farts,” he recalled.

“And when he would carry me up to the house as the last kid out of the car after a Sunday of going to church, having lunch at Max's Fried Chicken in Quezon City, watching a movie, eating soft ice cream at Dairy Queen, having fun at Luneta Park, where he would push us one by one in the swing, making sure we all got our turn.

“Finally, having dinner at Aristocrat along Dewey Boulevard [now Roxas Boulevard]. Other than that, my best memory of him as a whole was being a perfect father!”

Mat Ranillo, Jr. and Gloria Sevilla with their five children