The Revillas of Cavite are very much in the news nowadays. This has come about as a consequence of the murder of Ramgen Revilla, one of the reported 81 – yes, it’s 81 – children of the Revilla patriarch, former Senator Ramon Revilla Sr.
The case has been in the news for about three weeks now, and the reason is that it has all the trimmings of a sensational crime story, a story that a police reporter worth his salt would pursue relentlessly.
Speaking from experience, I know that this kind of detective story, which comes only once in a blue moon, is read avidly by a lot of people because it has all the important elements of the news – prominence, drama, sibling rivalry, money, human interest, etc.
If so much has been written about the case, what is new?
I happen to know the Revillas “up close and personal” not only because I had been a long-time journalist in our homeland but also because I am their neighbor. My house in Bacoor, Cavite is in a subdivision located just behind the Revilla residential enclave, and I had had close associations with the old man Revilla and his sons Senator Bong Revilla and Bacoor Mayor Strike Revilla and daughters Rowena, who is married to a scion of the Mendiola family of Mindoro, and Andrea, who is married to Rizal Governor Junjun Ynares.
I am particularly close to Mayor Strike, who is my kumpadre. He is a nuptial godfather of my son Albert and daughter-in-law Sabrina. The mayor’s close aide is Michelle Figueras, who was my secretary when I was president of the National Press Club of the Philippines.
In 1990 after I had just transferred my residence to Bacoor, Revilla Sr. came to my house a few times together with Manila Bulletin correspondent Del Villanueva. We had had idle chat while we enjoyed a few rounds of beer.
At that time, Revilla Sr. was not yet a senator. He had just lost in his first senatorial bid due to a technical lapse that arose from the use of his real-life family name, Bautista, instead of Revilla, his screen name that made him immensely popular among the hoi poloi.
During his visits to our house, he was accompanied once or twice by his daughter Rowena, who was at that time a comely beauty like the other Revilla girls. During the post-prandial talks, Revilla Sr. would admit he has many children with several women.
It seems easy to understand why many women fell in love with him. He is extraordinarily handsome, and his macho image is enhanced by his always well trimmed whiskers and well combed hair as well as his swashbuckling roles in movies (such as “Nardong Putik” and “Agimat”) which his own Imus Productions had produced. And because his movies made a lot of money, he has the dough that made women more vulnerable to his words of endearment.
One time, Del Villanueva and I visited him in the Revilla compound. This was when he had just been elected senator. At that time, there was a parade of school children passing along Aguinaldo Highway in front of his compound.
Somebody shouted, “nandito na sila, nandito na sila (they are here, they are here),” and suddenly Revilla Sr., who was then about 60 years old, ran to the highway to watch the parade.
Surprised, we asked why he was too excited to watch the parade. Somebody said that he wanted to see a Grade 2 girl who was participating as a muse in the parade. I asked, “Is the girl his granddaughter?” The answer: “No, she is his daughter.” I was amused, but I suppressed a chuckle.
We learned later that there were two other little Revilla girls also participating as muses. They were his “apo” (grandkids), daughters of two of his sons. The amusing, if not awkward, situation was that the auntie (daughter of Revilla Sr.) and her nieces were classmates.
There were other interesting stories we heard about Revilla Sr., his sons and his daughters, one of them the wife of basketball legend and former Senator Robert Jaworski.
How was he able to support his 81 children? This is a valid question being raised these days in the wake of Ramgen’s murder. Some journalists have insinuated that Revilla Sr. might have been involved in shady deals when he was chairman of the Senate committee on public works.
I believe the old man had not dipped his finger in the corruption pie. Yes, he indulges in vices like endless womanizing and cockfight gambling, but he is not corrupt.
I know for a fact that Revilla Sr. is an astute businessman. He has been making sacks of money from his real estate business. When his movies were making money in the early 1970s, he bought big chunks of land in Bacoor, Imus and elsewhere in Cavite.
He developed two of his land assets into memorial parks, one of which is the Eternal Garden located on Aguinaldo Highway not far from his compound. When he purchased the lands, he bought them at very cheap prices (about P5 per square meter), and now he is selling cemetery plots at P90,000 each.
I guessed the Eternal Garden has some 3,000 cemetery plots, and all of these are already sold out. Now crypts for the remains of the dead are being constructed vertically at some portions — one on top of the other like catacombs. The cemetery plots in his other memorial park, which is in Imus, are also selling like hot cake.
A big portion of the area where SM City Bacoor is located used to be his property. When he sold it to SM, he made millions. In late 1980s, he built the Cavite Coliseum near his house where cockfighting derbies are regularly held. The coliseum also houses a casino. And the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) is paying a monthly handsome rent to Revilla’s realty firm.
And with his well patronized movies, several of them box-office-hits, Bong Revilla is adding more piles of money to the family fortune. But that’s another story.