Manila, June 1, 2003 By Mario E. Bautista, (Star) The battle is far from over! 

RAMON "BONG" REVILLA, JROne of the local film industryís top achievers last year was Ramon "Bong" Revilla, Jr. He was the only action star with three releases, all of them blockbusters. These are Mahal Kita, Final Answer with Rufa Mae Quinto, Kilabot at Kembot with Assunta de Rossi, and Agimat, Anting-Anting ni Lolo, the topgrosser in the December Metro Manila Filmfest. On television, he has a hit sitcom on GMA 7, Idol Ko Si Kap.

He now has an entry, Bertud ng Putik, for the June Manila Filmfest that is full of dazzling special effects like the hit Matrix films, produced by their familyís own outfit, Imus Productions.

"We were encouraged by the warm public reception to all the films made by our company last year so we want to give them better films this year like Bertud ng Putik," Bong adds.

He wants to make it clear that this is not just a remake of his dadís hit action-fantasy film, Nardong Putik, but a totally new material. He plays Gabriel, a gangster in 1953 who has a "vertud" (Bong says this is the original Latin spelling) or amulet that enables him to travel through time. He is transported to the present where his former enemy (Romy Diaz) is now an old man who has taught Bongís own son (Roi Vinzon) to hate his father.

"Kaya bale ang makakalaban ko sa 2003 is my own flesh and blood who hates me for abandoning him and his mom in 1953," says Bong. "The problem is he has joined the forces of evil and, in his role as Parnaso, has become the head of a kidnapping syndicate that uses innocent children in bank robberies."

He has three leading ladies in the film: Regine Tolentino, Michelle Estevez and Rochelle Pangilinan of the Sex Bomb Dancers. Rochelle plays his wife, while Michelle plays his paramour in the 1950's and Regine plays a temptress in the present time who tries to seduce him. He has love scenes with all of them.

"Pero trabaho lang ang lahat," he stresses. "No hanky panky on the set. After all, weíre making a wholesome film intended for the whole family."

Aside from making films, Bong remains very busy as the chief of the Videogram Regulatory Board. What can he say about the accusation that he has not caught any big fish and that all the crushing of pirated VCDís he does are mere publicity stunts?

"I feel hurt because they donít know how difficult my job is," he replies. "Although we have crushed and confiscated over $60 million worth of discs and equipment, sobra ang laki ng scope ng piracy, so itís not that easy to eradicate it. Basta ongoing and relentless pa rin ang operations namin. So far, here in Metro Manila, we have cut down on the incidence of new movies being copied for VCD. They now do it in the provinces where the appointed checkers of film companies are more lenient. So I ask film producers to be more cautious with the people they hire. We also need the cooperation of local government officials like town and city mayors to help us fight piracy. So far, I believe weíre on the right track because even US Assistant Secretary for Market Access, William Lash, wrote me a letter commending me for my honest efforts, like the conviction of 12 Chinese and Indonesian film pirates. We have arrested many foreigners involved in piracy who are now in jail. The problem is the law is so soft on them. The punishment is just one-year imprisonment or they pay a fine. Iíve now also asked the help of the BIR to prosecute these people for tax evasion and the Bureau of Immigration because theyíre mostly illegal aliens. Weíre recommending, too, that the law be amended to 12 years imprisonment because what theyíre doing is economic sabotage. We likewise plan to start an education program to inform the general public on how piracy can adversely affect them by ruining our economy. We plan to institute a Video Piracy Awareness Week when we celebrate my first anniversary with the VRB in July."

Is he still receiving death threats because of his drive against piracy? "Oh yes, I do. Itís a very delicate job because once any of the men assigned to me is accused of getting bribes from any pirate or vendor, I see to it they are fired immediately. I want all the people working with me to be beyond suspicion so I made it clear to them from the start na kung iniisip ninyong pagkakaperahan ninyo ang trabaho rito, umalis na kayo. When someone complained to me that a colonel no less was soliciting money from a pirate, I immediately complained to the PNP and he was removed from my office. I really take this job very seriously."

Although surveys show that he has a good chance of winning if heíd run for the senate, Bong says he has not decided if heíd be a candidate in the next elections. "Everywhere I go now in the country, the public reception to me is very warm, but I leave it all up to the Lord to help me discern if Iíd run for public office or not," he says. "Right now, Iím just trying my best to do my work as VRB Chairman. Iíll make my final decision on my birthday this coming Sept. 25."

Youíd wonder if he really has an agimat or amulet that makes it easy for him to juggle his various daily activities that easily.

"Actually, itís not that easy," he says. "But when you love what youíre doing, then you wouldnít mind the pressure and the demands of your work. And it just so happened that I really love acting and I also find fulfillment in helping the local film and music industry by running after the pirates who destroy our business."

When Assunta de Rossi was asked in Morning Girls what was her most traumatic experience in showbiz so far, she replied it was doing Kilabot at Kembot where she was exploited in her love scene with Bong Revilla. Bong says he felt very bad when he heard about this.

"How come she didnít say anything at the time we shot it? Jules Ledesma was there and he even thanked me after the shooting. When we gave her a bonus after the film was a hit, she even gladly accepted it. Now, after a year, may ganyan pala siyang issue. Itís unfair because she even uses the word rape. Even my kids reacted. I have a clean conscience. I never exploit anyone," he explains.

Bong says no one among his past leading ladies has ever complained about him taking advantage of them. To verify this, we ask his lady partners in Bertud ng Putik about their respective experiences in working with him.

"Kuya Bong is very nice," says Rochelle "Sex Bomb" Pangilinan. "Iím really happy that heís my leading man in the first love scene I ever did because he really handled me with care."

"Bong is the first actor I have a kissing scene with and heís definitely a gentleman," says Regine Tolentino. "Heís very accommodating and really fun to work with. And he does kiss well."

"Iím a newcomer but he treated me like an old colleague," says Michelle Estevez. "I can feel that he respects his leading ladies."

Even the filmís villain, Roi Vinzon, says he is always glad working with Bongís Imus Productions because they treat their stars well. "I was also the villain in Kilabot at Kembot and I had several scenes with Assunta but she never told me she was dissatisfied with the way Bong was treating her," he says.

Rochelle Pangilinan is flattered no end each time she hears Bong saying that she has the same charisma as Nora Aunor. "I just want to make it clear that it didnít come from me," she says. "Baka magalit sa akin ang Noranians because Iím being compared with their idol."

"Iíve seen her attraction to the masses and they really love her," says Bong. "Whenever she performs with the Sex Bomb Dancers, the reception is really great. Both of them are also morena at Pilipinang-Pilipina ang dating, di ba? Thatís why I chose her to be my wife in Bertud ng Putik. She also has great potential as an actress. She has a dramatic scene here when I leave her and our son for another woman, and direk Augusto Salvador and I were impressed because sheís really good."

Rochelle, in turn, clarifies that sheís not really going solo because the rest of the Sex Bomb Dancers also appear in the movie. "We are shown competing in a dance competition in the story," she adds.

We ask Bong how come the early posters of their movie showed the title as Vertud ng Putik. How come it is now Bertud and not Vertud?

"Thatís how my father wants it spelled dahil Tagalog daw ang Putik. But if youíd ask me, I prefer Vertud for the letter V. Para talagang victory kami sa box office. Kaya lang, we have to respect my dadís opinion because he is the one who started this family tradition of making films about agimats. But of course, our agimat movies now are more high tech as we make use of state-of-the-art special effects to make our films much more exciting to watch. We have to grow with the times, and Iím confident our agimatís power will continue to work wonders at the box office with Bertud ng Putik."

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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