By Kristel Dacumos (People Asia) - Photo by Jun de Leon - His jaw is clenched and his eyes are drawn in stern focus, and even as the dust swirls around him and into his eyes, he does not flinch. Overhead the noonday sun casts shadows on the tattoos and scars that decorate his skin. In the dusty, rugged terrain of an empty lot in The Fort for People Asia’s cover shoot, Robin Padilla, the ultimate bad boy and the alpha male, shows it takes more than just brawn to be a real man.

“A lot of people say that I’m a bad boy, a rebel without a cause. But from my own point of view, I can’t accept that it all wasn’t without a cause,” says Robin Padilla, the “Bad Boy of Philippine Cinema,” as he sips his nth cup of dark espresso. It’s an amusing sight: a towering man with equally long limbs balancing a small teacup like a thimble on his fingertips. As he reaches over and lays the espresso down on the table, his sleeve creeps up to reveal a scar-covered arm. Robin meets the writer’s eyes with his own stare and says, “Nasunog ako” before breaking into a boyish smile, which instantly sheds 10 years from his rugged face.

Robin explains that an explosive went awry during the shooting of his film Miss Na Miss Kita: Ang Utol Kong Hoodlum 2 in 1992, leaving him severely burned. During his treatment, the then 19-year-old became hooked on Demerol, a powerful painkiller. And that, according to his fans, marked the beginning of his downfall in the early part of his career.

At the time of the accident, Robin was already Viva Films’ top action star and his movie repertoire included a string of box office hits like Ang Anak ni Baby Ama, Ang Utol Kong Hoodlum, Grease Gun Gang, Bad Boy and Maging Sino Ka Man under Viva Films. (Showbiz runs in the blood, as Robin’s mother Eva Cariño and father, former Governor of Camarines Norte Roy Padilla Sr., were both stars in their day.)

As the money rolled in, Robin’s fame grew as well as his ego. Robin gained notoriety for his philandering, partying, drinking and drug use. His life—which was unraveling like a nonstop party—came to a screeching halt when Robin was sentenced to 17 to 21 years in prison for illegal possession of firearms. (This sentence was later reduced thanks to a new law, which lowered the penalty. Robin was released in 1998.)

For the “Bad Boy of Philippine Cinema,” it became a case of life imitating art. None of the villains and heroes he played in his movies could hold a candle to the real-life troubles that Robin dealt with, a friend says.

“But praise God that I was imprisoned,” Robin says with a stern face. “I don’t look back at that experience negatively. It was good for me. But of course I didn’t know that then, which is why namundok ako!” He chuckles. When the warrant of arrest was issued, Robin retreated to the mountains and joined the NPA in hiding. But after almost a month of dodging authorities, Robin eventually surrendered upon the pleading of his then wife Liezl Sicangco.

What made him surrender? Robin responds humbly, “I learned that you can’t fight for something you think is right when (the means) is wrong. You should fix yourself first.” It takes a big man to admit his mistakes and Robin is fully taking responsibility for his.

The Beginnings

Even before the fame and drugs, Robin confesses to having a wild streak as a child. Since he was 13, he cheerfully remembers, he has been wreaking havoc. But it was not without cause, he justifies. “Kapag may nakita akong mali, di ko puwede pabayaan yun. Kahit sino man yun. Kailangan kong ipaglaban yung alam kong tama (If I see an injustice, I can’t let it pass. Whoever it is. I need to fight for what I know is right).”

In Baguio, a particular group of Manila tourists was drag racing during the wee hours. Robin and his high school friends found the group disrespectful, disrupting the quiet city, and so smashed their car windows and stole their car stereos. (Robin shared in another interview that he later sold the stereos and gave the money to street kids.) Robin also often landed a punch or two on a deserving bully who teased his elder brother for being effeminate. Every cut, bruise and bloodied shirt had a justification—he was protecting family, he was teaching someone a lesson, he was righting some kind of wrong.

But his history of misbehavior and aggression, coupled with a growing ego, spelled disaster for the young Robin, who was getting his first taste of fame. “Inaamin ko naman na noong panahon na yun malalim na ako sa vices (I admit that during that time I was deep into vices). Prison was divine intervention,” he repeats. With all the freedom and amusement the outside world had to offer, it could not provide Robin what his spirit was truly seeking—peace of mind. This, he says, he found only in Islam.

Road to Redemption

Coming out of prison undoubtedly a more spiritual and more peaceful man, Robin shares, “Same pa rin yung pinaglalaban ko. Walang nagbago doon. Yun lang… medyo violent noon. Kung dati may nakita akong inaapi, right then and there suntukan na yun. Ngayon hindi na.” When asked if his temper has been, well, tempered, Robin lets out a laugh and a resounding “No.” “I still have my temper but I’ll give the count, three strikes before I do anything.” When in a heated situation, Robin often refers to Islam for moral guidance or focuses his energy on more important and productive ends like his Liwanag ng Kapayapaan Foundation, a school he built in 2007 for underprivileged children in Quezon City.

Purpose-driven Life

As a reformed man, he now has a clearer sense of purpose. “We have responsibilities to ourselves and to other people. We all have a purpose. Whether you’re an actor or a traffic aide or a garbage man, you have a purpose. My purpose is to guide the youth. Nawala na yung Filipino values natin. I’m here to guide the youth,” Robin reaffirms.

It came as a shock to Robin when he and former MTV VJ and TV host Mariel Rodriguez were lambasted for getting married after a brief courtship. “Nasaktan ako para kay Mariel. Ito isang babae na gumagawa ng mabuti, isang babae nagpakita nang unconditional love, isang babae naniniwala sa kasal, isang babae nagpapakita ng magandang halimbawa at binakbakan siya? May isang tao nagsulat pa na, ‘Bakit di na lang kayo maglive-in muna ni Mariel?’ Nagulat ako. Ito na ba morality ng Pinoy? (I was hurt for Mariel. Here was this woman who was doing what was good and what was right, a woman who showed unconditional love, a woman who believed in love and marriage, a woman who was being a good example for others and then they condemn her? There was one person who even wrote to me, ‘Why didn’t you first try living in with Mariel?’ I was shocked. Is this the morality of the Filipino today?)” he says with an exasperated sigh.

Though by no means a perfect moral example by his own admission—he is a well-known hopeless romantic as well as a ladies’ man—Robin is a firm believer in marriage.

“In my nine marriages...” he pauses and laughs at the irony. (When asked later who these women were, he simply smiles and prefers not to kiss and tell.) He continues: “I still believe that marriage is good. Marriage protects women. Kung tingnan mo lahat ng artista noon, ako lang yung nangingibabaw na gago noon. Now, every guy wants to be a stud, which is scary. For me, men should take responsibility. Part of being a man is taking responsibility. It’s not all about getting what you want from a woman and running.”

Though initially hurt by the public’s hasty judgment of their marriage, Robin simply replies that he may just have the last laugh because Mariel is for keeps. Allah is with him. Mariel adds, “I can’t ask for anything more from Robin as a husband. He has mastered being a husband. Kumbaga practice makes perfect!” She laughs. “His having had more ‘experience’ works to my advantage. He immediately knows what I need. He supports me. He prays for me.”

Mariel, who is a Catholic and younger than Robin by 14 years, is of course more affected by both the whispers and the blatant condemnation. “We were crucified,” Mariel shares. “But to tell you the truth, I didn’t feel it so much because Robin was always there for me. As long as Robin and I are solid, as long as we are together I feel we can get through anything.” Robin, who found his strength in Islam, encouraged his wife to find her strength in her church.

“Sinasamahan ko pa siya sa simbahan kung wala siyang driver. Pinipikit ko na lang mata ko kapag tungkol sa family planning. Ako yung tinatamaan ng pari na to ah (I even accompany her to church when she doesn’t have a driver. I just shut my eyes when the sermon is about family planning. The priest is probably preaching to me and singling me out),” he chuckles. It is no secret that Robin is a staunch advocate of family planning as he is also the endorser of Trust condoms. “Religion itself cannot stop two people from having sex. Give them an informed choice,” he adds.

Robin himself comes from a big family. He is one of Mommy Eva’s eight children and one of the 72 fathered by Roy Padilla Sr. Surprisingly, all of his half-sisters and half-brothers are well acquainted, even sharing summers together when they were younger. It was an unconventional family setup but he does remember having a beautiful and happy childhood. “If other children could be so fortunate to be loved and provided for the same,” he says.

Practicing what he preaches, Robin has done his best to be a good father to his six children. (He has four children with Liezl: Ali, Queenie, Kylie and Zhen-Zhen; a son named Mico with actress Jobelle Salvador; and a daughter named Camille with former model Leah Orosa.) “I have been a good provider for my family. Their mother was a good example to them, and we raised them right. As long as they abide by the rules of Islam... there is no problem. Kung susundin mo, thank you, kung hindi… ay, di puwede (If they follow me, thank you. If they don’t… that’s unacceptable),” he says definitively. “Di ko puwede i-compromise ang Islam para mapasaya ang anak ko (I cannot compromise my beliefs to make my child happy).”

Robin may seem to be a walking contradiction: the poster boy of misbehavior yet a reformed spiritual man; a ladies’ man yet a committed husband; an outlaw yet a trusted endorser. People scratch their heads, but Robin does not need to explain himself and that is part of his appeal—he owns up to who he is. That’s a man.

As he turns 42 on Nov. 23, he will be a happy and contented man. Surrounded by friends, grounded in faith and sustained by love from a doting wife and family, Robin Padilla has finally come full circle.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved