In showbiz, the Bong Revilla-Lani Mercado union would be considered one of the most enduring and solid. It has, after all, chalked up 21 years, and throughout that period, Bong and Lani have never been caught quarreling with each other in public. That may sound like a minimum expectation in a marriage, but this being showbiz, even the minimum takes on a real degree of difficulty.
As of this YES! interview, he is 41 years old and she is 39, and between them, they have six children, all of whom look genuinely fond of each other. They also have one grandchild, from son Jolo, for whose good the couple set aside ruffled pride and legitimate anger, taking the first step to reconcile with the family of the mother of their grandchild.
From where we look, the entire family lives in the lap of upper-class luxury, every day and then some. Family vacations here and abroad, grand natal parties, limitless opportunities for schooling anywhere in the world, a full staff of bodyguards, drivers, and yayas—with the future showing no signs of being any less charmed.
The Revilla clan, in particular, seems to be fairly wealthy. It owns major pieces of real estate, a film production outfit, a printing press, a memorial park, a coliseum, among other investments. On their own, Bong and Lani also own real estate, manpower services for janitorial and security needs, and stocks in a television network and elsewhere.
And while the clan is huge, conceivably thinning out the pie, Bong Revilla—not the eldest in the brood but nevertheless the Chosen One who will take over from his aging father one day—will stand at the helm of the clan's properties.
In the midst of all this, Bong has long settled with an ideal partner. Ideal—for his kind of high-profile life, which in the last twelve years has included politics.
Lani is a woman poised, schooled, pretty, and intelligent. She is also quite traditional in a country where traditional is the preferred establishment behavior. In addition, she is earnestly religious in a country where everyone, even those who will not recognize a moral compass if it stared them in the face, invokes "God."
To anyone looking in, Bong and Lani are in the middle of a picture-perfect, if bourgeois, landscape. In truth, that is not quite so. For banging up against this landscape are rumors that have hounded Bong since the early years of his marriage—the rumors of serial liaisons.
The rumors are not without cause. Some of the country's most beautiful movie stars have been linked to the handsome and virile action star.
A juvenile Ruffa Gutierrez, rumored to have been rescued from the affair only because she had a mother who determinedly stalked and threatened the very much-married actor.
A recently separated Dina Bonnevie, rumored to have been wooed with an offer—not taken, by the way—to have her house fully paid for.
A volatile Gretchen Barretto, rumored to have lost him only after she demanded to have all of him or nothing.
A jovial Rufa Mae Quinto, rumored to have fallen head-over-heels in love with the fellow for a long spell.
There have also been non-celebrities among the ladies, except that they have had the luck not to be identified. Certainly, the chances of being identified are huge.
After all, Bong is not just another action star. This is the Prince of Action, the man FPJ chose to be the next Panday, the heir to Ramon Revilla's blockbuster agimat and anting-anting, and the only big draw still producing and starring in big-budget action films today. Somewhere in there, he also became a vice-governor, a governor, an anti-piracy boss, and a senator of the republic, which he will remain until 2010.
To many females, Bong is what is called a good catch. And to many of these females, it doesn't really matter that he is married. Lani herself believes that Bong is under siege.
"It takes discipline and, self-control for a man," she says. "It's quite difficult, especially if the ladies are the ones pushing themselves to you already. And there are quite a few in the [entertainment] industry who are like that. " With a small laugh, she adds, "We will not name them."
LATEST NOISE. At the time of the YES! interview in October 2007, the noisiest name that was being buzzed around Bong was that of Josephine Canonizado, Mutya ng Pilipinas 2000. The buzz, however, took the form of blind items.
The inquirer.net website of October 8 carried one such item by Dolly Anne Carvajal: "Could it be true that beauty queen Josephine Canonizado has given birth and the baby boy had a christening party at the Manila Polo Club? Josephine has long been pinpointed as the paramour of a married action star.
But the actor has managed to charm his way out of unwelcome reports, and gets to dodge the issue every time he is asked about her.
Within showbiz circles, however, nothing remains a blind item for long. Some reporters simply applied the process of elimination—Rudy? Ipe? Lito or MarkLapid? Bong? Robin?—and came up with their charming, married action star. More telling, insiders began privately swapping stories, until a leak happened somewhere. Now the rumored liaison has taken on a believable history.
Apparently, the beauty queen was the talent of a manager who also had movie stars for clients, and thus a fateful introduction of one to the other came to be. What has kept the buzz alive is that the relationship, showbiz denizens mumble, is now the male star's longest-running relationship outside the marriage.
It is nearing the four-year mark, if it isn't there already. The girl is supposed to have the following attributes—"maganda, maalaga, tahimik," with the last said to be the most prized by the action star. And now there is talk of baby Chloe, born just this September.
Earlier in the year, the public came to know about Luigi, Bong's 15-year-old love child. Unknown to everyone, Lani has long known about
him. She cried buckets when she first found out, but eventually she accepted the boy as Bong's son.
She met him for the first time in 1998, when he was about six, at around the time Bong's mother died. Since then, she has included the boy in many of the Revillas' family outings, the more recent being the Boracay trip during Holy Week and daughter Inah's big coming-out party in October. She is thankful that all her kids get along with Luigi.
Lani tells YES!: "I lost our child, our child died 1991. Luigi was born in '92." Finding out about Luigi was, she says quietly, "Masakit. Definitely, it was painful. There were things you have to accept. Ang greatest fear ko noon, malaman no'ng Batch One kids [Bryan, Job, Inah], but hindi naman nila nalaman at that time. It was when we transferred here in Alabang that they knew. Mga age ata ni Ram  nila nalanan."
Writing about Lani in January of 2007, reporter Nini Valera said in inquirer.net: "She might have been less forgiving, she said, if Bong had told her only now. [I believe] I was stronger when I was younger. It would really, really hurt me [now] if he had a second child by yet another woman.'"
AVOIDING THE TOPIC. In the three hours we have with Lani and Bong, a small chunk of time is spent clearing up the latest rumor.
Bong is totally closed to the idea, and demurs at least three times: "I just don't say anything to avoid na ganitong isyu... I really don't want to talk about that... Maraming taong masasaktan, I hope you understand."
Even as he refuses, his basic good nature is evident. His eyes smile, and there is no harshness in his voice. But it is not his day, because Lani, seated right beside him, is quite open, and actually chirps, "Ayan, ang ganda ng tanong."
When Bong relents, it is to say that the latest rumor is something he just brushes aside. "Wala, we just ignore it," he smiles, speaking for himself and Lani.
We mention that the rumor is too persistent and has already crossed over from print to television. "Actually, I don't watch na rin," he replies lightly, before adding, "Immune na." This is when Lani qualifies: "Hindi, ano Bong, breathe Bong. Breathe." She is speaking about how to brace for bad publicity, and she says this with a tiny laugh.
We tell Bong he's lucky to have someone like Lani. Admittedly, this one is not an original insight but something picked up from the biz. Bong's camp followers have intimated that Lani leaving Bong is disastrous for his political career and does nothing for his showbiz image.
Lolit Solis—publicist and manager for Bong, Lani, and their children—has long been all praise for Lani. At the height of Lolit's word war with Gretchen Barretto, the manager and TV host said of Lani: "Hangang-hanga ako sa ethics niya. Politically correct siya. Hindi siya nagsasalita. 'Tsaka, kahit ano'ng sabihin mo, siya ang tunay na asawa, siya ang pinakasalan."
Even Bong's sisters are all said to be "bilib kay Lani" for holding on to the marriage, keeping the family together, and carrying on with head held high.
Lani does not feign modesty on this one. She says, pointing to Bong: "Sa kanya ko sinasabi. Kaming dalawa. Even my kids don't know about it, kasi we don't show the kids na may problema. Even my family or my mom and my sister don't know about it. Kami lang. Ako, magugulat na lang ako, may pumupunta na lang dito at kino-cover. Sabi ko, 'Bakit? May alam kayo?' Nagugulat na lang ako. Ganoon."
Bong takes credit for the feat, too: "Pinag-uusapan namin na kami lang. Marunong lang kami magdala na mag-asawa na hindi pumuputok sa labas. Unlike siguro ibang celebrity diyan na iyong kuwento nila sa loob ng kuwarto, lumalabas."
We ask if she minds that people call her "martyr." Bong had told us earlier that Lani hates being called that, but since martyr is indeed what many people think of her, we ask anyway.
Surprisingly, she is more thoughtful than peeved. "Ewan ko, totoo kasi siguro. To a certain extent lang. Kasi minsan, ang martir hindi nagsasalita, e. Pero ako I speak up naman."
"Martir ka ba? Tatayuan na kita ng rebulto?" Bong pipes in, giggling.
Lani comes back with, "Sa Caloocan? Sa Bacoor? Sa QC? Saan? Sa tapat ng St. Luke's? Ay, hindi!"
Bong actually laughs.
Lani repeats: "Basta I speak my mind. He knows where I stand. May kaya ako at hindi ko kaya. Alam niya, e. I tell him what is wrong. I tell him what I don't like. I tell him what my limitations are also, but sometimes I just lift things up to God. To give you the strength of a tidal wave! To give you the strength of Darna! Bahala na si God."
We say she seems so calm.
To which Bong cuts in: "Hindi siya calm. Akala n'yo lang."
Lani agrees: "Akala niyo lang calm ako."
She admits to raising her voice with him: "Oo naman. Oo, kung di, kawawa naman ako, baka ma-heart-attack na lang ako. I don't know. There are times na I just leave."
Bong interjects, his eyes smiling: "Baka hiwalayan na niya ako."
A smiling Lani says: "Pag mataas ako, tahimik siya. When he says his point, I keep quiet. Mahirap pag sabay."
Bong echoes, "Baka kami mag-clash."
Lani nods. "Mahirap. We know what's bound to happen if we... Umiiwas kaming magkaganoon, kasi siyempre we know the value of our relationship."
She proceeds, even more seriously now: "We pray. I'm not as calm as you think. I'll tell you what I think. Kasi a lot of people think parang wala akong alam or parang dinededma ko lang. No, it's just that if I do something drastic— for example, if I try to leave him—it will not only allow and let others step in but also create a bigger sin."
She repeats, "And create a bigger sin! So parang you're joining hands with the black side. Kung may sin prevalent in your family, why will you allow it? If you're the only good force in the family or the good spirit in the family, who would maintain the strength of the family? Huwag kang bibigay. Pero too rin ako, so you ask God na huwag kang bibigay."
Bong gives his wife a quizzical stare, then asks, his face halfway between a smile and confusion, "Ano ako, the dark side?"
She laughs at him a bit, then falls back to being serious. Her voice in a whisper, she says, "Huwag nilang hintayin." Her voice gets stronger, she says again: "Huwag nilang hintayin. Nakakatakot. Huwag nilang hintayin na I lose my calm. Nakakatakot. I don't know how I might lose my..."
Bong butts in: "You might shoot me! She might shoot me!"
Then both of them laugh.
We pick up the easy give-and-take between the two. Even in conversation, each one knows when it's his or her turn. There are times the start of her sentence overlaps the tailend of his. When that happens, he gives in and lets her get on with her thoughts, or she gives in and lets him have his say. There is no count as to who gives in more, exactly the way it would be between two people completely comfortable with each other.
Bong sums up, smiling as usual, "Alam mo, 'wag mo masyado seryosohin ang buhay. Baka tayo ma-heart attack niyan! Bata pa tayo. As you can see, we're not getting any younger."
A GOOD MATCH. In and around showbiz we've also picked up the vibe that most everyone sees the Lani-Bong tandem as "a good match." When we relay this to Lani, she smiles, mumbles, "Sana i-value." Then she says it louder, "Sana i-value, o!" He gets that it's for him, and again he laughs.
We ask Bong to talk about Lani. He agrees, but asks her to leave the dining room first labas ka muna," he prods. "Hindi, okey lang. At least I can listen," she answers. "Hindi na. You can read it naman, e," he giggles.
Bong starts: "Lani is one person na ano, e... kumbaga I have to accept na hindi na ako makakahanap ng katulad niya. It's what like FPJ said before. Sabi niya, "Bong, hindi ka na makakakita ng Lani sa movie industry.' Sabi niya, 'Nag-iisa lang 'yan.' Sabi niya, 'Hindi ka na makakakita ng true Filipina.'
"Totoo naman! Siguro kung naiba-iba lang iyan, hiwalay na kami. Hindi tatagal. Totoo siyang tao. What you see is what you get. Yon, intelligent. Kalimitan nami-misinterpret siya ng ibang tao, akala ganoon siya. Training niya 'yon. Akala ng iba kuripot I siya, akala selfish siya, suplada, I but she's not. Very nice and sweet. Hindi naman kami tatagal niyan kung talagang ganyan siya, di ba?"
He is aware that the rumors, including the latest one, get to his wife. He says she hasn't asked him, but he is sure anyway that she is hurting.
"Siyempre, nasasaktan din 'yon. Tao lang 'yon. It's human. Even my kids get hurt, of course."
Asked how he makes it up to I his wife, he answers: "I just be myself. Mahirap rin naman 'yong masyado kang trying hard. Minsan, makikita niya ako na 'yong sinasabi ko, ginagawa ko. I mean what I say. Hindi ko masabi dahil hindi ko puwedeng i-divulge 'yong buong buhay ko. Siyempre, there are parts of my life na ayaw ko naman isigaw sa buong mundo.
"Ang hirap, e, sabihin mo sa buong mundo na, Hey, I'm bad!' I cannot say that Pero yong pagka-bad ko naman, hindi naman bad. I'm just being naughty."
He goes on to justify naughtiness: "Yong kapilyuhan, normal lang siguro 'yon, e. Hindi normal, but hindi naman santo. Siguro naman, sa sampung lalake sa lipunan natin, nagkakasala naman lahat yan, e."
As for his kids, he says: "Siyempre, masasabi ko long naman, hindi naman ako nagkukulang sa kanila. Whatever it is, it's really hard to say. Mahirap magsalita. I just don't wanna talk about it."
As we all mull what he has just said, he adds: "Alam mo, it's hard. It's really hard din. Siyempre, meron tayong ibang mga kapatid sa industriya na manunutat, na sana, bago isulat, isipin muna kung makakasagasa ba o makakaapekto sa family. Kaya most of the time, I just keep my mouth sealed."
Pressed to say how it all works for him, he replies, "I believe that actions speak louder than words, and she knows that I love her. I love my family, my kids. Hindi naman ako nagkukulang, as I said, sa lahat ng bagay—hindi lang sa materyal na bagay."
Lightening up quickly, he says with a smile: "Kasalanan 'to ng tatay ko, eh. I'm just joking. I'm definitely not like my father na anak dito, anak doon. I think I have how many brothers and sisters. Nasa otsenta 'ata kami, I don't know. Hindi naman ako ganoon. Actually, mabait na ako ngayon, e."
STAYING TOGETHER. Bong and Lani are proud to say they have reached 21 years of married life. "Kasi we started early, e," Lani says. "Among the early marriages, last one standing na lang 'ata kami doon sa year namin."
Bong admits that there were times when they might not have made it. Those were the times when she threatened to leave him. "Hindi maiiwasan 'yon. Dumating din 'yon, na nag-threaten siya. Hindi naman nangyayari. Hindi naman dumadating doon. Alam niya kung sino maaapektuhan doon—mga bata."
He is not being cocky about it. He says he knows the pain he has caused. "Of course, if s painful. I don't want to see my wife cry. I don't want to see my children cry. I don't want to see anybody cry. Ayokong may masasaktan. Ayokong makakasakit ako as much as possible. Pero minsan may mga bagay na nakakasakit ka without knowing. Hindi mo maiiwasan. Hindi mo naman sinasabi na hidi intentional, dahil ginawa mo. Sabihin na natin na parte ng buhay. Pero no matter what, I will never leave my family."
Lest he has not made himself clear, he repeats: "I only have one family. It's this family."
We turn to Lani and ask what it is about Bong that keeps her in the marriage. She pauses, thinks, then says, "Malambing siya. Alam niya pag hahalikan ka niya, yayakapin ka rin niya." Giggling, she adds, "Hindi ko alam kung nagwo-work!"
We ask if all her expectations of a marriage have been met. She says, equally thoughtfully, "No marriage naman is perfect. Bong has his good side. He's a good provider. He's a good father to his children. If other couples have problems with gambling, drugs, alcoholism, may problem din kami—it's that."
She laughs. Bong does, too. We ask her to flesh out the that. "Alam na niya 'yon," she says playfully. "It's dot, dot, that!"
She does add: "Pero if s just a matter of handling it siguro, kaya siguro ako binigay sa kanya ni God. If it was somebody else, he would be having a lot of relationships already. So far, siguro kaya ako binigay. Iyon nga lang, I've always repeated na may mga limitations din ako talaga."
At some point, we go back to the pain of a wife who discovers that her husband has a child by another woman. And worse, the pain of a wife who cannot say a thing. Then the public just assumes she's a martyr, and may even think she deserves what she gets.
Lani says, "Kasi if I say something, ang daming masasaktan. Me na lang." For the first and only time in the evening, Lani sobs. Quickly dabbing the table napkin to her eyes, she says, "Excuse me."
We are all rendered silent, including Bong.
I get a niggling feeling that now we are not just talking about the time she found out about Luigi. When the silence breaks, Bong is speaking: "Alam mo, sa relationship kasi, mayroong ups and downs iyan. like, pag dumating 'yong typhoon, pag dumating 'yong bagyo, lahat tayo nagsa-suffer nang konti, e. Nasisira 'yong tanim, nasisira 'yong mga gamit.
"So, you have to build it again. You have to make tanim again, di ba? Kailangan mo ulit ayusin 'yong mga iyan. So, parang ganoon din sa [relasyon] 'yon, pag may dumating na bagyong katulad niyan. Kailangan mong iayos ulit, whatever it is. Sabi ko nga, kasama ng buhay 'yan. That's the spice of life, and that will make our relationship stronger." Then follows banter that teeters between heavy and light...
Lani: "It all boils down to your upbringing kasi."
Bong: "You're just saying that kasi bago lang 'yong tsismis."
Lani: "Hindi, it all boils down to your values system kasi. Kung ang values mo is you love your family, matatagalan mo siya."
Bong: "'You mean I don't love my family?"
Lani: "Hindi, I mean you protect it with your heart, mind, soul, and body and whatever powers that you have pa existing. You'll do everything!"
Bong: "Next question."
Finally, we ask if they both believe that their marriage will last many more years. Bong seems ready to answer with a big "Yes!" But before he can, Lani replies with, "Ah... it depends." Bong now looks her way and waits for the rest of her sentence. After an eternity of seconds, Lani says, "It depends on...God."
Sounding relieved, Bong says: "Yeah, only God will know. But if you ask me, till death do us part."
Lani says: "Marami pa pala akong bubunuin."
Then they do, as they have many times through the night. They laugh.