There's a 486-million-peso counterclaim damage suit hanging over his head, but Willie Revillame seemed unperturbed.
"Alam ko na iyan," was his calm reaction when PEP (Philippine Entertainment Portal) told him about the breaking news on ABS-CBN's counter move following his rescission of a contract with the network that ends in September 2011.
He wasn't being supercilious. His face didn't give anything away, except when he paused to absorb the news—his eyes registered hurt.
This, he bore out during PEP's 30-minute interview with him last September 17 at Hotel Rembrandt in Quezon City.
The controversial host began, "So sad na we came to this point—umabot kami sa korte. Pero siguro, what I can just do is [dwell on happy] memories than talk about damage, 'yong mga ganun..."
And that was exactly what he did—talk about the key people who supported him during his almost 12-year stay at the Kapamilya network.
Willie mentioned Charo Santos-Concio, ABS-CBN president and COO, first: "Si Ma'am Charo, who has been like a mother to me. Nagbibigay ng advice. And those advice, parang I will bring it... I will treasure all these good... advices sa akin ni Ma'am Charo."
The 49-year-old TV host singled out Gabby Lopez, ABS-CBN chairman and CEO, next: "Si Boss Gabby, yun... Nakakalungkot dahil umabot kami sa ganito.
"But hindi ko na siya makakalimutan dahil nakatira ako sa bahay niya, e. Di ba parang...'tsaka iyon ang iti-treasure ko sa buhay ko, 'yong bahay niyang yun.
"Yun ay hindi ko ibebenta dahil, kung saan ako nakatira, yun din ang nagbigay sa akin ng magandang buhay.
"And of course, sa tulong 'yan at sa paniniwala at sa pagtanggap sa akin ni Boss Gabby Lopez."
He mentioned as well Gina Lopez, sister of Gabby and ABS-CBN Foundation managing director: "Si Ma'am Gina, who's my neighbor [at Ayala Heights]. She visited me. She wanted me to go back to ABS, parang ganun..."
Finally, he made special mention of Mariole Alberto, head of Star Magic, the talent-management arm of ABS-CBN, and Johnny Manahan, chairman emeritus of Star Magic and his former Wowowee director:
"And, of course, Ms. Mariole and Mr. M—who I respect so much, who I admire and respect so much. I love Mr. M dahil hindi niya ako pinabayaan. He always supported me. At [the] same time, it's an honor for me na makatrabaho ko ang isang Johnny Manahan."
When asked if he had seen any of these executives since he announced his departure from ABS-CBN last August 9, he answered, "No, no, no. Si Ma'am Gina, about a month ago, she went to my house. And then parang, she was talking to me, 'Don't leave ABS,' ganun... parang like a Kapamilya talaga."
But as the country knows by now, Willie has decided to join Manny V. Pangilinan (MVP) at the latter's aggressive upstart station, TV5.
WILLING WILLIE. Admittedly, his first project with TV5 is similar to Wowowee, except that its time slot is on primetime.
Willie revealed, "Two hours yun. Mga bagong games, malaking prizes, may bahay agad na papremyo. Para magpasaya, para makatulong. But you know what, wala pang time slot!
"[Pero] proud ako that from my staff to the dancers and the crew—everybody kasama ko ngayon. Nabuo ulit ako."
He said that majority of the people he worked with in his now-defunct noontime show on Channel 2 have left ABS-CBN, and that he currently employs 25 of them, including 10 of his original Wowowee dancers.
Willie made certain to say that he did not pirate them from his old network and that he did not coerce them. "Hindi ko sila pinilit. Kahit naman anong pilit mo, hindi naman sasama sa iyo iyan kung talagang ayaw," he said.
He claimed that from the time he took an indefinite leave from the show on May 6 until Wowowee got axed on July 30, some members of the staff never stopped sending him text messages.
Mostly, the veteran TV host said, they were "pangungumusta," and messages telling him, "Miss ka na namin, Kuya" and "Mahal ka namin."
A few days after working with Pilipinas Win na Win, which ABS-CBN created to replace Wowowee, Willie's old staff started entertaining the idea of leaving the network.
These included Wowowee's business unit head, associate producer, head writer, writer, production coordinator, floor director, game control system developer, VTR playback, chargen programmer, road manager, utility person, laundrywoman, and three seamstresses.
This is according to the staff themselves, most of whom were present at the September-17 Willing Willie rehearsals when PEP visited.
WILLIE'S STAFF. The staff present told PEP that they really had been sending their "Kuya" text messages asking after his well-being, but they admitted that by August their text messages had become:
"Sasama na kami sa iyo! Di namin inisip kung may trabaho ka o wala!"
PEP had the chance to interview most of the staff, from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. of September 17. This is the same staff that started working as a team under Wil Productions, Willie's newly organized production outfit, last September 1.
Currently, Wil Productions has about 30 people in its employ, according to Rocky Sevilla, who was one of the first to resign from ABS-CBN to join Willie. "Marami diyan galing sa Wowowee. Ang iba na-recruit o nag-audition," she said.
The staff described Willie as the type of boss who pushed them to do a better job. ("Lagi niyang sinasabing mas mahalin namin ang trabaho kaysa pamilya, kasi ang trabaho namin ang bubuhay sa pamilya.")
He was strict. ("Ayaw na ayaw niyang nali-late. Me bawas sa suweldo!")
He was a perfectionist and a disciplinarian. ("Professional iyan. Paulit-ulit ang dry run!")
He would get really mad. ("Oo, nagtataas ng boses. May temper, oo rin. Pero trabaho lang. After that, wala na.")
He was considerate and generous. ("Dati na iyan, pag may naospital, gaya ng anak ko noon, he gives money. Not necessarily all [of the amount needed]. Pero basta may iaabot iyan. Kung minsan di ka na kelangang manghingi. Single parent ako kaya malaking bagay iyong malasakit.")
He was fair. ("Kung sino tama, tama. Hindi iyong dahil paborito ka, ikaw ang tama.")
He worked harder than any of them. ("Si Kuya makikita mo sa studio sa Wowowee, una dumating, tapos huling umaalis.")
And he took care of them. ("Tatay namin siya.")
EXECUTIVE PRODUCER. As Rocky Sevilla, who was Pilipinas Win na Win associate producer and is now Willing Willie executive producer, put it: "Pikit mata akong sumama kay Willie. Hindi na nag-isip nang kikitain. Basta ayaw ko na.
"Si Kuya kasi, nagtitiwala. At saka alam mo, tinutulungan niya kami dati. Siya nag-promote sa akin at nagdala sa akin abroad. Ngayon niya ako kailangan! Iyon ang naisip ko.
"Nang sinabi niyang aalis na siya, may lungkot na naiwan."
She added, "Nung July 30, nung nawala na ang Wowowee, pinatugtog ang theme song ni Kuya. Sa last day pinatugtog. Iyak kami nang iyak. Ang tagal na di namin narinig, kasi mula umalis siya, di ito pinatugtog. Noon na lang. Hindi kami makatigil umiyak."
Rocky said she had been a writer in many ABS-CBN shows, starting with Ready Get Set Go with Eric Quizon and Eula Valdez, ASAP where she was a writer for 10 years, and Teysi ng Tahanan with Tessie Tomas.
Also Tatak Pilipino with Jim Paredes and Gel Santos Relos, the first Star Circle Quest which yielded Luis Manzano and Jodi Sta. Maria, and the network's Christmas specials. She had also been segment producer of Miss Universe 1994, among other non-writing tasks.
But it was with Wowowee that she felt like they were a family, she said. "Ang saya-saya namin. Iyong mommy ni Valerie [Concepcion, Wowowee co-host], magdadala ng pagkain sa studio, mga embutido. Kain kami!
"Tapos si Kuya magpapa-sportsfest. Kaya after the show, sama-sama pa rin kami, practice for competition: volleyball, basketball, parlor games. Pati Hep-hep-hooray! Kami-kami lang magko-contest. Pero may papremyo si Kuya.
"May bonding din kami sa bahay niya sa Tagaytay, sa Boracay, sakay ang yate niya. Masaya siyang nakikita kaming nagsasama-sama, nagtatawanan. Parating maraming pagkain!"
Were there really no enticements? The buzz is still that they were each offered units from Camella Homes, the real-estate property of billionaire senator Manny Villar, a Willie supporter and business partner at Wil Tower.
The 40-year-old Rocky, an ABS-CBN employee for 18 years before she left to join Willie, laughed: "House and lot? Wala! Sana nga meron!"
She added, "Walang prinomise si Kuya. Walang figures, wala. Sabi lang magtiwala sa kaniya, di niya kami pababayaan."
To prove her point, Rocky said that the biggest thing they got was a 20 percent increase on their previous salaries.
This meant that the dancers, who were previously paid "sapat naman na P850 hanggang P1000/day sa ABS-CBN, depende sa galing mo at kung bago ka pa lang," now had a bit more to save or spend, she said.
Otherwise, their benefits at Wil Productions were better-than-average but not extraordinary: medical benefits, a signing bonus of one month's pay, the government-mandated 13th month pay, a Christmas bonus, a car loan.
But by next year, they will get to travel by batches to the U.S. and Europe when Willing Willie is brought to those places. Willie told PEP that TV5 was determined to start, by 2011, its own version of The Filipino Channel (TFC) of ABS-CBN and Pinoy TV of GMA-7.
THE SEAMSTRESS. ABS-CBN has a pool of ladies who sew the costumes and outfits for the network's many shows. Three of them joined Willie. Plus one laundrywoman.
One seamstress was present at the September 17 rehearsal, which also became bonding time for the staff. While talking to PEP, the seamstress became emotional, saying that of all the shows they sewed for and of all the stars they dressed up—only Willie ever invited them to actually watch a show.
"Akala mo nakakatakot siya o mayabang," the seamstress said. "Pero alam mo, siya lang nagpatawag sa amin sa studio para manood ng Wowowee.
"Di naman niya kami nakikita. Natuwa lang siguro siya sa tahi namin at tinanong sino gumawa. 'Tapos kung pa'no siya sa iba, kahit mataas o mababa, pantay lang tingin niya."
WILLIE REDUX. Willie has never been shy about telling stories about himself, right up to the flattering stories. This occasion with PEP was no exception.
"Pag gising ko sa bahay, hapon na, may nag-iiyakan," he said about the staff who once dropped in on him unannounced.
"'Ayaw na namin dun.' Sabi ko, 'Wala akong trabaho.' 'Gawin mo kaming katulong kahit hindi ganun kalaki ang suweldo.' They touched my heart.
"'Tsaka lalo kang tumitibay sa mga taong ano, e, binubuo ka, tumatapang ka sa buhay. Alam mo, siguro kung masama akong tao, ni isa, walang sasama sa akin."
How true are reports that he promised each of them a house-and-lot?
His quick reply, "Wala namang ganung pangako. Ang gusto ko, magkaroon sila ng sariling bahay some day, na kung kaya ko sila tulungan, gagawin ko. Di ko sinabing 'Bibigyan ko kayo ng bahay.'
"Wala akong ipinangako sa kanila. Pero gusto ko, some day, may mga kotse silang lahat, para ma-inspire sila. Wow! Sana maging totoo lahat."
Then with his trademark street logic, he added, "'Tsaka kahit pangakuan ko ng langit 'yan, kung ayaw sa iyo, di mo mapipilit sumama 'yan."
He swore that it was his staff that got him back on his feet, "Dati parang nag-iisa ako at medyo parang pilay."
Continuing, he said, "Binuo ulit ako ng mga staff kaya I just like to thank them sa pagbuo nila sa akin. Itutuloy ko kasi isa lang naman ang gusto naming pare-pareho—maging masaya at magpasaya."
He said he called them together as soon as his negotiation with TV5 was finalized. Part of the deal was Willie could bring in his own team.
Willie told PEP, "Sabi ko sa management, I [already] have my own staff—my utility, my janitor, I have my own musicians...
"And I just like to thank Atty. Ray Espinosa [president and CEO of the Kapatid network] dahil wala siyang sinabi sa akin na hindi.
"'Sige, kung ano yung kailangan mo o sa tingin mo, 'yon ang makabubuti sa programa, we will support you all the way.'
"So the fact na ibinigay sa amin yung isang studio ng TV5 sa Novaliches, that the toilets, the dressing rooms, lahat binago namin... inaasikaso kami. Nagse-set up na kami, inaayos na lahat.
"Talagang mararamdaman mo na you're welcome."
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM WILLING WILLIE. Willie's team has been holding rehearsals and doing dry runs for the show's new games.
PEP witnessed one game which will be called "Family Apir," inspired by a video that Willie saw in Macau. Family members will constitute each team, and their quickness and energy will be involved, but on this Saturday, it was the athleticism of fairly young staffers determined to take home the P10,000 pot ("Pang tuition! Pang tuition!" they chorused) that made the game a riot. Willie put up the pot.
Another will be "Spin A Wheel," which will give viewers a chance to win the mega jackpot.
"Ang ibibigay namin, brand new at completely furnished house. Pag nakuha mo 'yong mega-jackpot, you win the mega-house na kumpleto ng gamit, may one million ka pa at scholarship ng mga anak—pag-aaralin namin hanggang high school."
To date, Senator Villar, whom Willie supported in the May 2010 elections, has committed 12 houses from Camella Homes for Willing Willie.
And the show's budget, according to Business Unit Head Jay Montelibano, runs in the millions per week. This budget does not include Willie's salary, which is a separate arrangement with the network.
Willie already got his first paycheck. "Tingnan mo, o, kahit wala pang show, sumusuweldo ka na. Ang mga staff, nakuha nung September 15 yung unang suweldo nila. May mga nag-iyakan."
But at this point, the show still does not have the all-important director. In lieu of one, there is a technical director.
Willie explained, "Wala pa. Meron akong pinaglalaanan nun, e. Ang kinuha ko na lang ay technical director. 'Yong silya ng direktor, kung sino talaga ang babagay sa show, naghihintay lang ako.
"Basta naka-reserve yun sa taong babagay, kasi mahirap naman maglagay ako 'tapos hindi rin kami magkakasundo."
PEP asked pointblank if he was planning to ask Mr. M, whom he has often praised and is unarguably the best variety-and-game-show director working on television today.
"No comment. Wala akong kinukuha kahit sino. No comment," he said, then joked, "James Yap. James Yap, e. No comment. No comment. No comment."
Of the show's setup and equipment, Willie said, "Lahat ng cameras namin, HD [high-definition], all brand new, the lights, all brand new. Lahat... the sound system, all brand new.
"'Yong set namin, I think, one of the most expensive sets. Nagpa-order nga ako ng mga LED [Light-emitting diode] sa China."
WILLING WILLIE = WOWOWEE. How much of Wowowee will be in his new show?
He replied, "Alam mo, hindi na mawawala sa akin ang Wowowee. Nasa puso, nasa isip ko na yun, at nasa pagkatao ko na 'yan.
"Dinagdagan ko lang ito ng sobrang saya, sobrang papremyo pa. So mas pinaganda at mas pinasaya pa.
"At mas maganda dito. Ako na ang nagdedesisyon sa lahat ng bagay. It's my call kung anong gagawin, kung anong dapat.
"'Tsaka hangga't maaari, hindi ka na mag-iinit ng ulo kasi aalagaan mo na ito. Wala nang maraming magdidikta sa iyo. Maganda siya. Makita mo lang 'yong game, pang-family talaga. That's the idea."
Does he miss his old home?
Smiling, Willie said, "Parang ano lang naman ako, e, lumipat ng bahay. Parang nasa isang village ako na medyo iba na ang environment ko.
"Dun siguro, maaring di na ako tanggap, so naghanap ako ng ibang bahay. Nagpapasalamat naman ako at may bahay, may pintuang nagbukas para sa akin, [that's] Mr. Manny Pangilinan."
Does he think his former bosses will ever forgive him?
A brief pause, before answering, "Well, hindi ako makakasagot diyan. Sila 'yan. Basta ako, wala akong bitterness, wala akong hatred kahit kanino.
"Kung sila'y nagagalit sa akin, naiintindihan ko. Pero ako, hindi... Ang gusto ko lang, magpasaya araw-araw. Magbigay ng saya... ng pag-asa sa kanila."
With a big legal suit hanging over his head, is he nervous?
Sounding like a man who has decided not to burden himself with things he cannot control, he said quite calmly, "Hindi. Simple lang naman ang buhay ko, e. Gusto ko lang magpasaya,magbigay ng pag-asa sa mga tao.
"Bakit niyo pipigilan 'yon sa isang taong kontrata? Sayang naman, kahit isang araw na makatulong ka, malaking bagay na iyon.
"Well, kung meron mga legal problems, meron namang mga lawyers at meron naman tayong korte. Batas. Sila na ang magdedesisyon niyan.
"Basta ang hangad ko lang, magawan ko ng mabuti ang aking kapwa, makapagbigay ng saya. It's not just the money...
"Kasi, di naman lahat 'yon nananalo. 'Yong napapanood ka lang, mapasaya mo sila, malaking bagay na yun."
His parting shot: "I'm not guilty of anything. Ang sinasabi ko, it's the truth. Wala ng iba."
The Willing Willie team is preparing for its solo trade launch—an all-important event to which potential advertisers are invited—in late September. The TV5 studio assigned solely to the show is being readied, and will likely be ready in late October.
"Magsisimula ang show pag natapos ang studio, iyon na lang ang hinihintay," Willie said.