Whatever happened to Bentot Jr.?

FUNFARE - Ricky Lo (The Philippine Star) - July 19, 2013 - 12:00am

When Funfare’s Big Apple correspondent Edmund Silvestre was here for vacation last May, guess who he met by chance at the SM Mall Novaliches while he was grocery shopping with his Ninang Dory --- yes, his childhood idol Bentot Jr. (the other being Niño Muhlach).

“Ninang Dory happens to live in the same subdivision as Bentot Jr.,” Edmund found out. “He was there buying from a food stand. Ninang Dory pulled me by the arm and introduced me to Bentot Jr. Up close, I gazed at the tall man and saw in his face the popular child actor that I used to root for while a levitating white lady was chasing him in a fantasy-horror flick. When I asked if I could interview him, Bentot Jr. was hesitant, saying, ‘Matagal na akong wala sa showbiz. May interesado pa ba sa akin?’ He looked puzzled.”

Of course, Edmund told Bentot Jr., “may puwang ka pa sa showbiz. You deserve a second chance.”

Now 43, Bentot Jr. was barely four years old when he started in showbiz as one of the brood of Joseph Estrada and Boots Anson-Roa in Tama Na, Erap (1974), soon becoming one of the biggest child stars in most of the ’70s and the early ’80s. He played Lando, the young buddy of Fernando Poe Jr. in the Panday series; and Vilma Santos’ sidekick-brother Ding in Darna vs The Planet Women. He won back-to-back FAMAS Best Child Actor in 1980 and 1981 for Ang Lihim ng Guadalupe and Ang Panday, respectively, beating child wonder Niño in both years. His father, the late Bentot Sr. was famous for playing a man in knee pants who remained a kid at heart, with the late Pugo as the father who spoiled him rotten.

After his last movie, Campus Beat, as a sidekick of then teen heartthrob Aga Muhlach in 1984, Bentot Jr. at 14, left showbiz and retreated to normal life as Louie Garcia Medina. A Commerce (major in Management) graduate from FEU, held decent jobs, including as call center agent. He fell in love, got married and bore children.

“Then,” Edmund learned from Bentot Jr., “he turned to drugs that led his life to spiral downward.”

In all candor, he told Edmund, “I lost my family, my friends...I almost lost my sanity,” he said matter-of-factly, with no melodramatic air. “(Drugs) will ruin your life and everything that you have.”

Excerpts from the interview conducted in a less crowded area of the mall, beside a liquor store.

What are your fondest memories as a child star?

“Definitely doing all the Panday movies with Kuya Ronnie (FPJ). Pampered kasi ako kay Kuya Ronnie with food and everything. I still remember it vividly how nice he was to me. And everyone around you adored you. Wow, napa-reminisce ako.” (His eyes welled up in tears.)

You have starred with movie legends like FPJ, Vilma Santos, Aga Muhlach and even Joseph Estrada. What are your memories of those icons?

“With Kuya Erap and Ate Vi, I was very young then so I can barely remember. Basta si Ate Vi, when it was goodbye time after the shoot, kini-kiss ko siya sa cheeks lang pero gusto niya sa lips daw. (Laughs). I was only four years old then. With Ariel (Aga) naman, he was always cool. During a break in our shoot at a school near our former home on Mayon St. in Quezon City, he hung out sa amin. Siempre, I was happy and proud. With Kuya Ronnie, he saw me grow up; wala akong maitatapong memories with him. I treasure every single moment I had with him. I consider him as my second father. What I remember the most was when I won my first FAMAS award. Sinalubong ako ni Kuya Ronnie pagbaba ko ng stage at niyakap niya ako nang mahigpit na parang tunay na anak, actually silang dalawa ni Auntie Swanie (Susan Roces) ang sumalubong sa akin. May picture pa ako n’un.”

Your dad, Bentot (Arturo Vergara Medina in real life), was one of the country’s great comedians. How would you remember him?

“My dad was a good provider. Ang hindi ko makakalimutan sa kanya ay ‘yung days na we’d watch movies together. Bihirang mangyari ‘yun kasi busy siya sa mga out-of-town shows. He died of cardiac arrest, acute myocardial infarction, on June 19, 1986, at St. Luke’s Hospital. He was only 58. We were told ninerbiyos siya after finding out na naoperahan na siya. I was devastated by his loss.”

Are you still in contact with people in the entertainment industry?

“Wala na. Matagal na rin akong walang contact sa kanila. Nahihiya na kasi akong lumapit, especially nung kumalat na I was on drugs before. Tanggap ko naman na nalimutan na rin ako.”

If I may ask, why did you turn to drugs?

“It was in January 1995. Sobrang taba ko na kasi n’un. I worked out but instead of losing weight, mas tumaba ako --- from 248 lbs. to 262 lbs., and my waistline reached 43 inches. Bloated talaga. I couldn’t control my food intake so I tried taking amphetamine (a controlled substance) after a heavy breakfast and before working out. Almost every other day before I’d go to the gym, for 45 days ganoon ang ginagawa ko. And it worked, from 262 lbs. naging 228 na lang ako at gumanda naman ‘yung physique ko. Pero eventually, pumangit naman ang naging takbo ng buhay ko kasi nga ‘yung drug na ginamit ko was highly addictive. It ruined me.”

How did it ruin you?

(He paused, then took a deep breath.) “Sobrang pangit talaga. I lost my family. My friends. My job. I almost lost my sanity. I’m still picking up the pieces.”

How do you manage to survive right now?

“Through my mom (Rosario G. Sadler), my aunt and my stepfather (a retired Ministry of Defense officer for the United Kingdom). They provide me not only financial support but moral support as well. I don’t want to fail them anymore. I’m trying to put up a small business with the help of a relative. Sana mag-work. I want to be a good provider for my children.”

What made you decide to finally kick the drug habit? 

“At first, I got caught shoplifting. It was aired on TV at nasira talaga ako. So I stopped taking drugs. Kuya Ronnie helped me. But like before, I started putting on weight. Then, I had a friend who lost his life because of drugs. He lost all hope of his life ever changing for the better hanggang sa tuluyan na siyang nawala. Ayoko nang abutin pa ‘yon. I realized masarap at maganda ang mabuhay.”

What did you learn from that chapter in your life?

“That drugs would not do you any good. It will ruin your life and everything that you have. It will give you that â€˜high’ effect. And when you’re hooked, it will kill you slowly. It will kill your body and soul, both literally and figuratively. Hanggang wala nang matira sa iyo.”

How did you change? Did anyone motivate or inspire you?

“I went to rehab for six months. Ako mismo ang nag- motivate sa sarili ko. I kept myself busy sa church. I read motivational/inspirational books like The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale. I surrounded myself with people who are positive like my sister Mitos Lumahan and my pastor Nonoy Ciervo. And, of course, my family, especially my children.” (Bentot Jr. has five children — two boys from a previous marriage, and two boys and one girl with his current legal wife.)

How hard was it to stop using drugs?

“It was extremely hard. You are fighting demons. So I needed God and good people on my side to win the battle.” 

Are you now 100 percent clean?

“Thank God, yes. All my drug tests can attest to that. 

If given a chance to act again, what kind of roles would you like to do?

“Kung ano ang ibigay sa akin, I will do my best. Kaya ko pa naman umarte sa harap ng camera. I know the passion is still there. And with the experiences I have gone through, mas malalim ang mga paghuhugutan ko ng emosyon. That is, if somebody would trust me and give me another chance.”

(E-mail reactions at entphilstar@yahoo.com. You may also send your questions to askrickylo@gmail.com.)

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