Friday, February 20, 2009



He was the "Mickey Rooney and Bobby Breen of the Philippines," the Pinoy version of Hollywood Child Wonders in the 1940s.

For the late Action King Fernando Poe Jr., Berting Labra was "the greatest Filipino actor of all time"—equally adept in comedy and drama, in action flicks and musicals.

"He was a child of the movies," said Boots Anson-Roa, head of Movie Workers' Welfare Foundation (Mowelfund), of which Labra was a beneficiary.

According to the film web site IMDb, Labra, who succumbed to emphysema on Tuesday morning, appeared in 111 movies and TV shows—several of which co-starred the two Poes of local cinema, Fernando Sr. and FPJ.

Born April 17, 1933, Labra as child star shared the screen with the elder Poe in several hits, including "Palaboy ng Tadhana," "Sagur," "Kanto Boy," and "Alimudin."

In one of his last interviews, he told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in 2005 that the elder Poe was his discoverer.

"He was looking for a boy who could sing," Labra recalled. "He remembered me from Paquito Bolero's stage shows during the Japanese Occupation."

He was only 6 when he made his stage debut. At that tender age, he also witnessed the murder of his father, Francisco Labra, former bantamweight and featherweight champion of the Orient, in the hands of Japanese soldiers. "He was tortured," he told the Inquirer. "His hands were bound with barbed wire.")

The elder Poe became the 10-year-old's surrogate father. "He was a man of few words," related Labra. "But he was my barkada. He often treated me to lunch in Chinatown."

Five years after the elder Poe's death, Labra, then a teenager, teamed up with FPJ in the 1956 box-office hit "Lo' Waist Gang," a film that spawned a string of sequels and a life-long friendship with Da King.

The younger Poe's daughter, Mary Grace Llamanzares, recalled that the remaining members of the "Lo' Waist Gang," along with family and friends, gathered at the Gloria Maris Restaurant in Greenhills last month for what turned out to be a final reunion.

"Tito Berting was there, with Tony Cruz, Butch Bautista, my mom (Susan Roces) and Manay Ichu Vera-Perez," Llamanzares recalled. "There's only a few of them left. I'm glad we got together that night."

In the 2005 Inquirer interview, Labra recounted, with more than a tinge of pride, that he was instrumental in the courtship and eventual marriage of Llamanzares' popular movie star-parents. "Ako ang tulay (I acted as bridge)," he related.

"Maybe my dad (who passed away in 2004) and Tito Berting are now bonding in heaven, with other friends who went before them," Llamanzares noted.

Roces told the Inquirer: "I can't put into words the sadness and loss I feel over the death of a family friend. It's like reawakening the past, but you know that those happy times are just a memory."

Caridad Sanchez first met Labra and FPJ in the 1950s. "He called me Ne, short for Nene, and I called him Berto."

Sanchez remembered, "Even if they had little misunderstandings, Berto and Ronnie (FPJ) were loyal to each other. Berto would take a bullet for Ronnie."

Leo Martinez, director-general of the Film Academy of the Philippines, said he is "extremely saddened" by Labra's passing.

Labra's last film, the 2007 comedy "M.O.N.A.Y. ni Mr. Shooli," co-starred Martinez.

"We met in the 1970s," Martinez recounted. "We worked in many TV shows and movies together. We became close because he loved telling stories between takes."

Amazing life

Indeed, Labra, who experienced amazing highs and devastating lows in his roller-coaster life, had plenty of stories to share.

In 1969, he and fellow action star Eddie Fernandez were jailed for murder. Labra spent 13 years in Muntinlupa, only to be exonerated by the Supreme Court. He harbored no bitterness in spite of the imprisonment and the damage it caused in his family life.

He told the Inquirer in 2005: "In prison, I felt God's presence in my life and saw things clearly."

Sen. Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr., who co-starred with Labra in the 1991 action film "Manong Gang," remembered Labra as "a natural comic who quickly turned serious in front of the camera. He was well-respected and will be missed by industry colleagues."

Revilla's father, action star Ramon Revillla Sr., also worked with Labra on the big screen. Said the younger Revilla: "Tito Berting was a simple and down-to-earth. Veteran stars like him are precisely the reason that Mowelfund and the Actors' Guild should be strengthened, so these organizations could continue helping marginalized movie workers."

Labra was buried in the Garden of Memories memorial park in Pateros Sunday.

1 comment:

neto said...