“Inauspicious” is the word that believers in feng shui associate with the number 4. In Chinese, the word for “four” sounds like the Chinese term for death and can therefore carry a curse.
Whether fact or fear-fuelled fiction, the curse seems to animate the black-painted Arabic numeral that marks the gate of the two-storey house at the corner of President’s Avenue and Señor Prudencio Santos streets in Phase 6, BF Homes, Parañaque City. The black paint is peeling off, rust usurping its place. Specks of rust also dot the iron-grill fence. Patches of carabao grass in the narrow garden have turned brown. Wilted palm fronds hang precariously, ready to join several fronds that have fallen on the ground.
In happier times, the grass around the Mediterranean Villa-inspired residence would have been watered and trimmed. Christmas lights would have been strung around the iron-grill fence while lanterns would sway festively from the palm trees. But the house is desolate on this hot February afternoon. The warm-orange paint has given way to dust and rust. From across the street, Janelle Ann Caren Quintano Manahan pensively viewed the upper floor bedroom she used to share with her boyfriend, her “Babe,” actor Ram Revilla, Ramgen Bautista in real life.
Ninety six days seem such a long time in Janelle’s life.
On Oct. 28, 2011, she was seated on the floor in Ramgen’s bedroom, tinkering with her cellphone, when Ramgen’s sister, Maria Ramona (Mara), knocked on the door. Janelle stood up to open the door. Mara, Janelle recalled, wanted to borrow the videocam that she would bring to Recognition Day at the Philippine Military Academy in Baguio City where their other brother, Ramram, was a plebe. Janelle returned to her place on the floor and continued tinkering with her cellphone as Ram stepped out from the bathroom to hand Mara the videocam. Suddenly, Janelle said, she felt something on her shoulder. When she turned her face, she felt something hit her. She fell but remained conscious. She sensed more people inside the room. There was a commotion and raised voices, one of them Mara’s. Suddenly, it was just her, Ramgen who was bleeding, and Mara, unhurt, who, Janelle said, was trying her best to stay away from them.
Janelle said she asked Mara to call Ramon Joseph (RJ), Ramgen’s younger brother, who was supposed to be in the house. But Mara failed to contact RJ. She begged Mara to call Gail, another Bautista sister who also lived in the neighborhood. Gail is married to Japanese national Hiro Furuyama.
Later, in her affidavit, Janelle recalled the aftermath of the shooting. “O sige, try ko,” Mara had responded to her plea. “So she called Gail and I heard from the sound of the phone that Gail answered the call. Mara said, ’Ga, may emergency dito, nabaril si Janelle at si Ramgen maraming dugo (Ga, there’s an emergency here, Janelle and Ramgen got shot. There’s blood everywhere).’
“What struck me from the voice of Gail on Mara’s phone was her simple response: ’O sige, pupunta na kami dyan (Okay, we’re coming over).’ They continued their conversation, which was no longer clear to me. But from the sound of Gail’s voice, I did not notice any panic or worry.
“After Mara hung up, she turned to me and said, ’Ok na Janelle natawagan ko na. Wait lang, ha. Papunta na daw sila dito (I’ve called her. You just wait. They’re on their way).’”
Weakened from the bleeding, Ramgen and Janelle waited silently for Gail. Mara then left the room. Using her own mobile phone, Janelle texted her mother and said that she was shot. She also texted a friend to call 177, the PNP emergency hotline. An ambulance arrived around 11:45 pm. Janelle said that since the ambulance only had one stretcher, she had to walk to the vehicle.
Shortly before midnight, Ramgen and Janelle arrived at the nearby Parañaque Medical Center where Ramgen succumbed to gunshot and stab wounds. Janelle survived although she was shot in the face and in the shoulder, the bullet entering just below her left eye and exiting at the back of her earlobe. Though no vital part of her brain was hit, her face was swollen so bad her own family worried about how she’d look after the ordeal. Janelle’s right eye was pushed out of the socket, her right jaw broken, her cheekbones and teeth crushed.
“My first (suspicion) was that it was political. I also thought that maybe, it was a love angle,” Janelle said in the SIM interview in February at the Guevarra Espiritu Mendoza and Espinosa GEM Law Offices in Pasig. To even think that Ramgen’s own siblings were involved was farthest from her mind, she added.
But some things did not seem right. Like Mara keeping her distance from the wounded Ramgen and Janelle right after the shooting. Like Mara’s, RJ’s, Gail’s and Hiro’s nonchalant attitude about Ramgen’s death. “I had this weird feeling when RJ asked me, ’What happened?’ It was just weird,” Janelle said.
By the time Ramgen, 23, was buried on Nov. 2, 2011 at the Revilla-owned memorial park in Imus, police had taken custody of Ramgen’s 19-year-old brother RJ who was fingered as the “mastermind” by alleged gunmen Michael Jay Cruz Altea and Roy Francis Tolisoro. Mara just disappeared and surfaced a day later at the departure area of Manila’s international airport. Ramgen’s 22-year-old sister had fled the country to join her husband in Turkey.
Within a month, the police had uncovered an alleged conspiracy to kill Ramgen plotted, the police said, by Mara, RJ, Gail and her husband, Hiro, and possibly another sibling, according to Janelle’s lawyer, Argee Guevarra. Also linked to the plot were Ryan Pastera, the best man at the wedding of Gail and Hiro and the alleged link to the suspected gunmen, and Ryan’s Tau Gamma Phi Fraternity brods Glaiza Visda and Jan Norwin dela Cruz. According to Janelle’s affidavit, RJ was also a member of Tau Gamma.
Janelle was born on July 26, 1989 in Legaspi City to Julius Manahan, a radio broadcaster, and Rosario Quintano, a beauty from Daraga, Albay who traces her forebears to a pueblo in Spain. The Manahan elders, on the other hand, were Manileños who relocated to Bicol as abaca traders. Rosario was only 21 when she gave birth to Janelle. A second child, a son, died in infancy. Janelle was destined to be her parents’ only child; by the time she was four, Julius and Rosario had gone their separate ways.
It was not an amicable parting. Janelle recalled vicious fights and of being taken away by her father while her mother chased him with a bolo. “There was a custody battle, I think, and my father won,” she recalled. Her lawyer said he thinks that was against the law. In questions over parental custody of children below seven, the law provides that the child is always awarded to the mother.
Her mother moved to Manila, Janelle said, and she would not see her again until she was in first year high school. Meantime, she was left in the care of her “single dad” and her grandparents in Legaspi City, and was enrolled at the St. Agnes Academy.
Having a single dad had its fun moments, Janelle recalled. “When I was in Grade 4, I’d go to the radio station where he worked, and I was always introduced as his kid sister.” Being the first apo (grandchild) also meant fun weekends and summer vacations with her aunts in Sanville, Quezon City, who all doted on this very pretty, “artistahin” niece who loved to sing and dance. “So I studied in Legaspi, but I was also always in QC,” she said.
Her dad would eventually have another family while her mom found another partner as well. When Janelle was about 12, Rosario returned to Legaspi City to reclaim her rightful place as her daughter’s mother. “It was strange, at first. I did not really know her,” Janelle said. The relation warmed in due time. By the time she was in second year high school, Janelle was living with her biological mother. Two years later, she competed in the TV reality show “Star Circle Quest” and made it to the Top 6. That became her entry point to showbiz. After finishing high school, Janelle moved to Manila as a talent of a giant TV network. She was just 15.
Ramgen’s showbiz career was part of his legitime from his father, former Senator Ramon Revilla Sr., who gained fame for his portrayal of Nardong Putik, a gangster from Cavite whose fantastic escapes from police dragnets, supposedly with the help of amulet, made him a folk hero. Ramgen’s mother, Genevieve “Genelyn” Arzadon Pantoja, is the daughter of former Sen. Genaro Magsaysay, younger brother of the late President Ramon Magsaysay, with Lourdes Arzadon Pantoja, who joined local movies in the ’60s and ’70s as Lyn Madrigal. Although acknowledged by Magsaysay as his daughter, Genelyn would not be using the name Magsaysay until she applied for a change of name before the Bacoor RTC, which ruled in her favor in 2001.
In 2008, the Court of Appeals upheld the decision of the Bacoor RTC and allowed Genelyn to use the Magsaysay name. By that time, her older children were already using Pantoja as their middle name. In fact, when Mara made a statement before the Parañaque police at 2 a.m. of October 29, she signed her statement as Ramona Pantoja Bautista. In that statement, Mara said she was kidnapped by two men, forced into a van and dropped off at Starmall along Alabang-Zapote Road. (The guards at BF Homes debunked this, however. Two of the guards on duty said they saw Mara, followed by RJ, leave their house just before 11 p.m. of October 28. Another witness also saw the two siblings at the café along President’s Avenue between 11 and 12 midnight of Oct 28. Also seen at the café, alleged the witness, were Gail, Hiro and Ragene Bautista.)
Ramgen is definitely his mother’s eldest son. This could not be said, though, of his father. The elder Revilla, who is called Don Ramon by his constituents in Cavite, had reportedly sired 80 children with an undetermined number of women. The official family roster kept by one of his daughters, however, listed only 40 in the MemoRevilla Gallery/Museum in the Revilla estate in Bacoor, Cavite. Genelyn’s branch of the Revilla/Bautista family tree alone accounts for nine “fruits.”
Born in 1968, Genelyn was barely in her twenties when she gave birth to Ramgen. She would have eight more children, raised in a house a few minutes’ drive from the Mansion, the official residence of Don Ramon and his acknowledged “first family,” which includes son Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr.
The house allocated for Genelyn and her brood was called “Rancho.” Sometime in 2004, Don Ramon built another house for this other family in BF Homes. Janelle said Ramgen had told her that they moved to be closer to their school. The Revillas were enrolled either in Immaculate Conception Academy San Juan or Southville, both exclusive and expensive schools.
Janelle described Genelyn as a warm woman who treated her “like a daughter-in-law.” “She’s really sweet,” she added. But compared to Ramgen’s family relations, Janelle said, her own complicated family seems much less so. Still it was something that they shared in common.
She was still testing the showbiz waters, so to speak, when she first met Ramgen. It was June 2006. “He had a girlfriend then,” she recalled. They met again in December that year. Sparks flew. Janelle was then living with her nanny in Marikina. “I was managing my own career. I really wanted to be in showbiz,” she said. She was 17 when she entered into a “serious” relationship with Ramgen. Her parents were then both in Legaspi with their respective families. By the time she turned 18 on July 26, 2007, Janelle was already living with Ramgen in Parañaque. “My mom was worried when she learned Ramgen was a Revilla. But I told her this is not just ’for now.’ This is a long-term relationship.”
Six months into the relationship, Ramgen asked her to choose between career and love. “I chose Ramgen,” Janelle declared. She said the agreement was for both of them to quit showbiz. But a week after she quit, Ramgen signed a contract. Nonetheless, she went back to school at the College of St. Benilde to keep the peace in their relationship.
Ramgen, Janelle recalled, was a loving man who had a volatile temper. He was also the jealous type and assigned her a driver and a security guard. She was not even allowed to wear skimpy clothing. Quitting showbiz then was her best option.
On weekend, Janelle would accompany Ramgen to the Mansion to get the family allowance. The amount was placed inside a brown envelope, and Ramgen kept the money in a vault inside his room. Trouble started in 2011 when big sums could not be accounted for. Janelle said these led to arguments among the siblings.
She admitted Ramgen’s temper was a problem. In 2009, Ramgen sought professional help and went to see a doctor at the Medical City for anger management consultations. “He knew he had a problem, and he tried to address it,” she said.
According to the signed statement of a Sheridan Embat, alias Dondon, who claimed to have been recruited to the plot to murder Ramgen, the “subject” was “a bad person who hit people whenever he was drunk.
Ramgen may have tried to reform, but it might have been too late. According to Janelle’s lawyer Guevarra, the motive was all there: feud over money, sibling violence plus a complicated family. And don’t forget, there’s that accursed number right on the gate.