MANUEL “Lito” Lapid’s life story can make a good movie. In the same manner the life story of his late uncle, Jess Lapid life story was made into a movie. It was also in that movie “The Jess Lapid Story” produced by an independent filmmaker where Lito Lapid, in a starring role, zoomed to stardom. And from then on, there was no turning back for him. He made more than a dozen box office hits and even the name Leon Guerrero stuck in his persona.
From the glitzy showbiz, he parlayed into politics and chalked success after success. I should know, he was much loved by the people. I tagged along every election year he was involved. I accompanied him in his sorties to towns and cities in the Visayas and Mindanao. Vice governor, governor for nine years, senator of the republic for twelve years. Uninterrupted. And somehow that success changed greatly the simple and humble Lito Lapid.
He was known in his hometown Porac, particularly to his childhood playmates as a kind and caring individual. The fellow grew up in a modest house at the back of the municipal building. He did all odd jobs just to earn few pesos in order to put food on the table. He has a lot of common sense but was very poor in academics in school. It was hardship all throughout. He struggled and persevered. But that is all behind him now.
From the poor man’s house at the back of the municipio, he now owns a rich man mansion at the foot of a hill overlooking the town. His former house now a spitting distance in front of the town municipio has a high wall and an impregnable gate that no town mates can even peep. He now owns several houses in Metro Manila, Baguio and in the United States. “Hindi na siya maabot Tang Max,” his elder brother told me once while having a chat with him in Boracay. The two have falling out after a case was filed against Rey over a dispute of some disposable construction materials.
It was his Kuya Rey a movie camera man who somehow started him to showbiz. It was in their blood. Their father Jose, older brother of action star Jess Lapid, was so good on horses that he was then the leading stuntman of action pictures produced by Premiere Productions. He died so early and was not able to witness the success of his youngest. And, of course, the quarrels among the siblings.
Lito Lapid was a member of the SOS Daredevils when he was spotted by Jess Chua, then an independent filmmaker and made him as a lead star of a movie. And movies after movies earned money in the box office, and later he was ranked as an action star sharing the marquees along with Fernando Poe Jr., Joseph Estrada, Ramon Revilla and many other popular actors. He became a leading man of many pretty actresses in the celluloid world. He himself produced dozens of box office movies and Leon Guerrero is one of the most popular.
If Chua gave Lapid his movie break, it was then Pampanga Governor Estelito Mendoza who ushered him to politics. Mendoza convinced Lapid to run in tandem with his cabalen, Dr. Rogelio Reyes who was to contest Guiao for governorship. Reyes lost, but Lapid won as vice governor and was presiding officer of the provincial board dominated by Guiao's allies. He must have impressed the Pampanga constituency that in the next election, he faced Guiao and garnered the biggest majority of votes on record. He won in every town with more than eighty percent of the votes, and counting was not yet over when Guiao called to congratulate.
After finishing his three terms as governor, he was drafted in 2004 as part of a senatorial slate fielded by then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Insults after insults were heaped towards Lapid, but he survived the elections and got elected.
His first political defeat happened in 2007. He run against then well entrenched Mayor Jojo Binay in Makati City. It was a humbling defeat. Again he run for mayor in Angeles City 2016 and was trounced. Lapid must be damn lucky and he has the long running TV series “Ang Probinsiyano” to thank. According to the surveys he will win as a senator if elections are held today. In real life, he was once a probinsiyano.