Leo Martinez



Leo Martinez

Leo Martinez: The Quintessential Man of the  Philippine Entertainment Industry

There are very few industry big wigs who have the credentials that back up not only their box office draw, but also the raw talent that makes them excel in any field they allow themselves to immerse in. One of them is Leo Martinez.

His credentials cannot be contained in a piece of paper, or two. The movie industry has placed him as the Director General of the Film Academy of the Philippines while the performing arts has utilized his incomparable knowledge of the craft as the Chairman of the Performers Rights Society of the Philippines. He was also the former Chairman of the Actors Workshop Foundation and a former board member of Repertory Philippines, the pioneering theater company which he co-founded.  Revered for his expertise and vast experiences in the entertainment industry, Leo was a former board member of the Cinema Committee of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and the former Chairman of the Board for the Katipunan ng mga Artista ng Pelikulang Pilipino at Telebisyon. These are just some of the accolades that he greatly deserved, but like all giants, they were once the little Davids too. Leo was not an exemption.

In fact, little Leo began as a lead actor in 1958 as a Japanese schoolgirl in the operetta “The Mikado.” He bagged the role along with other theater luminaries including Ben Nuñez, Butz Aquino, Donnie Gallardo, father of Dindi, Nene Syquia, Dick Chua, VV Soliven, Minyong Ordoñez, Freddie Rodriguez, Mike Divino  and were famously known as the Reuter’s Boys. It was in the following year that he started using his voice professionally when he did the voicing for a Caltex commercial. His baptism of fire on stage led to more forays in the form of high school plays, and eventually to becoming one of the founders of the De La Salle Dramatics Guild. Musicals were also up his alley and this was proven by the St. Paul musicals he joined with some of the luminaries of the stage including Subas Herrero, Celeste Legaspi, Joe Avelino among many others. He acted with Helen Hayes, the first lady of American Theater in 1966 at St.Paul’s College.

As he expanded his wings to rave reviews, he began his acting career on television in some of the iconic TV shows of the era like “Santa Zita and Maryrose,” “Teenagers,” “Family Theater,” etc. He grew in the TV industry with greats like Zeneida Amador, Patsy Monzon, Cora Sanchez, Gary Lising and Fr. Reuter.  Theater never left his blood and in 1967, he co-founded Repertory Philippines, one of the most revered theater companies up to this day and age. He began with Zeneida Amador , Baby Barredo, Tony and Monina Mercado. It was only in 1973 that they started paying their actors, finally making them a professional theater company. The year 1976 saw him working in Hollywood with Cirio and Bob Waters for some co-production ventures giving him the chance to work with Hollywood stars like John Carradine, Jayne Kennedy, Rosanne Katon, Martin Landau, Sam Bottoms, Ted Schakleford, and Carl Franklin.

With the angst growing against the Marcos government getting heavier by the day, Leo was the lead in “Caligula” produced by Eddie Rocha (co-writer and co-producer of Heneral Luna) and directed by Peque Gallaga at the Rizal theater, his depiction of how absolute power corrupts a country.   So when the Edsa revolution happened, the iconic “Meldita” of Tessie Tomas rolled out and he was a part of it as Marcos. On the side, he directed the pioneering travel show “Travel Time” of Susan Calo Medina which eventually earned awards from the CMMA, Star and CCP.


It was in 1989 that Leo finally invaded mainstream media when he joined “Mongolian Barbecue” as his most popular character, Congressman Manhik-Manaog. This satire comedy show made him a household name and showcased his comedic skills that left his audiences laughing in stitches. It became so relevant and on point that there was this DZRH caller who requested the then Philippine President Cory Aquino to watch the show to know what was really happening in the country, a feat that Leo considers to be more rewarding than any award. The super successful tandem of Juan Tamad and Mr Shooli eventually got its movie version and became the Metro Manila Film Festival top-grosser of that year.

And this was just the beginning. He later on directed “Buddy en Sol,” another top rater for Channel 9 and took more directorial jobs for commercials like the Pop Cola commercial with the famous tagline “Kung cola cola ang gusto mo, Pop ang sa iyo,” earning him the monicker Mr. Pop Cola. And more movies for this funny man including “Pusoy Dos,” “Swindlers List,” and the controversial “Batangenyong Kabitenyo” that became the first local movie to reach the Court of Appeals of Malacanang because of the X rating given by MTRCB.  All these happened while he was active in TV for “Ober da Bakod,” “Buddy en Sol,” and “Pugad Baboy” and directing commercials for various products like Orient Bank, PLDT, Pop Cola and doing Club Acts as Cong. Manhik-Manaog.

Today, Leo keeps himself visible and relevant because of his genuine talent and passion for whatever field he gets involved with. This fire continues to give him more opportunities on stage, TV, film, and advertising, making him a force to reckon with in an industry that needs his brilliance as a performer and as a person.

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