Thursday, October 11, 2018

186. Top Male Model of the 1980s: LEO RABAGO

LEO RABAGO, Naturelle Print ad, 1987.

One of the most sought-after models of the 1980s was discovered in a most unusual way. Leoncel Rabago, a gangly youth in his early 20s, was out skating at the famous  Skatetown of  Ali Mall in Cubao, when a talent caster passed by and saw something special in the slim and agile looker.

Archie Corteza was then one of the leading talent casters of the Philippine advertising industry, and he knew a raw talent when he saw one. 

After all, he had been successful in discovering and launching the careers of so many commercial talents—from Camay girls,  Close-Up teen couples, Cinderella fashion models to San Miguel Beer babes and hunks. 

He handled the likes of young Eric Quizon, Lito Gruet, Lloyd Sammartino, Miguel Rodriguez, Cris Coburn, who all had their start in commercials.

Corteza took the young skater—an adopted child-- under his wing. He enrolled him in a gym, trained him in fashion camps, introduced him to couturiers for their runway shows, and helped  transform him into a new commercial modelling sensation—Leo Rabago.

He first started appearing in fashion print ads, as these were simple enough. By 1984, his schedule was full, bagging  plum assignments from Cinderella department store, Walker, and his biggest break yet—as a resident model for SM, the biggest department store chain in the country.

In 1986, Leo Rabago entered the first ever Bodyshots Modelling Competition, organized by the Fashion Designers’ Association of the Philippines (FDAP). 

This contest was the launching pad for the showbiz careers of such winners as John Estrada, Alain Sia, Richard Cepeda, and Zanjoe Marudo. Not surprisingly Rabago emerged as the top model of the Male Division, Professional Category. 

The victory clearly established him as the country’s leading male model, boosting his stock and career to an all-time high.

He continued to model in fashions shows, appeared in MTVs., but TV commercial assignments—which were more lucrative—eluded him; it seems he  could not go past beyond the high-fashion image that he projected. 

As a result, he was often seen as a dashing escort, a secret admirer, or as a boyfriend—but never the lead.

With limited projects as he turned 30, Rabago left modeling,  got a new talent  manager and  tried his hand in acting. He debuted in the Gabby Concepcion-Maricel Laxa headliner “Ayoko Na Sanang Magmahal” in 1993. His next appearance was in the award-winning film “Wating”, a support to Richard Gomez. 


He accepted whatever work was available, and even did sexy films with such titles as  “Hapdi ng Tag-init” (1997), “Alipin ng Aliw”, “Campus Scandal”, “Bawal”,  (1998) and “Alipin ng Tukso” (2000) and “Lakas ng Pag-ibig” (2001). There would be no more film and TV assignments beyond 2001.

LEO RABAGO, plays support to Suyen Chi in a LAGERLITE PRINT AD, 1986
Along the way, Rabago fathered several children;  most  were married and abroad. Misfortunes continued to hound him; in 2000, he was jailed for assaulting the live-in partner of his sister with a knife. In 2010, his adoptive mother, Froilanda Rabago, died of aneurysm, a profound loss that deeply depressed and affected him. Not long after, Rabago began developing what he thought was acute amoebiasis. It turned out it was colon cancer.


Friends from the modeling industry took care of him in his dying days. Leo Rabago, once the most in-demand model of the 1980s ,passed away in the charity ward of the Eulogio "Amang" Rodriguez Medical Center in Marikina City on 10 February 2011.

Former model actor Leo rabago dies of colon cancer:
FB Page "Remembering Archie Corteza" (1948-2015)

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