“I was only 13 when I got exposed to sex and drug,” says Tata Esteban, the famous bold film director. From then on, it was a reeling ride to fame, money, more sex and more drugs as he started his career as club manager for a disco house.
“I enjoyed the high I got from shabu. I felt like I was God, I can do anything I want,” he says. “And of course, if you have drugs all the time, the women flock to you.”
Tata Esteban, whose real name is Steve Regala, was raised solely by his mother Julie after his father left them for another woman. But before abandoning them, she had been a battered woman. Tata Esteban saw all these at age 5 and believed that a man should be this: a chauvinist and a playboy.
He tried to live this “ideal.” When he put up his own seedy joint in Baguio City, he plunged straight into the flesh trade and pandered innocents. No second thoughts, no hint of remorse.
“I searched for 13-year-old virgins and sold them to Chinese men for P30,000 ($750). I pocketed the P25,000 ($625) and gave them only P5,000 ($125),” Tata Esteban says. “I was making money that much.”
And he had his women. The dancers that worked for him had to pass his “scrutiny.” He described himself as living “like King Solomon.”
He gave free passes to people from the showbiz industry to earn more clout in the business. He met Celso Ad Castillo, Lino Brocka and Mario O’Hara who opened for him a new world: directing.
In 1985, at age 29, he directed his first movie, “Alapaap,” starring Tanya Gomez. It won 13 awards in the Metro Manila Film Festival and was bought later to Japan for the Tokyo Film Festival.
Tata Esteban discovered that he had the gift. He was proud of his achievements.
“I became a star builder,” he says. “I made many actresses, bold stars, famous. I gave them movies and built their names.”
As he threw himself unto the feet of worldliness, with drugs and women, his mother Julie threw herself at the feet of Jesus. “Lord, what is happening to my child?” she had demanded many times in desperation.
“I cried out to God day and night. I called on all the pastors that I know to pray for my son,” Julie says.
This mother remained steadfast and loyal to her son even when the first wave of his hedonistic life hit him hard in 1988. The things that he was holding on to were being taken from him: his disco clubs, his movies, his Mercedez Benz, his houses. Even the showbiz friends he thought he had started to leave.
“My relatives wanted me to renounce him. I couldn’t do that. That’s why I just prayed a lot. I completely depended on God. I know he will not leave me,” Julie says. She faithfully called on the Lord for his son’s salvation.
In the drug rehabilitation center, Tata Esteban discovered that he was more famous as a drug pusher than as a director among the teenagers in the center. But he remained undaunted.
A month into the rehab, he left for the States and continued the drugs and the women.
In 1991, he came back to the Philippines and had a comeback movie titled Engkanto with Roderick Paulate. It won second place in the best picture category.
One day, after five straight days of drug-heaven with 3 starlets, he came home and had an attack of aneurism.
“I fell on the floor and forced myself to stand up… I looked at the mirror and saw my tongue sticking out. The left side of my face was paralyzed,” he says. “Lord, forgive me for all the things I did, I said. Then I fell down. When I woke up I was already at the hospital.”
This second wave brought Ben Yalung to his life when all his showbiz friends deserted him again. Ben is a Christian and a member of Oasis of Love.
“He was so deep into it. And [I thought] it may be difficult for him to recover,” Ben says. “[But] being the elder of the community at that time, I had to do something about it.”
One day, a pastor came to visit Tata Esteban.
“I told the pastor, ‘Pastor, would the Lord still forgive me for the women I got pregnant?’ I have 8 kids from 8 different mothers. I had about 20 dancers abort their babies, I sold 13-year-olds, I used women, gave them drugs…,” Tata Esteban says. “Can the Lord still forgive me?”
Tata Esteban had so many questions. Finally, God moved in his heart and his mother’s prayers were answered: he received Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.
But his faith was to be tested making a complete 180-degree turnaround elusive.
In 1993, Tata Esteban questioned God’s role for his only sibling’s death. That time, he was also hitting rock bottom financially. He found help from his drug lord friends who encouraged him to sell drugs again.
He attended church for the sake of attendance but in the corner of his soul, darkness continued to reign with drugs and pornography. Even when he had mild stroke in 1996, Tata Esteban’s heart was hard. He refused to budge.
“I wanted to die then. The purpose of my life was so negative. I mean, what is the purpose of my existence?”
But God held onto Tata Esteban. He kept allowing instances of defeat and weakness to show that he is a Father who won’t let go.
One day, his son saw him and his wife Imelda snorting on shabu.
“He was covered with mud and had scratches all over him,” Tata Esteban says. “He said, ‘Does that taste good, Pa? Can I taste it? Can I taste it, Pa?’.”
This was when the 180-degree transformation came for Tata Esteban: Jesus became Lord of all.
“I threw away the drugs, sold our car, went up to Baguio. We left everything,” he says. “God used my son to make me realize that I am such a bastard, that I am a sinner.”
This time, Tata Esteban’s remorse was real. He was sorry for hurting women in the past and for hurting himself. It pained him that he closed the door many times when the Lord had been knocking. Yet he is also grateful that God never let go.
“Jesus has always been there for me, he never left me nor has he forsaken me,” he says. “I will never exchange the Lord for anything… not money or a quick buck. I want to stay obedient to Him… The mere fact that I am alive [means] this is something great…something I am grateful for.”
If all of heaven were rejoicing over this sinner who repented, on earth, one woman stands most grateful of all: his mother, Julie.
“I am speechless… after 15 years, I finally won. God answered my prayers,” she says.
“I’m okay now,” Tata Esteban says. “I’m ready to die for God.”
Postscript: Tata Esteban became a speaker for religious groups. He died of cardiac arrest in September 2003.
cbn THE 700CLUB files