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From the Archives: Political Glitz

What do Tsong, Bistek, and Captain Barbell have in common besides being showbiz icons of this country? The answer is quite simple: they all decided to star in what is often the dirtiest stage of this republic-politics.

This is a country where politics and showbiz often form an almost unbeatable mixture. But behind the prestige and media glitz, what are the implications behind voting for someone who came from showbiz?

Political reasons

When Cita Astals, a councilor of Manila, was asked why there are a lot of celebrity politicians in the country today, this was her answer: “Artistas are getting tired of having to sit back and see the traditional politicians make a mess out of our country.”

Turns out, her political potential was noticed by a councilor of Manila (who was a co-party member of Mayor Lim) when she was a guest in a talk show where she kept on complaining about the everyday problems of Manila. “Mayor Lim told me that I have the chance to work on solutions to the problems of the city. He challenged me to put my money where my mouth is. Now, I can do something to improve the city of Manila.”

Wala nang tatalo sa feeling ng nakakatulong.” Robert Ortega, a councilor of Manila, stated with conviction when asked why he decided to enter politics. According to him, showbiz is already a form of public service because it is an industry that makes people happy. Moreover, he fields that in politics, you have a larger scope of helping people.

(Nothing can beat helping other people)

Akala ng iba na pag artista ka, puro pagpapacute ang pulitika. What they don’t know is that I work hard. Hindi lang pangalan ang pangbenta ko. This is what we call Performance Politics.” Ortega states. He was an integral part of the Buhayin ang Maynila program which was responsible for the beautification of historical places like Manila Bay and Plaza Dilaw.

(Other people think that if you’re a celebrity, you’ll just be beautifying politics. What they don’t know is that I work hard. I am not just selling out my name.)

However, political analyst Jojo Roxas, a professor from DLSU, has a different perspective regarding celebrity politicians. “Actors and actresses enter electoral politics because of one thing: power,” he states. It’s a fact that showbiz personalities are already powerful without entering politics because of their popularity. Come to think of it, it makes total sense why they would want to enter politics: it’s human nature. As Nicolo Machiavelli said: “Men rise from one ambition to another”. After all realizing the glitter of showbiz, a handful of celebrities seem to make politics as the next logical step.

Star value

In politics, power can emerge in different forms- bookforce, charisma, eminence, affluence, and perhaps a famous name. During elections, this identity can be transformed into an advantage whether it’s a surname of a political clan or a screen name from the showbiz arena.

Voters tend to choose candidates who are registered in their memory box, an instant recognition they themselves don’t understand. Politicians’ reputations are what the public is inclined to recall. The comical part is, while old-hand-politicians establish sound reputations to get another bunch of votes for the next election, they find themselves losing to a fresh candidate who happens to be a celebrity. Just like what happened in 1996, Rey Malonzo defeated Macario ‘Boy’ Asistio for the position of Mayor of Caloocan. Malonzo didn’t have any awards to talk big, but he made a name with local martial arts movies. Asistio, on the other hand, was a member of the wealthy and well-established political family that had governed the city for decades.

According to Roxas, “People vote in different ways. But oftentimes we always go for the brand that seems familiar, something that we know.” Traditional politicians often complain about this, but indeed, these celebrities have likewise established their reputations outside the electoral season. They are there when we wish to run away from all the politicking around us. And because these famous people are frequently visible, thus reachable, it’s more likely that they create a sense of recall. Political consultant Benjie Catajoy, on the other hand, has another interpretation of the so-called power of recall. True enough, celebrities possess certain advantages during elections. However, more is said about the post-election, when they are distinguished by the service they render and not necessarily the name they carry.

Oftentimes though, a candidate is questioned about his qualifications before running for any position. So how does a running celebrity answer to that? According to Sol Jose Vanzi, a writer for the Philippine Star: “Action stars, lowbrow comedians, matinee heartthrobs, aging basketball heroes, and TV talk show hosts have all used their fame to get elected into office.” While traditional politicians (trapos) brag about their educational attainment and experiences, movie stars save their grand-slam awards for campaigning seasons. Instead of delivering speeches and presenting their platforms, they would rather sing and dance in front of a cheering crowd.

Michael Tan in his article Artista states that there is an element of fantasy in movies, and there isn’t really anything wrong with that. The real problem arises when the distinction between fantasy and reality starts to sink in, where the heroic roles of actors on the silver screen are translated into national salvation. Even with an accomplished college degree, entering politics would still entail knowledge of statecraft, the economy, and the obscure problems encountered in the national and international level.

Looking back, who have been listed in the roster of celebrity-turned-politicians anyway? Rogelio dela Rosa was the first movie actor to win a senate seat, who after losing the position of vice president, continued public service as an ambassador. Decades later, actor-businessmen Joseph Estrada, Tito Sotto, and Ramon Revilla Sr. followed the trend of personalities entering politics. As a matter of fact, it has turned into an interesting fad as more and more actors and actresses ran for local government. Some of them were Vilma Santos, Herbert Bautista, Joey Marquez, Lito Lapid, Bong Revilla, and Jinggoy Estrada. Come to think of it, why wouldn’t they? According to Roxas, certain politicians are on the better side of the political trail since their fame is instantly translated into votes. In reality, recent elections are actually based on the “popularity equals votes equation.”

Apparently, the Philippine political arena spares little room for non-celebrities. As if hanging impliedly on a signboard: No popularity, no entry.

Changing Tides

The last film-star presidency was far from a blockbuster. Last October 16, 2000, Governor Chavit Singson bemused the Filipinos when he indicted Joseph Estrada, the president of the Philippines at that time, as the Lord of all Jueteng lords. Reports showed that the president had been receiving P 5 million per month from Jueteng and kickbacks amounting to P 170 million in excise tobacco tax. After a preliminary study of the case, the House of Representatives filed an impeachment case against the president on the grounds of graft and corruption, bribery, betrayal of public trust, and selected violation of the Constitution.

During the impeachment trial, the name Jose Velarde suddenly became legendary. The said name popped out from a bank executive, Clarissa Ocampo who testified that Estrada has a hidden bank account in the Equitable-PCI Bank allegedly amounting to P 500 million. Subsequent to a series of hearing sessions, with opposing parties protecting their clients from immaterial questions and irrelevant subjects, a new set of evidence more popularly known as the brown envelope surfaced. This was voluntarily presented by a bank, supposedly proving that indeed the P 500 million was ill-gotten. Unfortunately, the majority of the senators (11-21) voted not to open the envelope on the grounds of immateriality, that is, not being included in the Articles of Impeachment. You would have guessed what would happen next. The prosecutors construed the finality as a suppression of truth and an early sign of acquittal verdict for the president. Thus, EDSA II came into place and eventually marked a milestone in Philippine history.

This incident in the same way triggered a changing surge in the last elections. Elite showbiz personalities like Rudy Fernandez, Bong Revilla, and Nora Aunor consequently failed to top the ballot votes.

The media has been harsh to us (celebrity politicians) ever since Erap was ousted. It also doesn’t help that Filipinos tend to generalize. Astals states. Obviously, this is true. Last Jan. 5, Conrado de Quiros published an empty column entitled: A list of the things this country may look forward to over the next six years, from 2004 to 2010, under the administration of President Fernando Poe Jr. and Vice President Noli de Castro. Poe and de Castro, who are famous celebrities in their own right, are running for the two highest positions in our country. It is obvious de Quiros’ article with no text implied that there is absolutely nothing these two individuals can do once they win in the May elections.

It is evident that the country witnessed the fall of celebrities in the last elections. Despite this, there are at least 30 showbiz personalities running for public office in the up and coming elections.

The algebra of FPJ

Barely three years after actor turned president Joseph Estrada was impeached, another screen legend has decided to run for the highest position in the land. This is none other than FPJ.

“Let’s face it, maraming nagmamahal kay Erap, kung sino man ang i-eendorse n’ya, he will win the elections,” Ortega stated with conviction. Obviously, there is a large probability that his prediction will be a reality. Latest surveys show that Fernando Poe, Da King of Philippine movies, is the front-runner in the May presidential elections.Despite being a high school dropout with no political experience, FPJ seems to be the leading candidate among the presidentiables. “They (masa) are desperate and they see people like FPJ as a savior.” Philippine Star columnist Teodoro Benigno said in the article Showbiz Figures Dominate RP Politics. It seems that he has captured the imagination of the poor with his Robin Hood-style underdog roles. For them, he is a heroic figure who will fight the battles of the country against injustice and poverty. But there is, of course, a big difference between reality and fantasy.

Up to this day, he hasn’t been able to present a specific platform detailing his desired policies and programs. Although it would be unfair to say that smart and knowledgeable people are better leaders, it is evident that good intentions are not enough to run a government.

“I’ve always believed that the upcoming elections is really something to look forward to. I don’t [know] exactly about the dynamics at the local level, but at least in the presidential race, it’s going to be a battle between Popularity and Machinery.” Roxas states. The battle between President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and FPJ for presidency may prove to be a close fight. Both have even sources of power that can harbor votes. This will probably be the ultimate test whether or not the artistas have lost their touch in the ballot box.

Democratic Paradox

“The nicest thing in a democracy is that ANYBODY can run for public office. The saddest and meanest thing in a democracy is that ANYBODY can run for public office.” Roxas adds. Regardless of educational attainment, as long as you can read and write, you can run for the highest position in this country. Democracy has not only become the catalyst for the victory of artistas in elections but incompetence as well.

This is not a personal attack on artistas who decide to enter politics but a call to the citizens of this country to reflect before they cast their votes. One must not vote someone based on movies or sitcoms but according to merits.

With the elections nearing with each second passing by, perhaps it is about time to contemplate on the situation that is at hand. Each individual must be responsible enough to strive for a deeper understanding of each candidates’ platform. Voting should not merely rely on the familiarity or star value of a candidate’s name, rather it should be based on one’s character. For charisma doesn’t always equate to leadership, and good intentions do not always ensure good governance.

By The LaSallian

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