Philippine Politics: Celebrities and Political Families Vying for Government Seats

Philippine Politics: Celebrities and Political Families Vying for Government Seats
Bernadine Racoma

On May 13, 2013, Filipino voters will troop to the polls to elect their candidate of choice and fill a total of 18,022 government positions. In Philippine politics the upcoming mid-term elections is a democratic process designed to fill soon to be vacated local and national positions including 12 seats in the Philippine Senate and 229 seats in the House of Representatives.

On the provincial level, 80 governors and vice-governors will be elected and with them 766 members of the Provincial Board. A total of 1,634 mayors and vice-mayors are needed by local government units (LGUs) nationwide, and a total of 13,504 councilors. The ARMM requires a governor and a vice-governor and two dozen assemblymen.

Familiar names

It is perhaps not surprising that candidates, especially in the municipality and city levels bear familiar names. Many of the hopefuls are relatives or descendants of known or incumbent politicians. Grace Poe-Llamanzares is an independent candidate running for the Senate. She is the daughter of Fernando Poe, Jr. (better known as FPJ), a revered actor who ran against former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA). There are still claims that FPJ won the election against GMA in 2004 and Grace Poe is counting on fans and supporters of her father for her own bid, no doubt.

The senatorial race is characterized by other familiar names in the political scene of the past two decades, most notable of which are Angara, Aquino, Binay, Cayetano, Cojuangco, Ejercito, Magsaysay, Pimentel, Villar and Enrile. Jack Enrile, the son of current Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile is running for the Senate.

They call it clan politics or traditional politics. Some use the term political dynasties. No matter what the preferred terminology is, the fact is that powerful families continue to dominate not just the national political scene but the local scene as well.

A published study in the Philippine Political Science Journal states that the 15th Philippine Congress is 70% dynastic. About 80% of the members of the Congress aged 26-40 come from political families. Similarly, political parties are dominated by political clans with ancestors and a progeny of prominent families dominating the roll call. The same study positively correlates political dynasties in areas with severe poverty and poor development. The study does not claim to be absolutely valid, but the results still reflect the current situation. And there seems to be no respite from clan politics since the newly rich and newly elected are already planting the seeds of their own dynasties.

Those who doubt the validity of the dominance of clan politics should look at the incumbent officials occupying provincial and municipal seats in Ilocos Sur, Pampanga, and Cavite (in Luzon), Cebu and Siquijor (in the Visayas), Zamboanga, and Maguindanao (in Mindanao).

Familiar faces

There were a few surprises when celebrities rumored to launch their political careers did not actually file for candidacy. Some of the best examples are TV show host Vic Sotto, actor-director Cesar Montano and actor-turned 2010 Vice-Presidentialial Candidate Edu Manzano. But there are enough familiar faces running for office that even showbiz talk shows and variety shows have more than the usual tinge of political color since the campaign period started.

Most of the personalities from show business have been in politics for so long that people remember them more for their political activities than the movies or television shows that they used to star in. There’s former President and Philippine cinema legend Joseph Estrada (popularly known as Erap), Laguna Governor “George Estregan, Jr. (award-winning character actor),” Bulacan Vice-Governor Daniel Fernando (former sexy star), incumbent Vice-Mayor of Manila Isko Moreno (dramatic actor), incumbent Mayor of Quezon City Herbert Bautista (comedian), and Paranaque City Councilor Alma Moreno (TV show host and dance diva), and Quezon City Councilor Aiko Melendez (dramatic actress), to name a few. All these familiar faces are running for office this year.

Estrada is bidding for the Mayoralty of Manila against incumbent Mayor Alfredo Lim who is in real trouble if Erap’s mass appeal has not waned. Estrada was elected the 13th President of the Republic of the Philippines. He also served as Mayor (City of San Juan), Senator, and Vice-President. He was found guilty of plunder charges and sentenced to reclusion perpetua in 2007. After the former President GMA (who is now under hospital arrest for election sabotage) granted Estrada executive clemency, he ran in the 2010 presidential race and lost. Now, he’s back on center stage, but he chose a smaller arena—the City of Manila (from President to Mayor at that).

Vilma Santos (another Philippine cinema legend and wife of Senator Ralph Recto) is hoping for another majority vote as Batangas Governor, and rumor has it that the opposition backed out of the game. Congressman and world boxing champion Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao is back in the political ring vying for the same post. And his wife, Jinkee is now running as Vice-Governor of Sarangani.

With clan politics dominating the local and national scene and actors and actresses delving deeper and deeper into politics, we can only surmise that this is going to be a colorful, intriguing, and controversial election year.


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