Philippine HiStory Today: Celebrity Politicians
Good day folks! Election fever is looming in Europe and, pretty soon, it will too in the Philippines since we’ve gone past the ‘half-way mark’ of President Aquino’s administration. Things may be relatively quiet now. But we are already hearing some names that are planning to make a pitch come the 2016 elections.
Once again, some of them are familiar TV personalities.
I personally am not a fan of celebrities-turned politicians. But after the election of one man in the Philippines, I guess Philippine politics can be anyone’s turf now. I am referring to the action hero of the masses: Erap Estrada, the 13th President of the Philippines.
I am taking you back to the year 1998, on 11 May. The day the Filipinos elected their first celebrity politician to the highest position in the Philippines.
Grab a chair as we walk down memory lane…
Many young kids these days may not know who Joseph ‘Erap’ Ejército Estrada was before being president of our country. To these kids, I give you a classic depiction of Erap as an action star in the 1950s:
ike his gangster character Asiong Salonga, Erap’s characters were gun-touting rebels who ultimately fought for the plight of the poor. Because he constantly took the role of hero of the masses, Erap soon had the reputation of being the poor man’s buddy or ‘pare,’ which when reversed spelled his alias ‘Erap,’ a name he got from real life buddy Fernando Poe Junior (who ran for president in 2004).
Erap’s 33-year, 100-movie career consistently carried this deadly-but-friendly image, helping him gain the admiration of the impoverished Filipinos. Eventually, this reputation helped Erap launch his political career by the end of the 1960s.
Erap may have been born in Tondo, Manila. But his family was not poor. Pretty soon, he made the wealthy neighbourhoods of San Juan City his seat of power by running for Mayor. He won in 1969 and kept the position for 17 years.
As mayor of San Juan, Erap did a good job. He championed the cause of the poor, just like his characters did on screen: his administration was marked by big leaps in infrastructure development. Erap also focused on schools, as well as infrastructure that rendered public service like clinics, playgrounds, water pumps and others.
He was known to have relocated a number of squatters free of charge — that’s very generous and spoke volumes on his loyalty to genuine service for the poor. Other people actually saw that greatness in him and gave him awards and recognitions for his service to the public.
However, his work in San Juan was abruptly cut by the change in government after Martial Law. But Erap did not falter from his career switch to politics and aimed for bigger things.
In 1987, Erap served as senator and worked as chair of the Committee on Public Works and vice-chair of Committees on Health, Natural Resources and Ecology and Urban Planning. His positions allowed him to focus on projects that were aimed for the poor.
As senator, Erap’s most valuable contributions were laws on irrigation, propagation of carabaos and other pro-poor agrarian developments. He was also one of the so called ‘Magnificent 12’ who rejected the extension of the RP-US Military Bases Agreement in 1991, mirroring the fears and sentiments of the people of Pampanga and Zambales.
Erap’s work as senator led to recognition from the Free Press as one of the Three Outstanding Senators of 1989.Trust in him was high, this is why the next step in the political ladder was fairly reachable for him.
Presidency? Not yet
Erap actually tried to aim for the highest public office in the country in the 1992 elections. However, he withdrew and ran instead for Vice President alongside Danding Cojuangco, a former adviser of Marcos. Conjuangco eventually lost to Fidel Ramos, but his running mate, Erap, fared much better with a huge victory over his opponent.
Ramos gave Erap plenty of responsibilities as chair of the Presidential Anti-Crime Commission (PACC). But his greatest contributions as vice president were his civic campaigns like the Mowelfund, Erap para sa mahirap and Phildare.
His time as Vice President was eventually outshined by his greatest triumph: the Presidency.
Erap para sa mahirap
11 May 1998, the Presidential Elections — When he finally ran for the highest public position in the Philippines, Erap went all out. Although his golden years in the film industry have already passed in 1998, he was still everyone’s pare. He promised to fight for the plight of the poor in his platforms, and many were bowled over by his charisma.
The result of the polls was the most exceptional performance of Erap’s life: the actor won by a landslide, defeating his closest opponent Jose de Venecia by more than 6 million votes.
Although Erap’s presidency still focused on agrarian reforms for the poor, his term is also noted for its aggressive stance against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. His ‘war on terrorism’ preceded the America’s by more than a year. But his war was eventually cut short in one of the most devastating events in his political career: the impeachment trial of 2000.
In October of 2000, barely three years after Erap was declared President, the headlines were filled with news from Ilocos Sur Governor Luis ‘Chavit’ Singson alleging that Erap had been pocketing kick-backs from jueteng, an illegal numbers game. This resulted in an impeachment case against the president: a highly publicised trial and a story I will reserve for another day.
The trial did not end with a verdict, however, after opposition senators staged a walk out on 16 January 2001. But the victory Erap’s allies won in the court that day did not sit well with the rest of the Filipino public. This led to the wide scale protest called EDSA Dos and the eventual resignation of the defeated Erap on 20 January 2001.
What the impeachment trial of that year taught Erap’s supporters was even action heroes have their flaws. Erap was eventually known as a lover of big houses and of things only the few and the moneyed can buy: his favourite wine was the Petrus, costing $1,500 per bottle. Simply put, his lifestyle did not match well with his vow to serve the public.
In the Philippines, we could almost say that it is a trend among celebrities to make the switch to politics at one point in their lives. Plenty have already done it, and there really is no force that is stopping them from a career change. Many, of course, argue against it because, ideally, we want public servants who are knowledgeable of the law.
But times change. Erap showed that celebrities also have the drive needed to serve the people genuinely. Erap also showed that celebrities can succumb to traditional politics. Celebrities are normal people, prone to the same triumphs and flaws.
Erap’s trial did not affect how many Filipino voters still look up to celebrities as role models. Note for example these slew of public officials who were once (or still are) celebrities on TV:
Although there are calls among concerned Filipinos asking the voting public to think twice about electing celebrity politicians, mainly due to lack of experience and background, celebrities aren’t deterred from seeking political offices. Actually, there are already a number of high-profile celebrities whose names have been linked to the upcoming 2016 Elections:
- Ai Ai delas Alas
- Kris Aquino
- Luis Manzano
What if these celebrities do eventually decide to run for a position this 2016? The million dollar question is, are you going to vote for any of them? And do you really think being a celebrity is an issue for political aspirants? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.