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Is Star Power Enough to Make a Senator Tulfo, President Isko?

Celebrity politics, explained.
by Erwin Colcol
Oct 6, 2021
Photo/s: Raffy Tulfo In Action/Facebook/Jerome Ascano

The judge in TV's court of swift justice, the former "Bad Boy" of Philippine movies and the "Optimum Star" of the 2000s are all running in next year's elections, hoping to ride on their celebrity, both hot and faded, to cross over to public service.

Raffy Tulfo, "Idol in Action" has filed his certificate of candidacy for senator and will slug it out against Robin Padilla, an avowed supporter of President Rodrigo Duterte who was recently drafted by his PDP Laban party.

Aspirants for city councilor include TV and movie stars, among them, Claudine Barretto who lorded over primetime soaps during her heyday, Arci Munoz and Jason Abalos. Isko Moreno was Manila councilor before he was elected mayor and is now seeking the presidency.

EXPLAINER: Why Raffy Tulfo Means Justice for the Filipino Everyman 

“It really will not go away. It's part of what we can call Filipino democracy,” University of the Santo Tomas political science professor Ronald Castillo told reportr.

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“No matter how good a candidate is, if the candidate doesn't shine like a star, it can be difficult to get the number of votes. There's always that need to input star quality of a candidate,” he added.

Tulfo topped the list of preferred senatorial candidates, based on Pulse Asia's September 2021 survey, while Moreno was statistically tied for second place among presidential bets, further highlighting the influence of celebrities on voters.

To Moreno's credit, he literally scrubbed the capital city clean during his first three-year term as mayor, at one time stepping on human feces on the streets while doing his job. At one point, Duterte alluded to his "call boy" movie persona, which Moreno shrugged off.

“Star for All Seasons” Vilma Santos-Recto also entered politics as mayor of Lipa in 1998 and incumbent congresswoman of Batangas and is now being pushed to run for the Senate.


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Star power is their currency

In the Philippines where elections are treated like a popularity contest, it’s easy for some showbiz personalities to transition to politics. To get elected, all they practically need is their fame and the support of their fans, said campaign strategist Gerardo Eusebio.

“Your investment is yourself, your popularity, so konti lang ang gagastusin mo,” Eusebio, who also teaches political science at the De La Salle University, told reportr.

That is why some celebrities choose to run for public office when their showbiz careers go south. It’s a career move for them, one that would allow them to earn as much as they did in making movies and television shows, according to Eusebio.

“If you will notice, yung mga tumatakbo ay yung medyo over the hill, yung mga retireable former matinee idols. Kasi malaki ang kita sa pelikula diba? Being a politician can also match yung mga kinikita if not even more,” he added.

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But not all those who are popular win the elections. Despite their appeal to the masses, actors like Fernando Poe Jr. and Edu Manzano still failed in their respective bids in previous elections.

For star power to work, it has to be combined with the right strategy, Castillo, the analyst, said. Think of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who banked on the huge popularity of her running mate in the 2004 elections, ABS-CBN star anchor Noli De Castro.

“It doesn't assure a person that star quality will get you the position but it's one of the tools. So may kulang kapag natalo ka kasi you only relied on the star power,” Castillo added.

Voters are 'undereducated'

While some celebrities enter politics as part of their retirement plan, others claim they want to help their constituents, which is not at all a bad reason to run for office.

As cliché as it sounds, “gusto kong tumulong sa tao” works as an election narrative especially among the Filipino masses because they tend to vote based on who gets to help them at present.

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“We only have, 'Gusto niyong kumain? Ito pangkain niyo. Iboto niyo ako ha?' But not really yung 'Gusto niyo ba ang Pilipinas wala nang utang next year?' Walang ganun,” Castillo said.

Eusebio attributed to this to the “undereducation” of some Filipino voters which, as a result, reduces their capacity to discern what qualities a good leader should have and who they should vote for.

Ang kanilang nagiging criteria is lowered, yung gandang lalaki, yung popularidad, yung personal relationship. Madaling lapitan, kapag may problema ka tutulungan ka,” he said.

Eusebio expressed alarm over this situation, which he said is not only an indication of the country’s backward political maturity, but also allows those who are only popular to remain in public office.

“If you elect again people who don't really know what they're going to do and they attain power, what will happen is they would still not do anything,” he said.

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“The more the celebrities run, the more negative the future of the people in general without them even knowing it,” he added.

Voters need to be more critical

The 2022 elections is a critical one, and so should the way voters view candidates as they vow to help the country bounce back from the pandemic. As all candidates will obviously offer something good to attract votes, Filipinos must also look at their background and consider their past actions, Castillo said.

“That will help us affirm what the promise of a future would be because we know the past of a particular candidate,” he added.

Increasing the level of education of voters is also a key to move past the cycle of celebrities being elected in position, as this will raise their awareness on issues that matter, Eusebio said.

And as 2022 elections campaign will shift mostly online, it’s time for people to harness the power of social media to start conversations about candidates and what they can do, Castillo said.

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“As long as we talk and we ensure that we appeal to the demographic, we could bring about a more election-literate population,” he added.

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