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What 26 Million Voters Saw in Robin Padilla, the Number One Senator

The action hero formula is tested in the 2022 elections.
by Erwin Colcol
8 hours ago

With a line from Eric Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight," the Philippines' number one senator-elect, Robin Padilla, ended his proclamation speech that centered on how symbolic his surprise win was in bridging the religious divide between Christians and Muslims.

In two minutes, the former "Bad Boy of Philippine Cinema" articulated what 26 million voters saw in him -- a reel and real-life hero who gives them hope. It's the same playbook that propelled action stars to the Senate, from former President Joseph Estrada to Lito Lapid and Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr.

Ang aking pagkapanalo ay isang simbolo ng pagkakaisa ng mga Muslim at Kristiyano,” said Padilla, who converted to Islam while serving time for illegal possession of firearms.

Sa aking mga pinuntahang sortie, rally, ako ay nakiusap sa ating mga kababayan na sana mabigyan niyo ng pagkakataon ang inyong mga kapatid na muling magkaroon ng representasyon sa Senado. At inyong binigyan ng pagkakataon ang inyong mga kapatid,” he added.

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In action stars like Padilla, voters see a hero who could lift them from poverty, just like in the movies, said Gerardo Eusebio, a political strategist and political science professor at the De La Salle University.

“The great disparity between the rich and the poor somehow makes the poor pray for some sort of an emancipation from the shackles of poverty. Sometimes it makes them just hope for a better future, and they see this in the movie roles of these personalities,” Eusebio told reportr.

“In the hopelessness of the masses, pumapasok yung dream for some kind of a savior, almost like a messianic figure personified by these actors. It gives them hope,” he added.

Who is Robin Padilla?

For decades, the ruggedly handsome Padilla played the anti-hero who does good deeds for his family and people in unconventional ways. His macho personality also proved popular among fans as he was paired with leading ladies like Judy Ann Santos, Regine Velasquez, and Claudine Barretto.

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While Padilla is more popularly known as an actor, he came from a family of politicians. His grandfather served as governor of Bulacan in the 1930s while his father was a governor of Camarines Norte in the 1980s.

Padilla also tried to enter politics early on, running unsuccessfully in 1995 for vice governor of Nueva Ecija where his mother lives.

In the 2016 elections, Padilla campaigned for then-presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte and supported his administration’s policies against illegal drugs and criminality, two platforms that he also ran under in the 2022 elections.

While Padilla had his experience in politics one way or another, it’s his appeal to the masses that really propelled him to election victory, much like how action stars that ran before him got elected, Eusebio the analyst said.

“He is a good-looking actor, a darling of the masses… He is a person who speaks his mind. Kapag talagang galit siya, nanununtok siya. Nagagalit siya talaga,” Eusebio said.

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“He has a pro-masses characteristic. The way he projects himself… he actually goes out of his way in helping the poor,” he added.

Why do voters look for heroes?

Filipinos vote for action stars like Padilla in the belief that the roles these actors portray in their movies reflect their characters in real life --- someone who will help the needy and fight for the rights of the marginalized, Eusebio said.

“What sells are these tried and tested tropes: yung mga api, mahirap tapos binaril, pinatay yung ama, tapos gumanti, yung anak gumanti, nanalo in the end,” he said.

Ganito rin yung voter. The voter sees himself in you, the candidate. Paano kung ikaw gagawin kong presidente o ikaw gagawin kong senador, anong mahihita ko kaya? E yung characterization ko sa mga movies, yun na rin ang nagiging equivalent,” he added.

Sometimes, voters no longer look at the credentials of a candidate nor his or her program of government, but on what he or she can readily do to uplift the lives of the people, according to Eusebio.

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Madali bang lapitan yan, yan ba ay nagbibigay ng scholarship, yan ba ay matutulungan tayo kapag nagkasakit tayo? Ganun kahirap kasi ang buhay ng Pilipino. Yung mga talagang basic lang,” he added.

Will the action star formula stick?

With Padilla’s very successful election run, expect more actors to replicate his campaign and try their luck in the Senate. While there is nothing wrong with celebrities running for elective posts to help people in need, voters can do more than just look at the popularity of the candidates, according to Eusebio.

“Sometimes we don't like to admit it, pero the academic discourse has really gone down. Wala masyadong critical thinking, yung mga voters natin ngayon medyo kulang sa discernment,” he said.

“The people have spoken. But the people have spoken in a matter that they themselves could not comprehend or understand,” he added.

In the end, what can really change the people’s views on politics and elections is a massive information campaign where the roles and functions of each position are explained.

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“[We need] education. A massive dose of education, correcting the educational system,” he said.


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