If the May 2022 elections were held 15 months ahead of schedule, two TV hosts who are adored by the masses have a shot at winning one of 12 Senate seats -- Raffy Tulfo and Willie Revillame -- underscoring how a political system that is based on popularity instead of platform can be a passport to national office, an analyst said.
The stars of "Raffy Tulfo in Action" and "Wowowin" will likely beat reelectionist senators and veteran politicians long tipped for a Senate seat, according to Pulse Asia's Feb. 22 to March 3 survey of 2,400 respondents. Neither Tulfo nor Revillame have expressed desire to run for public office.
The two have something that Senate aspirants who spend millions of pesos and follow dance challenges on TikTok can't seem to have -- name recall, said University of the Philippines political science professor Jean Encinas-Franco.
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"Of course, celebrities, people who are popular are already ahead of everyone else," Encinas-Franco told reportr.
"Because of the structure or the way they are voted and also because they are all gearing up for the top 12 positions, tapos walang matinong political party so hindi kailangang maging issue-based, walang incentive for them to have an issue-based candidacy," she said.
In 1992, it was "Eat Bulaga" that helped now Senate President Tito Sotto Transition to senator from Quezon City vice mayor. In 1998, it was ABS-CBN's "The World Tonight" for Sen. Loren Legarda. In 2001, it was "TV Patrol" and "Magandang Gabi Bayan" for Senator and later Vice President Noli de Castro.
It's the weak political party system
The Philippine lacks a strong political party system and popular candidates can simply bank on their fame without having the need to stand for a specific issue to endear themselves to voters, Encinas-Franco said.
It's a playbook that was used by Joseph Estrada to jump from San Juan mayor to senator, then later to vice president and president, with the "Erap Magic" rubbing off on his sons, former Senators Jinggoy Estrada and JV Ejercito.
Estrada's best friend, the late Fernando Poe Jr., nearly duplicated his feat had he not lost to former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in the 2004 elections that was marred by allegations of massive cheating.
Action heroes Bong Revilla Jr. and Lito Lapid, sports stars Manny Pacquiao and Robert Jaworski and news anchors Noli De Castro and Loren Legarda were all elected to to the Senate on their first try. So did Poe's daughter, Sen. Grace Poe, after a brief stint as chief censor at the MTRCB.
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Some fade into the 'Commitee of Silence'
Senators who get voted based solely on popularity, without preparation, risk fading into the background in what Encinas-Franco called the "committee on silence."
Lapid has borne the brunt of criticism for not engaging his Senate colleagues enough. Some stars before they were lawmakers are more engaging, like Pacquiao, who often quotes the Bible.
"Generally speaking, if they are elected based on popularity, they will not have any incentive to work harder. Because they know that they can easily win again because they are popular," she said.
"Secondly, if they really did not have preparation for political office prior to their election, and they do not get competent staff, it's very easy for them to be in the so-called committee on silence," she said.
People forget senators who get elected based on popularity and don't do much while they're in office, she said.
"The mere fact na parang hindi siya top of mind, makakalimutan mong senador pala siya diba? So it says a lot," she said.
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Can voters move past the popularity contest?
Changing people's views on electing their leaders may be difficult since popularity has long dictated national politics, Encinas-Franco said.
Voter education does not necessarily make a difference since it usually focuses on what or what no to do during elections, and not how to be critical when votin, she added.
What can be done for now is to propose changes in the electoral system, she said. One option is to make the senatorial elections "regional" instead of national, which would allow senators to be more representative of their constituents.
Another way is to empower voters by uplifting their socio-economic status -- that way they won't decide based on who can given them quick dole-outs, she said.
"May mga pag-aaral din na kapag naging mas middle class, mas marami ang middle class sa lipunan, mas may tendency na maging 'informed voters' sila, mas magiging issue-based, kasi hindi na from the gut yung kanilang issues," she said.