Filipino voters should let go of their fixation on celebrity candidates like Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla


Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla consistently being in the Top 12 senatoriables list in this year’s elections (according to SWS and Pulse Asia polls) illustrates the whole trouble with Philippine society. One wonders what bases surveyed members of the electorate apply when selecting these poltiicians.

Both Estrada and Revilla, as we know, were in detention on charges of corruption. Thus it is quite baffling that they continue to attract the trust of many Filipino voters. Estrada for one is running against his half brother, JV Ejercito. But despite the latter boasting a sterling track record of legislative achievement, the earlier ranks higher in popularity in these polls.

The key common denominator underlying the popularity of Revilla and Estrada as well as that other non-performer, Lito Lapid, is their previous stints in showbiz. At the end of the day, being showbiz celebrities remains a potent ingredient to political success for the otherwise unqualified and even criminally-tainted.

All three are sure wins. Their victory mirrors the character of a society that chooses to be represented by them. This is the democracy Filipinos signed up to. The reality about their society that the outcomes of elections — essentially popularity contests — reveal is laid bare for all to come to terms with.

This anti-intellectual trait ingrained in the fabric of Filipino society has long been recognised. My colleague Ilda wrote about it back in 2014

The problem with our society is that we Filipinos put more emphasis on the personality behind our public servants. Instead of focusing on what matters, we care more about the trivial stuff, which are irrelevant in our goal to bring our country from Third World to First. We care more about our favorite politician’s girlfriend or wife, what they wear and what kind of car they drive. It’s as if knowing that we voted for someone who is dating a celebrity or someone who is driving a Porsche would actually help us feel secure that the country is in good hands.

This indeed is a disturbing aspect of Filipino culture that contributes obstacles to progress. A fixation on comfort zones rather than the potential rewards of trying new things and experimenting with novel alternatives is one that is evidently fatal for the societies of developing countries.

There are many alternatives to choose from, discounting, of course, the Otso Diretso coalition who represent the interests of the usual suspects in the oligarchy who have a lot invested in maintaining the Philippines’ unjust and dishonest political and industrial status quo. Indeed, there are candidates who ask all the confronting questions that neither incumbent nor traditional Opposition camps would touch with a ten foot pole. These are the sorts of politicians Filipinos need to embrace — people who are willing to challenge tradition.

The continued popularity of politicians like Estrada and Revilla says a lot about the sort of society Filipinos constitute. Rather than think their problems through carefully and chart intelligent pathways forward, they would rather blindly surrender the future of their country to people on the basis of their star power.