Senador Agad? The 2013 race as pop election

Ricky Torre
Or politics and showbiz as each other’s franchise, and how it’s not bad at all

The 2013 senatorial election is a watershed in the history of the Philippines’ modern politics. This broad and hasty conclusion must be a running thought among its observers, however premature it may seem, although it will likely be validated after considerable hindsight. 

This election is as much a significant transition in the post-Arroyo era as the 1987 senatorial election was in the post-Marcos era. The first truly electoral exercise after the dictatorship, the 1987 senatorial race led to a resounding victory for the first Aquino presidency.

The circumstances then and now are of course vastly different. But these two events, more than a generation apart, are scenes in a long and still-ongoing dramedy—the morphing of Philippine politics into its present form as a coda of Philippine entertainment.

Joseph Estrada’s placing 17th in the 1987 senatorial race (then a contest for 24 seats) is a modest showing from our perspective today. Yet it surprised, or perhaps alarmed, his elitist skeptics at the time, and prompted nothing less than Estrada’s courtesy call with President Cory Aquino.

His victory was a crack at the high wall of national politics—30 years after Rogelio de la Rosa’s election to the Senate in 1957—and it showed the way for his peers in showbiz to literally crowd the political arena, beginning with the Ramos presidency when Estrada became vice president.

Yet this tide from showbiz, a distinct phenomenon of post-Marcos democracy, has been a cycle of ebb and rise—colliding with that other current in the post-Marcos era, the momentum of civic vigilance that is a continuing legacy of the impassioned anti-Marcos protest movement.

This clash in the body politic would find its most volatile expression in Edsa Dos, the movement that aborted Estrada’s presidency, and in the riotous aftermath by Estrada’s masses that would be acknowledged, if grudgingly by some, as Edsa Tres.

In retrospect, these events played out in true showbiz fashion, as melodrama or teleserye in the widescreen of politics. This episode also changed, or reshaped, the electorate—including the masses, to be sure, but more so the conscientious if pedicured class.

Why their civic vigilance failed to unseat Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo much sooner than her decade-long (as they would say) misrule may be attributed to political fatigue, after they were grossly bummed out by the impunity of said rule and the betrayal of Edsa Dos.

It’s not that this and other sectors didn’t try to dethrone the most hated president after Ferdinand Marcos. The moment of collective redress finally came in 2010, with the election of Benigno Aquino III a resounding voice spiting GMA. 

Populism and showbiz

Equally telling was how the Second President Aquino signified a sea change, really, in the heretofore divided electorate. For this was a political heir who quite deviated from the classical politics of his family, who has a sister who is a big celebrity, and who embraces the populism now imparted to politics by the showbiz world.

Right upon his inauguration, Noynoy Aquino styled himself as “PNoy,” at once affirming the culture of jejemon, the youthspeak straight from Orwell that was the vogue in 2010 but has since been eclipsed by our country’s ever-changing cultural lingo. The message nevertheless is clear. Today’s political class thrives in populism, speaks and tweets jejenese and its further variations, not necessarily to the bemused horror of the departed Aquino matriarch.

PNoy himself is a grantee of showbiz, thanks to his not-so-little sister. But he has also become his own man, growing in his job as all his predecessors have, and maintaining his favorability with the electorate, even on the heels of such divisive issues as RH and the impeachment trial of Renato Corona.

These advantages of PNoy throw light into the significance of the 2013 race—because, like the President, Grace Poe, Loren Legarda and Chiz Escudero are not strictly speaking from showbiz. Yet they have secured and built on their standing through their affiliation with this field—and their mastery of this game.

From the vantage point of their candidacies, one is amazed to realize how far our politics has departed from its fogey past. And how much it has been permeated by the sensibilities of entertainment—like a metrosexual scent in this otherwise Alpha community—which is not at all to be dismissed as an insidious trend, but rather one that refines our politics in its evolving complexity.

Yet some facets of old-world politics remain, notably the continuity of the Aquinos and the Angaras and the Binays. 

To be sure, family interests also prevail in showbiz, in business (big and small), and in most other areas of society. It’s the preservation impulse among the ruling class at work. And it’s complicated to Sonny, perhaps, that he is an Angara, because his excellent credentials are surely not exclusive to his person.

Still, our political scene also sorely misses some of its larger-than-life families who have since gone into the twilight, notably the imperious Laurels. Perhaps it can be said that this family’s old-school politics is being carried on by their political kin, the Aquinos, who still accord with classicist ideals alongside their populist positioning. How far too they’ve gone, as opposed to the persecution and humiliation endured by their earlier generations.

Implication of Nancy’s victory

The issue of dynasties assumes its somber implications where it concerns not the Aquinos but the Binays, whose critics regard their lording over Makati as an omen of Jejomar Binay’s impending presidency and probably the death of the Fifth Republic.

Binay himself is a larger-than-life politician—the human-rights advocate-turned-virtual feudal lord of the country’s premier city no less—akin to the radical-turned-kingpin of Carlos Fuentes’s The Death of Artemio Cruz. But Binay’s rule is a sublime and charitable autocracy affirmed by the masses, in sharp contrast to the snooty disdain against this dusky family, right until Nancy Binay’s senatorial candidacy.

In a sense, her remarkable showing is a political version of Nora Aunor’s storming the mestiza-oriented showbiz scene in the Sixties.

Like Loren and Chiz, Nancy Binay is not of showbiz but thrives in its sphere, particularly the masa appeal that became a concrete factor with Estrada’s senatorial campaign a quarter of a century ago.

And like Bam Aquino, her counterpart in the administration ticket, she came from almost out of nowhere but immediately secured the voters’ rapport with her bankable surname—thus prompting the kaloka reaction of a natural pundit like Vice Ganda. 

Nancy Binay is surely as qualified for the Senate as Bam Aquino. This is the lofty stage, after all, that has borne witness to the full range of its diverse actors, from Claro M. Recto to Tito Sotto.

But to her father’s rivals, the most serious implication of Nancy Binay’s victory is the near-certainty of Jejomar’s destiny in 2016. How they hope to revise the future depends on their deft wielding of today’s kaleidoscopic politics. –


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