This article was originally published in the September 2003 edition of The LaSallian, the official publication of De La Salle University as my monthly column as editor.
Theater is an art sealed with passion, perfected with practice. So is politics. There’s really not much difference. Stage performers entertain their audience, while our dear politicians attempt to enchant the vote out of us with appalling dance numbers, lip syncs, and of course, the leery handshakes. The only difference really, is the entrance fee.
After the madness elicited by the ouster of actor-turned-president Joseph Ejercito Estrada, one would think that the government wouldn’t be graced with showbiz personalities (at least for a few terms or so). We would have thought that the people would be a little more wary in selecting and putting their trust in singing and camera-loving celebrities. Well, we thought wrong. The political limelight is still very much alive. In fact it is “burning” with a rumored more than 50 television stars, all vying or expressing their intention to run for public office in the congressional, city, and municipal levels in the 2004 May elections. The seeming avalanche of showbiz stars waiting for their poses taken not in the photo studios but in Malacañang is keeping the Filipinos highly aware of the upcoming elections. They surely wouldn’t want to abandon their idols now. No surprise there.
The Evolution. Politics is not far behind science and technology. If apes evolved to become homo sapiens. Philippine Politics has evolved to include just about anyone who could read and write. And had there been no age restriction, Judy Ann Santos would most probably be mayor of some forlorn city.
This evolution of roles started back in the 1930’s and heightened in the 1950’s when candidates started hiring movie actors and actresses to draw and hold crowds ridding of orators and practically eloquence. Who needed eloquence when you have a handful of beauties and bodies rubbing you just the way you like it? You go home with a few hundred pesos, sardines, autographs, and ask, “What platform?”
After presidential candidate Ramon Magsaysay introduced the common tao approach in election campaign, attempting to remedy his lack of articulation, people soon realized the importance of more than mere vocal campaign. Soon enough, politicians became more physically exposed to the general public. Now, it’s not much of a shock to see politicians and government officials cutting ribbons or representing as wedding sponsors, or even some sharing their sex life, sex escapades, and STDs to the public. Now, that’s what we call, bridging the gap!
The reign of showbiz. Entertainment was and still is the leading factor in winning an election. The politicians needed the entertainers to keep their audience interested lest they’d go running to the opposing candidate getting their meager share of “amusement”. The politicians couldn’t get enough votes without them, so they were the ones in demand. So, instead of being employed by the candidates, they got wiser and what came out was a new breed of politicians. Fresh from Mother Lily and Kuya Germs! You can’t get this anywhere but the Philippines!
If you still need more proof of what a showbiz studio Malacañang has become, here is an unofficial list of aspiring candidates for the upcoming elections: Fernando Poe, Jr. for President, Singer Imelda Papin for Congresswoman of Camarines Sur, Action Star Gary Estrada for Congressman of Quezon Province, Comedian Roderick Paulate for governor of Albay, Action star Rudy Fernandez for Quezon City Mayor, Actor-Singer Tirso Cruz III for Mayor of Las Piñas City, Actress Elizabeth Oropesa for Mayor of Guinobatan, Albay, etc. (the rest of the list could take up half this column).
Although a great number of them are well-educated and may have the leadership to run our country, the greater majority has proven to be ill-prepared and ineffective. We have started a new trend in politics. Out with the traditional politicians or trapo and on with the showbiz stars. If there had been a worse option, the Philippines might as well give up democracy. Maybe that’ll give Bush another reason to come parading along Roxas Ave. and maybe we’ll spend another few hundred millions or so. No big deal. At least he’ll wear a barong.
Perhaps the Filipino people could not anymore distinguish between reality and make-believe. You see Erap in protagonist role saving the world as Asiong Salonga in Leon ng Maynila and you think he’s just as good with politics. And now that his dear friend FPJ is said to be a presidential candidate, it will be no surprise that people would think Agimat could also save our country. This alone can trigger our distrust on our politicians and the stage show they might have caused our government to become.
If anything, our government has become one big carnival. In place of freak shows and your regular Houdinis, we have a better selection ranging from big-pocketed crooks, Jueting thieves, smuggling rich men, “schizophrenics” (if you called call someone with multiple identities and fortunately aware of it as such), and madmen or madwomen, all amassing our nonexistent wealth. Call them whatever you want. Any category could not better their decadence.
No final curtain. The line of distinction between politics and theater or showbiz in the Philippines is a thin one. Too thin in fact that sooner than we might expect, there will no longer be such a distinction.
Theater, arts, and showbiz are fields the Filipinos are renowned to excel in. However, politics is a whole different arena. It’s easy to pretend, to memorize and adlib scripts, to plaster superficial grins, and wear out your hand signing autographs. What we need are leaders who can keep their feet on the ground, people who care more than their diminishing sex life or the thinning crowd of fans.
We face not pretense and fantasies but reality and this reality not only bites. It stings. Kills. And this time, there will be no one yelling, “Cut!” and no final curtains are drawn.