Personality politics in the Philippines

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — It's like fiesta every day during campaign season in the Philippines.

Posters and banners of candidates fill many streets while politicos turn into entertainers, singing and dancing on stage to convince voters to support them.

Sometimes, candidates invite celebrity guests to help them entertain the audience.

Former Special Assistant to the President Bong Go would always start his speech with a banter with actor Philip Salvador.

They would discuss Salvador's former romantic relationships, eliciting laughter from the audience.

Once they have the audience's attention, Go and Salvador would sing an old Filipino love song, with Go ending his performance with a profession about how much he loves the country.

Many politicians would also crack jokes to break the ice.

Senatorial candidate Jinggoy Estrada would often start his speech imitating his father, former President and now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada.

However, Jinggoy would also quickly add how many people would get disappointed when they see him instead of his father because they think he is not as good looking as the former President.

He would then deliver his punchline as charming as he can. "Pangit man akong tignan, masarap naman ako kung titikman (I could be ugly, but yummy)." The audience almost always finds this funny.

Once he has the audience's attention, Jinggoy Estrada would discuss how he was a victim of selective justice by the previous administration, and swear before hundreds of voters how he never stole public funds.

Estrada is facing plunder charges for his alleged involvement in the multibillion-peso pork barrel scam. He is currently out on bail.

Some candidates, however, need not break the ice nor bring a celebrity with them because their star factor is enough to make most members of the audience stand on their feet and give their loudest cheer the moment the candidates step on stage.

One of them is actor-politician Bong Revilla, who would always say how happy he is that many Filipinos still love him despite being incarcerated for three years.

"Akala ko hindi niyo na ko mahal. Akala ko, hindi nyo na ko titilian (I thought you don't love me anymore. I thought you're not cheering for me anymore)," Revilla would always tell his screaming supporters.

Like Estrada, Revilla was charged with plunder for his alleged involvement in the pork barrel scam. He was acquitted in December due to supposed lack of evidence.

Asked why they are cheering so loudly for Revilla, some members of the audience were quick to say, "siyempre gwapo," "ang gwapo gwapo kasi, saka mabait," and "idol po namin si Bong Revilla."

[Translation: Of course, handsome; He's so handsome and kind; Bong Revilla is our idol.]

With the warm welcome they are getting from the public, Revilla and Jinggoy are confident, they'll be able to return to the Senate.

Sociologist Clifford Sorita explained the timing is key on whether or not an issue would matter to the voting public.

"It's not that people don't care about the issue. It's no longer in the public consciousness sometimes, and therefore people tend to forget. And you know Filipinos, sometimes when we forget, we also tend to forgive right away," said Sorita.

Campaign strategist Malou Tiquia said 60 percent of voters are from socio-economic classes D and E, who, most of the time, vote based on personality and popularity.

Tiquia said those are also the people who resort to entertainment after a hard day's work, sometimes even confusing what's real from make-believe.

"Intelligent voters will never vote for artistas (actors) but the 60 percent of us will vote for them kasi kilala (they're popular), kasi endearing sila. Let's take the case of the artista who became president. We know in real life, hindi naman siya talaga mahirap pero yung (the person is not really poor but one's) career nya has been dedicated to portraying a role that tries to be with the poor, that tries to defend the poor," Tiquia explained.

Sorita said an ideal voter considers a candidate's platform and track record.

However, due to economic reasons, many voters don't have time to research about candidates – and end up voting based on name recall.

"It's not that people don't want to know these candidates. It's just because they have no time. Instead of doing research, they'd rather do their jobs, put food on the table, send children to school," Sorita said.

Top-of-mind on Election Day

From the get-go, Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HNP) senatorial bets have been delivering their campaign promises peppered with spectacles.

HNP senatorial bet Ronald dela Rosa believes people attend sorties to be entertained, rather than to listen to platforms.

"Ang mga tao na yan pumupunta diyan para sumaya. Kung mapapatawa yung mga tao diyan, gagaan na yung loob sayo. Hindi iyan makikinig, magdebate ka ng, magpresenta ka ng plataporma. Siguro makinig yan mga one to two minutes, after that, kung madami ka nang plataporma na sinasabi, kung anong gagawin mong batas, eh nambobola itong pulitiko na ito. Wala ito, walang kwenta ito puro ito salita walang gawa," dela Rosa said.

[Translation: The people attend to be entertained. If you can make them laugh, they loosen up. They won't listen if you debate an issue or present a platform. Perhaps they would listen for a minute or two, after that, if you have said several platforms and laws to enact, they think this politician is just pulling our leg. This one is useless, full of words, but no action.]

On the other hand, Otso Diretso senatorial bets opted to do a more somber house-to-house campaign, talking to voters about their primary concerns.

Magdalo Party-list Representative Gary Alejano said he hopes HNP bets would also discuss platforms aside from just delivering entertainment during sorties.

"Part lang yan (entertainment) nung hindi monotonous yung programa, nabibreak di ba, naeentertain ang tao kahit papano. Then balik tayo sa seryoso. Pwede yun. Pero pag ang kandidato na ang nagjujoke at hindi na sinasabi kung anong gagawin nya, parang hirap yun," argued Alejano.

[Translation: The entertainment is just part of it to break the monotonous program, and entertain the people. Then, go back to serious matters. That's possible. But, if the candidate is just joking and not saying what he/she plans to do, that's difficult.]

Tiquia explained with 62 senatorial bets competing for only 12 seats, it is very important for candidates to be on the top-of-mind of voters especially on election day.

"It's very easy to remember three things. It's kind of hard to start remembering seven things. Ano pa 12? Sa haba ng programa, kailangan magbibreak. Magstand out ka, maging top-of-mind (How much more for 12? A long program needs a break. You should stand out and become top-of-mind)," explained Tiquia.

She said singing, dancing and making people laugh or cry leave a significant mark to voters.

"Pag-alis ng tao sa kick-off rallies ng partido, sino pinag-uusapan? Ang pinaguusapan yung nagpatawa. Dahil napapagusapan, nagiging (Once they leave after the party's kick-off rallies, who are they going to talk about? The ones who made them laugh. Because they were talked about, they became) top-of-mind after the rally. That opens the mind of voters," Tiquia said.

Tiquia said educational attainment and impressive achievements used to matter to many voters, but not anymore.

"In various elections, we've really tried looking for a candidate that way. Someone we can respect and someone we can look up to. And look what happened to us. Bumaba ng bumaba ang antas (The level is going down) of the way voters would judge a candidate," Tiquia added.