Written by: Eve
Edited by: Martin
Visual by: Mischka
The Philippines has long been ruled by a few central families, political dynasties with household last names and voter bases as loyal and generational as the families themselves—Aquino, Marcos, Arroyo, Duterte, Binay and Roxas. Though, in recent years, a new group has infiltrated this exclusive political stage; celebrities. According to Rappler, 35 Filipino show business personalities are running for local and national office in the 2022 elections, raising controversy and criticism surrounding their motivations and qualifications in this new career path. Recently, Rappler posted a questionnaire asking followers for their opinions about their favorite celebrities running for office. While Rappler is a liberal news source with like-minded followers, the answers gave interesting insight into voters’ opinions, raising real concerns about the ethics of celebrity politicians.
Most responses were united in their criticism, as one Instagram user stated, “the Philippines should not be a playground for the rich and famous,” while another shared, “I feel like they are only acting on screen when they run for public office.” One questioned celebrities’ use of “social capital” to claim eligibility and worthiness of positions with such large responsibility and implications for their constituents. A Twitter user identified voter responsibility as the key issue rather than the candidates themselves, saying, “people don’t understand the power of their vote.”
The issue of qualification has also appeared to be a glaring criticism of celebrity politicians. This becomes especially clear when considering the difference in job requirements between, say, acting or boxing, or entertaining and running for political office. One user outlined the extent of qualification beyond credentials, asking, “ is he/she qualified? Not just intellectually, but morally, emotionally, even physically”. This response brings into question, what exact qualifications and criteria are necessary for one to enter the political field? Do elite private school and university degrees qualify one to govern, and how does this perpetuate the currently indistinguishable relationship between wealth and decision-making power? Critically, does this imply an elitist and hierarchical system?
The distribution of power and wealth and its impact on the national economy is a concern of those against the monopolizing political dynasties. However, considering the industry and society connections between the rich and famous, celebrity and former first daughter Kris Aquino being a prime example, what makes celebrity candidates any different? Qualifications and intentions aside, representation should be the key evaluating factor. In her essay for Rappler, “Dear Political Dynasty”, politics journalist Isabel Lacson-Estrada describes the Philippine government as “anemic from lack of representation from the mid to lower economic classes,” outlining the loss of the “dynamism we can expect from diversity.” Dynasties and celebrities’ mere existence in power may be fundamentally unethical because of the limited perspective they provide. Lacson-Estrada explains that this is not for lack of empathy, but rather experience and firsthand knowledge of the hardships that the other 99% of the population faces; debt, food insecurity, access to education and medical services and vulnerability to natural disasters, to name a few. The analogy Estrada uses succinctly illustrates the dangers of power exclusive to the upper echelons of Philippine society. “The importance of diversity in governments, schools, and corporations is fundamentally comprehensible because it mirrors nature; the inbred emerge damaged or incompatible with life. Our politics, in a way, is becoming more inbred and is falling sick with it.” It contradicts the notion of People Power that was so valiantly fought for in the eras of Marcos and Erap, and that is so highly revered by the Filipino people today.
Wealthy, dynastic, and celebrity political candidates are comparable on many levels, as they contribute to the same critical underlying issue—they exacerbate and perpetuate the fundamental model of inequality that supports their dominance. If we are to question the ethics of celebrity candidates, we must also scrutinize the political system as a whole, a successive dynastic system in itself that widens the wealth gap by placing money and power in the hands of kin; members of the upper class who have and will continue to control the direction of policy and governance will hinder the nation’s ability to progress and develop as one.
Lacson-Estrada, Isabel. “[Opinion] Dear Political Dynasty.” RAPPLER, 10 May 2021, https://www.rappler.com/voices/imho/opinion-dear-political-dynasty/.
Rappler. “Does It Bother You When Your Favorite Celebrity Runs for Public Office?” RAPPLER, 28 Oct. 2021, https://www.rappler.com/entertainment/celebrities/does-it-bother-you-favorite-celebrity-runs-public-office/.