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May. 9 2010 - 1:13 am | 137 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

Celebrity Politics on Steroids: Welcome to the Philippines

What’s the most stunning tribute to has-beens in the world of tv, film and politics?

Is it Dancing with the Stars? Celebrity Apprentice? Battle of the Network Stars?

Throw all those programs together, and you’ve got some idea of what the May 10 Philippines election looks like – 50 thousand candidates going for 17 thousand posts in national, senate, congressional and local polls. The top contenders:

Imelda Marcos. Dusting away the cobwebs from the section of one’s mind dedicated to the Reagan years, one might recall Marcos, wife of deposed dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who shot to infamy for the number of shoes she owned. Her nearly 3 thousand pairs of pumps, which she traveled around the world to purchase in her tenure as First Lady, were considered excessive when millions of Filipino people were living in poverty.

Not acquainted with shame, Marcos opened a museum to her shoe collection in 2001.  She’s running for House of Representatives.

Former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada has also thrown his hat back in the ring for president. A B-movie hero with a Robin-Hood-Meets-Gangster-Cool appeal, Estrada was renowned for his “midnight cabinet” –  drinking sessions with his buddies that lasted until the wee hours while the affairs of state went whooshing by with little apparent notice.

That drinking, it seems, took place on the government’s dime – as did a great many other things. Estrada was convicted in 2006 of plunder and perjury and sentenced to life in prison.

As a film star, Estrada is the only Filipino presidential candidate with an IMDB page.  Spoiler alert! He beats the bad guy and wins the girl’s heart in the end.

But that does have the ring of truth to it. After a mere six weeks in jail, Estrada was pardoned by another of this week’s candidates…

Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. As president, Arroyo’s tenure of the past 9 years has been plagued by in-fighting, plus allegations of vote-rigging and willful ignorance of horrific political violence.

A presidential brat, Arroyo is the daughter of the late President Diosdado Macapagal – putting her in Asia’s so-called “Widows and Orphans Club” – the collection of Asian leaders who’ve come to power thanks to the names of their (often assassinated) parents or spouses.  Don’t believe me? Look it up:  Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Burma….

With the possible exception of 80’s music, this election suggests, there’s nothing Filipinos love more than a dynasty.

Which brings us to another possible heir to the presidential palace:  Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino, son of Senator Benigno Aquino Sr. and President Cory Aquino, who swept to power in 1986 following her husband’s assassination and the fall of  Marcos.

Alas, Aquino’s resume as a senator and his charisma appear to be lacking – as does his sense of irony.

“I want to make democracy work not just for the rich and the well-connected, but for everybody,” Aquino said – after announcing that, inspired by the death of his mother, he wants to build on the democracy established by his mother; a declaration made in the same building his mother was sworn into office.

And Aquino may just win – because that’s what it appears Philippines politics really is: the fine art of cashing in on whatever links one may have to celebrity, no matter how tenuous.  Just like Dancing with the Stars, Celebrity Apprentice and Battle of the Network Stars.


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    About Me

    I'm a freelance journalist and writer who has recently returned to the US after 17 years living overseas, primarily in Southeast Asia.

    In 1992, I went to Cambodia – then at the height of the UNTAC peacekeeping mission - to cut my teeth on journalism.

    ….I was in Hong Kong, for the 1997 Handover to Chinese rule; and then it was off to

    …..Indonesia - for the fall of President Suharto in 1998, through the the reformasi movement; the East Timor conflict, its independence ballot and peacekeeping mission; the fallout from September 11th in “the world’s most populous Muslim nation” and the Bali bomb, and myriad points in-between during a five and a half year span;

    …. and onwards to India, where I was Voice of America radio/television correspondent for South Asia between 2003 and 2006, which included rotations in Afghanistan and Iraq, along with my “patch” of India, including Kashmir; Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bangladesh.

    I’ve freelanced my way in and out of Bosnia, Burma, Egypt, the Philippines, Pakistan, Thailand. I’ve also filed out of Vietnam and Malaysia.

    My name is Mary Patricia Nunan, and I vastly prefer “MP.” If you’ve heard me on the radio or seen me on tv – NPR, VOA, CBC, BBC or others -- it would have been as “Patricia Nunan.” I’ve never had much use for the “Mary.”

    See my profile »
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    Contributor Since: August 2009
    Location:New York City