“What’s right isn’t always popular. What’s popular isn’t always right.” Howard Cosell
By Alex P. Vidal
Because of their showbiz background, jailed senators Bong Revilla and Jinggoy Estrada were once upon a time more popular than Senate President Frank Drilon and Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago–even in Western Visayas, the bailiwick of the two Ilonggo legislators.
In 2004, during the campaign period in Iloilo, Aklan, Antique, Capiz, Negros, and Guimaras, shrieking fans mobbed both actors, kissed and embraced them, danced with them on stage like rock stars and cult leaders.
“Mga pare tulungan ninyo si Bong. Kailangan natin siya sa senado (Friends let’s help Bong. We need him in the senate),” outgoing senator Ramon Revilla, Sr., Bong’s father, appealed to us while he was inside a car during a political rally at the Plazoleta Gay in downtown, Iloilo City.
Even without Nardong Putik’s appeal, the Kapitan would have still won by an overwhelming margin. The bakya crowd was unstoppable and they believed only their big screen idol Bong Revilla could snatch them away from dire straits.
Most of the 253,934 voters in this city’s 180 barangays and the province’s 941,380 voters from 1,721 barangays lived in slums and far flung rural areas where screen actors and actresses are adored and idolized like kings and queens.
These are the places where voters normally don’t care about the educational background and competence of candidates for national and local offices, thus they cast their votes based on name recall and popularity.
Since many of them are hooked on telenovelas, soap operas and showbiz scandals and entertainment–plus the fact that only a handful of them read the newspapers and monitor political events on TV and radio–Bong Revilla, 47, and Jinggoy Estrada, 51, who starred in hundreds of action and drama flicks, are instant hits in these areas.
If the jailbirds will run for higher offices in 2016 (granting that they will be exonerated in the plunder charges they are facing for allegedly pocketing hundreds of millions of people’s money in pork barrel scam), their lesser-known rivals could end up eating the dust, given the electorate’s myopic mentality.
In fact, Revilla (19,513,521 votes garnered) and Estrada 18,925,925 votes) topped the 2010 senatorial elections where Santiago (17,344,742 votes) and Drilon (15,871,117 votes), both prides of Iloilo City, wound up third and fourth, respectively. Juan Ponce Enrile (15,665,618 votes), the third senator expected to join Revilla and Estrada soon at Camp Crame custodial center, was fifth.
Former interior and local government undersecretary Narciso Santiago, husband of the 69-year-old feisty Iloilo senator, lamented to us at the Sarabia Manor Hotel and Convention Center that even Hollywood stars can never beat the Marcoses in Ilocos. “Ilocanos are solidly behind the Marcoses especially during the national elections,” fumed Santiago, the senator’s former classmate in the College of Law before they became husband and wife. “But here in Iloilo, they are not united. Miriam even lost (in her reelection bid for senator in 2001) because Iloilo failed to deliver the needed votes for her.”
This was when Senator Santiago was smarting from her “lowest” popularity for being a staunch defender of then scandalized and eventually ousted President and now Manila Mayor Erap Estrada.
Let’s hope sweetheart Narciso did not forget to thank the Ilonggos when they gave his beloved wife a resounding victory when she staged a comeback in 2004 and in 2010 (her term as senator expires in 2016).
Lest sweetheart Narciso forgets, the Ilonggos nearly installed honey Miriam into presidency in 1992. What most of us still remember is that the sudden power blackout during the canvassing of votes dashed all our dreams to pieces.