Fame and family dominate senatorial race

Our latest one-part article dissects the composition of the current contenders for the Senate and projects what kind of Senate will likely be in place after the May elections.

The article says that the two main determinants of a Senate seat appear to be fame (i.e. celebrity status) and family. It starts off with two candidates — the oldest, Juan Ponce Enrile, 80, and Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., 37 — who represent the two poles of candidates. Enrile comes from a traditional political clan that has been in public office for three generations, while Revilla is from a new showbiz family.

The article was put together from a database collected by the PCIJ on all 48 senatorial candidates, and it describes various characteristics of the contenders: gender (mostly male), age (average age is 57), education (nearly half have a law degree), and geographical origin (63 percent were born in Manila and Luzon).

This means that the 13th Senate that will be inaugurated in June will likely not be different from its predecessor. The current Senate is mostly male (only three of the 24 senators are women) and middle aged (the average age in 2001 was 59). And law is the most preferred field of study among senators, with a third of them having law degrees.

In addition, 40 percent of the 12th Senate are either celebrities themselves or married to one. It is likely that the 13th Senate will be as filled with media and showbiz personalities as the current one.

It is likely that the 13th Senate that will be inaugurated in June will be no different from its predecessor — male-dominated, middle-aged, and as filled with media and showbiz personalities.
It is likely that the 13th Senate that will be inaugurated in June will be no different from its predecessor — male-dominated, middle-aged, and as filled with media and showbiz personalities.

JUAN Ponce Enrile, a two-term senator, billionaire businessman, ex-congressman, and former defense secretary, is 80 years old. He is the oldest among the 48 contenders vying for 12 Senate seats in May.

The youngest is the swashbuckling action star Ramon “Bong” Revilla, 37, a former Cavite governor who now wants to take over the Senate seat held for two terms by his father, action film star Ramon, who is already 77 years old.

In many respects, Enrile and Revilla are polar opposites, representing the two categories of candidates who want to make it to the 13th Senate of the Republic. On one pole are the old, traditional politicians trained mainly in law and belonging to political families. On the opposite pole are the celebrities whose national renown makes it possible for them to aim for a slot in the Senate.

Pilar Juliana “Pia” Cayetano, the 38-year-old daughter of the recently deceased Senator Renato “Rene” Cayetano straddles both poles. Born in Michigan, she is, like her father, both a lawyer and a talk show host. A political neophyte, her main claim to a Senate seat is that she is her father’s daughter.

She is not alone, indicating that a generational shift is taking place in the Senate, with parents making way for sons and daughters. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, another celebrity senatorial contender, makes much of the fact that his father Joseph was senator and president. Not that Erap was outstanding in either post, but the name recall and the former president’s residual popularity are boosting the poll ratings of Jinggoy, an actor and former mayor of San Juan, Metro Manila.

Even former trade secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas II, despite a campaign anchored on his being “Mr. Palengke,” also has commercials trumpeting the fact that his father was once senator and his grandfather, a former president.

Fame and family: These about sum up the main characteristics of those who want to be in the 24-member, nationally elected Senate, which is considered to be a training ground for future presidents. From independence up to the fall of Marcos in 1986, all but one of the presidents were lawyers and former senators. The exceptions were Ramon Magsaysay, a commerce graduate who became defense secretary and congressman before becoming president in 1953, and Diosdado Macapagal, who was the vice president of Carlos P Garcia, whom he later defeated in the 1961 presidential elections.

Platforms and performance seem to matter little in the race for Senate seats. So far, the poll surveys and the campaign commercials show that this year’s senatorial race is a contest that will largely be won by those who have lineage or celebrity — or both.

The incoming Senate, therefore, is likely to be a replica of the current one. Apart from family and celebrity, the present Senate is also a very wealthy one, with a quarter having assets of more than P100 million. In addition, it is mostly male (only three of the 24 senators elected in 2001 are women) and middle aged (the average age in 2001 was 59). And law is the most preferred field of study among senators, with a third of them having law degrees.

The profile of the current contenders is very similar. Most — 77 percent — are more than 50 years old. The average age is 57, although the minimum age for qualifying for the Senate is 35. The candidates are also mostly men (only 10 of the 48 are women). Moreover, 42 percent, or nearly one in every two senatorial candidates, has a law degree.

The great majority — 30 candidates or 63 percent — were born in either Metro Manila (25 percent) or Luzon (38 percent). In the current Senate, the proportion is 83 percent, with nine of the 24 senators having been born in Manila and 11 in Luzon, leaving the Visayas and Mindanao underrepresented in the Upper House.

Since 1946, the Senate has been the most powerful assembly of men and women in the country. Thus the composition of the Senate is the best indicator of the class, demographic, and other characteristics of the most exclusive section of the Philippine elite.

In the past, the premium was on family, with those who come from wealthy families that have been in public office for generations having the edge in senatorial races. With voters having to write out the names of candidates on a ballot, instead of ticking them from a list, or voting for parties rather than individuals, those with names associated with public office have traditionally performed better in the polls.

That remains true up to now. Yet since the fall of Marcos, celebrity status — whether from the cinema, television, or sports — has also been making the difference in senatorial elections. While the House of Representatives remains the bastion of local power and of families with a local political base, the Senate is a contested field where, at the moment, celebrity power dominates, easing out the traditional political clans and paving the way for the entry of new men and women to that most exclusive elite assembly.

Half of the members of the current Senate are still from political families. Unsurprisingly, 18 of the 48 senatorial contenders, or about 38 percent, have at least one relative in an elective post.

Five senatorial bets, in fact, have parents who were in the Senate themselves. The fathers of Bong Revilla, Estrada, Roxas, and Sergio “Serge” Osmeña III were senators, as was Amina Rasul‘s mother Santanina, who was elected in 1987 and 1992.

The grandfathers of Osmeña, 61, and Roxas, 46, were also senators, as were those of Didagen Dilangalen, 50, and Maria Ana Consuelo “Jamby” Madrigal, 46.

Meanwhile, the father-in-law of Senator Robert Jaworski, who also wants another term in the Upper House, is the outgoing senator Ramon Revilla.

Jaworski, however, is a celebrity in his own right, having been a star basketball player and coach before making a big leap to the Senate in 1998. He is one of the prime examples of the “celebritification” of that chamber, a trend that can be interpreted as the democratization of an exclusive body once reserved only for the wealthy, the well-born, or the intellectually brilliant. At the same time, though, this trend introduces a new kind of exclusivity in that most exclusive House: the exclusivity of stardom.

Judging from the poll ratings, it is likely that the 13th Senate will be as packed with celebrities as the outgoing one. Five contenders are from show business. Macho stars Bong Revilla, Jinggoy Estrada, and Lito Lapid are in the top 10, according to the latest Pulse Asia survey. Lower down in the ratings are actresses Boots Anson Roa and Pilar Pilapil.

In addition, three candidates are currently in broadcasting: Pia Cayetano, talk show host Jose “Jay” Sonza, and commentator-lawyer Melanio “Batas” Mauricio. Two are former broadcasters: Orlando Mercado and Eddie Ilarde. Three others are politicians who currently host or until recently hosted their own radio or TV chat shows: top contender and former Manila mayor Alfredo Lim, former senator Ernesto Maceda, and former Nueva Vizcaya Rep. Carlos Padilla.

In all, eight candidates, about 17 percent, are in broadcasting. These, together with the five showbiz contenders, add up to 14 wannabes from media and showbiz, or 30 percent of all candidates.

In the current Senate, nine senators (nearly 40 percent) owed their election to celebrity power, either because they were celebrities themselves or were married to one. Aside from Jaworski, these included Ramon Revilla and comedian/TV host Vicente Sotto III, TV anchors Noli de Castro and Loren Legarda (both of whom are now running for vice president), and the late TV host and lawyer Renato Cayetano.

Those who married into celebrity were lawyer Francis Pangilinan, whose wife is “megastar” Sharon Cuneta; former Batangas Rep. Ralph Recto, who married movie actress Vilma Santos; and medical doctor Luisa Ejercito, who is the spouse of action film star-turned-politician Joseph Estrada.

Thus, in the 12th Senate, the established clans have been eclipsed by newer showbiz-and-media-based political families like the Estradas, Revillas, and Cayetanos. But since Edsa I, yet other sources of senators have emerged: the military and the police, which now compete with big business and law. Each of these services has two “representatives” in the Senate: Rodolfo “Pong” Biazon and Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan for the military, and Robert Barbers and Panfilo “Ping” Lacson for the police. In the May elections, Biazon and Barbers are seeking reelection while Lacson is gunning for the presidency.

The likes of Biazon and Barbers already have a foot in the Senate door, if only because those who have held public office have better chances of being elected. Judging from past Congresses, neophytes rarely make it to the Upper House unless they have fame or family.

In the 12th Senate, there were few newcomers, as even the celebrities who had been elected to that body in previous years were by then on their second or third terms. The only really new faces elected to the Senate in 2001 were Noli de Castro and Loi Ejercito, again an indication that the new blood that is being infused into the Upper House comes from the world of celebrity. The others on their first Senate term were either from the House, like Joker Arroyo, or the military and police, like Lacson.

Unsurprisingly, 13 (27 percent) of the current crop of candidates are either incumbent and former senators, many of whom will likely be reelected, if only because of the name recall factor: Heherson Alvarez, Barbers, Biazon, Enrile, Ernesto Herrera, Ilarde, Jaworski, Maceda, Mercado, Osmeña, Aquilino Pimentel Jr., Miriam Defensor Santiago, and Francisco Tatad.

Five of the candidates are from the military or the police: Apart from reelectionists Barbers and Biazon, these are Alfredo Lim, Ramon Montaño, and Ismael Aparri.

Career-wise, senators tend to go up the ranks of public office. Thus, it is not surprising that 56 percent of this year’s contenders have held a government post. Apart from the former senators, 25 percent were former representatives and 27 percent were local officials. In addition, 38 percent held executive posts: Three were secretary of interior and local government (Barbers, Lim, and Pimentel); two were defense secretary (Enrile and Mercado); and two more headed the environment department (Alvarez and Maceda).

Wealth is another characteristic that sets senators apart. In the post-Marcos Congress, the net worth of senators is about 60 percent more than the average net worth in the House. In the current Congress, one in every four senators has assets of over P100 million, compared to only one in 10 representatives.

And while the business interests in the Senate are as diverse as the interests in the House of Representatives, most of the senators — especially those elected in more recent years — come from new wealth rather than old, as indicated by the relatively small percentage who own agricultural land. In comparison, nearly half of all representatives in the post-Marcos Houses own agricultural land.

Nearly all the senators — 75 percent in the 12th Congress — have interests in real estate, a much bigger proportion than in the House, where real estate is also the dominant interest. Only three senators in the 12th Congress did not declare any business interest.

Today’s senators are richer than their predecessors. The average assets of the members of the current Senate is P59.4 million, compared to only P32.9 million in the previous Senate.

In terms of education, all but two of the 24 current senators have college degrees, the exceptions being Blas Ople (recently deceased) and Sergio Osmeña III (John Osmeña‘s cousin), both self-taught men who are acknowledged to be among the most conscientious and well-prepared among the senators.

Similarly, the data currently available show that all but two of the 48 senatorial contenders have college degrees. The two candidates who finished only high school — actors Bong Revilla and Lito Lapid — are also likely to be among the newest senators of the land.

Unlike Ople and Osmeña, however, the two actors are less prepared for the legislative work ahead of them. They may have to lessen the swaggering and do a lot more homework if they want to catch up with their colleagues. — Sheila S. Coronel and Yvonne T. Chua with additional research by Vinia M. Datinguinoo and Avigail Olarte.

(For more information on senatorial and other candidates, log on to www.i-site.ph.)

Profile of 48 Senatorial Candidates

Average age 57
Male 38 79%
Female 10 21%
Member of political clans 18 38%
Civil status
Single 3 6%
Married 42 88%
Separated 2 4%
Widower 1 2%
Place of birth
Metro Manila 12 25%
Luzon (except Metro Manila) 18 38%
Visayas 7 15%
Mindanao 10 21%
Others (U.S.) 1 2%
No college degree 2 4%
Law 20 42%
Business and Economics 4 8%
Arts, Communication and Social Science 6 13%
Engineering and Science 4 8%
Medicine 2 4%
No data 10 21%
Government official 27 56%
º Senator 13 27%
º Representative/assemblyman 12 25%
º Local official 13 27%
º Executive/appointive 18 38%
º Police/military 5 10%
Showbusiness 5 10%
Broadcasting 8 17%

SOURCE: PCIJ research. See www.i-site.ph for more information on candidates

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