Fame has a way of making opportunists of the newest of the new politicians.
Take the case of Senator Grace Poe Llamanzares, the adopted daughter of the late local film star Fernando Poe Jr. (FPJ).
FPJ ran for president in May 2004, but lost to re-electionist President Gloria Arroyo. Many voters believe that the election was rigged. Arroyo herself appeared on nationwide television to publicly admit and apologize for influencing an election commissioner during the campaign.
In December 2004, FPJ died of a stroke, probably out of frustration. His death sealed his status as a Philippine icon.
Before FPJ’s presidential run and in the two years following his demise, Grace Poe was virtually unheard of. She had resided abroad for some time, and had become a naturalized American citizen.
Grace Poe entered the political scene in October 2010, when the newly elected President Noynoy Aquino appointed her the chief of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board.
In 2013, Grace Poe tried her luck and ran for senator, using campaign propaganda highlighting her being the daughter of FPJ. Sympathy votes from the electorate who believed that her dad FPJ was cheated in the 2004 polls landed her in first place. I remember voting for her out of sympathy for her late father.
Alas! Landing first place in the senatorial election got to Grace Poe’s head. The political opportunist in her thought that if she could top the Senate race, then the presidency in 2016 should be a cinch — or so she thought.
Grace Poe’s presidential run, however, was doomed from the start.
Questions about her citizenship and her utter lack of practical political experience hounded her no end. Her flimsy campaign claim that the presidency is simply about being the mother of the nation, and her tacit admission about not knowing how to effectively deal with Chinese aggression in the West Philippine Sea, underscored her unsuitability for the presidency. She landed in third place, having lost to President Rodrigo Duterte.
In 2019, Grace Poe sought re-election to the Senate and expected a repeat of her first place victory in 2013. Poe landed in second place, next to first placer and re-electionist Senator Cynthia Villar, who obtained 3 million more votes than Poe did.
Midway in 2021, Grace Poe was obviously considering another run for the presidency, as seen in her many television commercials extolling her as a senator and as FPJ’s daughter. By August 2021, her commercials stopped running, which meant that her presidential ambition was not getting any public acceptance.
Poe’s term in the Senate ends in 2025, and from all indications, her political roadmap will be leading nowhere after that.
Another obvious political opportunist is Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso.
Moreno was Manila’s vice mayor from 2007 to 2016, and lost in his senatorial run in 2016. In 2019, and to everyone’s surprise, Moreno defeated the then re-electionist Manila mayor, ex-President Joseph Estrada.
One of the first projects of Moreno as the new mayor was to get rid of the sidewalk vendors along Recto Avenue in Divisoria. That highly publicized undertaking created a euphoria, which Moreno’s minions exploited to promote their boss, resulting in Moreno’s opportunistic ambition to become president in 2022.
By the summer of 2021, Moreno saturated the major television programs with his endless commercials praising him and his perceived achievements as Manila mayor, and suggesting in the process that he should be president.
Like Grace Poe before him, the political opportunist in Moreno is currently capitalizing on what he believes is his wide popularity. Unlike Poe, however, Moreno does not have a national constituency to his credit. Therefore, unless Moreno can duplicate President Duterte’s massive popular appeal in 2016, Moreno is in for a steep, uphill battle.
There are many issues now being raised against Moreno, including the extent of his real estate acquisitions, alleged ghost employees at city hall, and his suspected close ties to oligarchs.
Moreno has yet to explain who is paying for his costly television commercials, considering that his salary as city mayor is not enough to shoulder those expenses.
Critics also score Moreno for declaring his candidacy for president, while astutely remaining in office as city mayor. They suspect Moreno will use his post as city helmsman to finance his campaign expenses.
In sharp contrast to Poe and Moreno, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte has not exploited her immense popularity as a catapult to the presidency. Right now, Sara is reluctant to run for national office, and if she were to have her way, she will turn down the clamor of the people for her to run for president.
Unlike Poe and Moreno, Sara Duterte is not a political opportunist. For many, that is a good-enough reason why Sara should run for president, and win.
Exploiting claim to poverty
Pacquiao and Moreno are guilty of these.
Poverty alleviation is always part of every traditional politician’s platform. He promises a solution to the poverty problem, but once elected, he reneges on that campaign promise.
Many traditional politicians focus their campaign on their humble origins as poor folks who were industrious enough to improve their economic status.
By portraying themselves to the electorate as dirt poor in their youth, then as hardworking individuals early on, to the success story that they are today, these traditional politicians want the masses, who compose the bulk of the voters, to identify with them, and in the end, to vote them to office.
Senator Manny Pacquiao’s political advertisements on television are on point.
Aside from emphasizing that he is a boxing champion (although he is now a has-been), which has no bearing on one’s competence in public office, Pacquiao’s commercials remind the electorate that Pacquiao was once so impoverished that there were times when he went to sleep on the sidewalk, hungry and dejected.
When asked about his qualifications for seeking the presidency, Pacquiao replies, “Bakit, naranasan mo na bang magutom?” (“Why, have you ever experienced hunger?”)
Pacquiao’s hypothesis is that if a public official knows how it is to be hungry once, then he will know how to address the problem of poverty in the country. HIs problem, however, is in his populist attitude. He believes that by constantly donating food to the impoverished, the poverty problem is solved — period.
At best, Pacquiao’s idea is a temporary remedy. His strategy will only create a mendicant society in lieu of responsible citizenship. Pacquiao’s campaign pledges are designed only to get votes in the coming elections, and not for seriously addressing social woes beyond the electoral horizon.
While Pacquiao likes to remind the voters that he was once poor and hungry, he is suspiciously quiet about the extent of his wealth, accumulated mainly through his prize money from boxing matches, advertising endorsements, and his undeserved salaries and allowances as an absentee congressman and senator.
Today, the once-poor Pacquiao owns plenty of very valuable real estate, including a luxurious mansion on the billionaires’ row that is Forbes Park in Makati. He owns numerous luxury vehicles, and his family lives an ostentatious lifestyle. The guy continues to rake in money from his advertising endorsements, and has big time business investments.
All that luxury actually conveys the message that a poor person who eventually becomes very wealthy, will inevitably become ostentatious.
In the political community, there is a saying in Tagalog that “(A)ng matagal nang gutom, kapag nasa kapangyarihan at kumakain na ay di basta-bastang aahon.” (“A person who has been hungry for so long, once in power, his banquet will be prolonged.”)
Another presidential candidate, Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso, provides a similar example.
For the past two months, Moreno’s early campaign commercials have been broadcast daily in the major television networks. His self-praising commercials have one common message — Moreno was once a poor boy from the slums who ate left-over restaurant food, but because he persisted in finishing his studies and got employed after that, he has achieved what seemed like the impossible.
The “poor boy” strategy employed by Pacquiao is apparent in Moreno’s commercials; the only difference is that each of Moreno’s commercials shows him wearing eyeglasses and a college graduation toga, apparently to suggest that he is a scholar.
As I mentioned in a last week’s essay, Moreno has been spending millions on his campaign advertisements, which are aired throughout the day on the major television networks. The production and broadcast costs of those commercials are gigantic.
Moreno has been Manila mayor for only two and a half years. HIs salary for that period is not enough to pay for those commercials. He lost in the 2016 senatorial elections. Where then does he get all those millions to pay for those advertisements? How does Moreno plan to recover those expenses? If some vested interest groups are financing him, how will Moreno return their favors once he becomes President?
The mayor’s critics say that there are complaints from officials at Moreno’s Manila City Hall regarding ghost employees and unliquidated expenses.
Moreno also has a large house in the upscale section of Alabang in Muntinlupa City. It looks like he isn’t the poor boy he likes to portray himself to be.
Pacquiao and Moreno remind me of ex-President Diosdado Macapagal, who liked to be called “the poor boy from Lubao” (in Pampanga). Macapagal lived in Forbes Park after his presidency.
Please don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong about starting poor and ending up successful. I am, however, disgusted by politicians who want to project the image that they are from humble beginnings and that they continue to live humble, simple lives, when the truth is otherwise.
Louis Biraogo is a lawyer and a columnist of Manila Standard’s “Citizen Barok”. He has established a reputation for invoking citizen action to protect the public interest and actual filing of cases in the judiciary, the most prominent of which assailed the constitutionality of President Noynoy Aquino Executive Order No.1, creating the Philippine Truth Commission, 1 asserting it threatens the independence of the Office of the Ombudsman, and violates the principle of equal protection. He now works under the Presidential Adviser on Political Affairs.