Today’s elections are not without romance. For the first time in a long time, it feels like the elections might actually make a difference, and that we might not merely be choosing from the same regurgitated batch of trapo (traditional politicians), liars and cheats, racking our brains for who might be the least among a number of evils. We need not choose among the latest scions of political families, or from those who have been released from prison for public theft and whitewashed back into respectability. We need not choose among those who would lie about their educational background and qualifications.
We might, astounding as it is to believe, actually have good choices at hand: a series of Davids to topple one Goliath and all he represents — or at least to oppose him, loudly and bravely, risking death or imprisonment. It isn’t so much that the Davids might be perfectly unblemished; it’s that the face of evil is worn by Goliath himself, and it has become necessary for a few to step into the role of heroes. And in this war we aren’t merely spectators, but have the power to arm and enable the opposers. What a change from the last three years of learned helplessness.
And so, in these political times when the line between good and evil seems quite clearly drawn, allegiance is everything. Those who fool themselves into thinking that it’s possible to remain apolitical are mistaken: these days, an appearance at a Malacañang dinner or a candidate’s rally is never just an appearance. No photo with the President is just a photo.
It’s been a refreshing few weeks of seeing celebrities fall out of favor with the youth because they’ve aligned themselves with the administration or with its candidates, or allowed themselves to appear so aligned.
From basketball players, to perfumers to actresses and TV hosts, there’s an entire group of celebrities who are still rallying after their fans’ collective disappointment in their senatorial, or even presidential, choices. Were these shows of support intentional? Financially motivated? Thoughtless and innocent — or perhaps willfully ignorant, deliberately deaf to context and to the sensibilities of those groups who have been harmed at the hands of these politicians? A product of coercion?
All these reasons except the last are inexcusable. Celebrity endorsers are free to make their choices, but never free from criticism or consequence. They shouldn’t get to treat real, legitimate issues like the drug war and extrajudicial killings as mere quirks or character flaws. They may not owe it to fans to explain personal choices, but the support of politicians is a public and performative act. Celebrities shouldn’t get to act like their appearances at the side of these candidates are mere coincidences.
People on social media comment on how ironic it is that we treat the search for the next Darna with more seriousness and with higher standards than our choosing of political leaders. Maybe it’s because we’ve been starved for choice, and have learned the unfortunate lesson that absolute power corrupts absolutely, and Filipino politicians are the most corrupt of all.
This doesn’t have to be the case anymore. We are able to vote for candidates who are educated and who clearly and loudly back humanitarian platforms, as opposed to falling back on song-and-dance routines, family names and personality politics. I will hold these candidates to a high standard, higher even than the Filipino icon for justice, Darna, and it must be said that celebrities in the public eye ought to be held to a certain standard as well. They may not be legislators or politicians but are, for better or for worse, influencers who may sway the tide one way or another. They have the power to show that they hear the voices of the disenfranchised or care about the struggle for women, the poor, minority groups and the LGBTQ+—or they can show that they don’t care about those who have been affected by conflict, human rights abuse or the bloody drug war. The choice seems pretty clear to me.
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