Film star cast as winner in Filipino poll

Joseph Estrada has used his heroic screen persona to win the votes of the poor, reports . Stephen Vine

MANILA - It's hot, it's noisy, the main attraction is running about five hours late, the singers have belted out their all, the comedians have frolicked and the break dancers have, well, broken. Welcome to a typical Philippines election rally.

No one can accuse Filipinos of not enjoying their democratic system of government. They vote in large numbers, accept piles of cash for doing so and attend rallies with the sort of enthusiasm normally reserved for pop concerts. This, in part, is because Philippines political rallies are pop concerts and because Filipinos just love to be around celebrities. There are even some who are keen on politics.

After more than three years of campaigning the Philippines presidential election is gushing into the home run before voters go to the polls on Monday. All the hot money, and some of it is very hot indeed, is on Vice- President Joseph Estrada romping home to victory.

Mr Estrada, more usually known as Erap, is a former movie star who meandered across the silver screen playing the little guy fighting for justice against the big, bad guys. His campaign, under the slogan "Erap for the poor", mirrors his screen persona but with slightly more drama. On a typically clammy night this week Erap made his way to a rally in the down- at-heel town of Valenzuela, just north of the capital Manila. The audience were Erap's sort of people. Mainly poor, not vastly sophisticated and eager for entertainment.

Not only are Filipinos electing a new president they are also going to the polls to fill 17,505 other local and national positions. Over 100,000 candidates are involved in this process. Local rallies give the hoi polloi a chance to mingle with the big league candidates. They provide the warm up acts. What is striking is that none of them uses notes, nor appear at a loss for words as they stomp around the stage extolling their achievements and the considerable merits of their team mates. The absence of a script may be explained by the lack of requirement to remember little policy details, because these are never mentioned. Instead the candidates pledge to "serve the people", or "stand up for the poor", or "fight corruption" and, of course, "love the Philippines".

Candidates running for the Congress or the Senate like to make a splashy entrance at these rallies and are announced with the accompaniment of their campaign theme songs. Reuben Torres has harnessed Village People's "YMCA" to his campaign, Senator "Bong" Biazon, a man of military bearing, has appropriated "Colonel Bogey" while Erap makes an entrance to "Ob- la-di-ob-la-da".

The speeches almost always begin with a long recitation of the names of the local candidates running on the ticket and a special mention for the mayor, especially if he or she happens to be in office. They know that the mayors control the vote-gathering machine and hand out both the rewards and punishments to the long list of lower-grade officials who depend on city hall for preferment.

At the Valenzuela rally the candidate everyone was waiting for was Erap. The hefty former matinee idol was clearly whacked. It was comfortably after midnight before he slowly mounted the stage.

The enthusiasm of the crowd mounted. "Erap, Erap", they chanted as he slumped into a plastic seat. Another singer was wheeled out to belt out a couple of numbers. Finally the great man rose, clutched the lectern and was transformed as he soaked up the energy of the crowd. The old stager hadn't lost it. He hunched over the lectern and gave his winsome smile made self deprecating remarks and then got into his stride. Long on promises and short on details, he made it clear that an Estrada administration will be tough on corruption, tough on crime, good to the poor and, well, better all round.

The routine goes down like a warm, comforting syrup. The bits the crowd really like are when he makes jokes about his poor English, which is not really as poor as he makes out, but mirrors their own frustration coping with the language bequeathed by the American colonialists, which remains an official language of the nation.

Erap proves that he is one of the people, sharing their difficulties in dealing with the English speaking rich and powerful but shrugging it off with a joke. The election is not supposed to be a joke but it becomes a bit more manageable when viewed as such.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Hire Manager - Tool Hire

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is seeking someone w...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago