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Philippine Election Sees Reversal of Fortune for Some Celebrity Candidates


International boxing champion Manny Pacquiao can deliver a knockout in the ring, but in the Philippine political arena the super featherweight appears headed for a loss. Preliminary returns from national elections show that being a celebrity, once a sure vote getter in the Philippines, is no longer enough to win over the public. Douglas Bakshian reports from Manila.

Unofficial returns show Manny Pacquiao losing by almost a two-to-one margin in South Cotabato province to incumbent representative Darlene Custodio, who is from an established political family.

Pacquiao, popularly known as "Pacman," is a folk hero in the Philippines and his candidacy for a congressional seat in Monday's election was seen as a good test of popularity versus substance.

Several other celebrity candidates also appear to be losing. Exit polls show actors Cesar Montano and Richard Gomez will not likely be among the 12 winning senators. In the race for mayor of Makati, the capital's financial district, incumbent Jejomar Binay has defeated Senator Lito Lapid, a former movie star.

Ramon Casiple of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reforms says the message for candidates is clear.

"Pure or simple popularity will not any more be a big factor," he said. "It will still be an important factor in the sense that it will help your candidacy, but you cannot run any more on just popularity."

The role of actors in Philippine politics got a big boost in 1998, when former action star Joseph Estrada was elected president with the largest margin in the country's history. His victory was seen as a revolt by common citizens against the political and economic elite who run the country.

But President Estrada was forced out of office by a popular rebellion, and he is now awaiting a court verdict on corruption charges.

Casiple says this experience took away much of the glitter of stars in office.

"The change started during President Estrada's time when his government was basically seen by the people as one of the worst in terms of governance," he said. "And in fact it precipitated what we call now, the EDSA people power two."

The original people power movement threw out dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.

Analysts say the spirit of people power is still alive but voters have become cynical, because the recent leaders they put in power failed to carry out promised economic and social reforms.

Casiple says there is growing maturity among Filipinos in assessing candidates.

"If you are talking platform and program, it is not on that level. But if you are talking distinguishing between sheer popularity and the voters' perception of their capability for office, then I think the voters are mature enough now," he added.

There is one prominent actor-turned-politician who appears to be doing well in the recent vote, but she has accomplishments in office as well as on the screen. Vilma Santos completed three terms as a town mayor and was known for making improvements in public health, education, infrastructure and the economy. She now appears headed for a win as the governor of Batangas province.