14 MARCH 2007


us your views and comments about this article.

Or discuss it in our blog.










 i    R E P O R T  —  T H E   S E V E N   M s   O F   D Y N A S T Y   B U I L D I N G


RAMON Revilla was not a great actor, but he won three terms in the Senate because of his popularity as an action-film star. [photo courtesy of Malaya]
This is a recent addition to the arsenal of weapons available for dynasty building. Since the 1990s, celebrity power has been able to eclipse clan power, at least in some areas. This has left many families scrambling for the glitter and glamour of media or showbiz if only to heighten their electoral appeal. In the past, politicians merely hired entertainers to draw in the crowds: Today the entertainers themselves are running for office, shaking the complacency of political families and forcing them to reinvent themselves to be more acceptable to a media-inundated and celebrity-crazed electorate.

In some instances, scions of political families have married celebrities. In 2002, Negros Occidental Rep. Julio 'Jules' Ledesma IV walked down the aisle with the stunning movie star Assunta de Rossi in a televised ceremony at his hacienda. Ledesma is a descendant of some of the wealthiest Negrense sugar-planter clans. He is also related to the Lopez family that owns ABS-CBN and is a nephew of former Negros Rep. Hortensia Starke.

Earlier, Batangas representative and now Senator Ralph Recto wed popular movie actress Vilma Santos in 1992, a marriage that helped catapult the third-generation legislator (his grandfather was the nationalist Senator Claro M. Recto and his father Rafael was a member of the Batasang Pambansa) to the Senate. Other celebrity marriages of political clans in the House include those of Negros Occidental Rep. Carlos Cojuangco, son of San Miguel Corp. chairman Eduardo 'Danding' Cojuangco, to the late actress Rio Diaz, and that of Antonio 'Tonyboy' Floirendo to former Miss Universe and TV host Margie Moran. There is also Senator Francis 'Kiko' Pangilinan, husband of megastar Sharon Cuneta, who is now gunning for reelection as an independent.

Short of marrying celebrity, some politicians go into the media or the movies themselves.

Several host talk shows on radio or television. Ilocos Norte Rep. Imee Marcos once anchored an entertainment talk show on popular radio station DZBB. The fourth-generation legislator has also made cameo appearances on TV soaps and comedies, and is a fairly regular guest on talk shows, where she expounds not only on politics, but also on the talents of her ramp/commercial model son Borgy and the latest exploits of her mother Imelda. No doubt, she calculates that the showbiz glitz can help put the shine back on the tarnished Marcos name.

Lawyer Renato Cayetano, who died in 2003, was elected to the Senate in 1998 mainly because he hosted a popular radio and TV talk show where he dispensed free legal advice. Cayetano was not exactly a shining star of the legal profession. Far from it — he spent more time in coffeeshops than courtrooms, his skills honed in dealmaking rather than litigation. Yet his programs projected him as a skilled lawyer who helped ordinary folk. This media projection became the foundation of the Cayetano dynasty. Riding on his father's media-manufactured reputation, Alan Peter Cayetano won a House seat representing Taguig-Pateros in 1998, 2001, and 2004. He is now running for the Senate. His younger brother Rene Carl was elected Muntinlupa councilor in 2001 and 2004, while older sister Pia, who replaced their father in the radio show "Compañero y Compañera," won a six-year stint at the Senate in 2004.

Those who were already media or movie celebrities before entering politics have a decided advantage as far as name recall is concerned. They can then leverage this asset to ensure they and their kin hold on to public office. Thus, showbiz dynasties have emerged. These, however, have been more successful in their bids for national, rather than local or district, office. In part, this is because name recall is of paramount importance when vying for national positions, while money and machinery often matter more in local or district elections. The more successful showbiz clans, though, have been able to win both national and local posts.

JOSEPH Estrada, shown here campaigning in 1998, won the presidency by a big margin. Riding on his movie-star fame, his wife and son were eventually elected to public office. [photo courtesy of Malaya]
The most prominent among them are the Ejercitos: Movie star Joseph Estrada was a long-time San Juan mayor before being elected to the Senate in 1987 and to the presidency in 1998. Soon after his ouster in 2001, his wife Luisa or 'Loi' won a Senate seat and his son (by another woman) Jose Victor or 'JV' became San Juan mayor. In 2004, eldest son (by Loi) Jose or 'Jinggoy' was also elected senator, resulting in the Senate's first time to have a mother-and-son tandem.

There was a time that the Revillas were in the Senate and in local government in Cavite. Three-term senator Ramon Revilla's son, the movie actor Ramon Jr. or 'Bong,' was elected Cavite vice governor in 1995 and governor in 1998. Bong replaced his father in the Upper House in 2004. Another son (the actor has more than 80 children with many wives), Edwin 'Stryke' Revilla, was on the Cavite provincial board from 1998 to 2004.

The senator's son-in-law, Robert Jaworski, is a sports celebrity, a former basketball player and coach who was elected to the Senate in 1998 and 2001. Jaworski's son Robert Jr. or 'Dodot' married Mikee Cojuangco, the daughter of former Tarlac Rep. Jose 'Peping' Cojuangco and former Tarlac Gov. Margarita 'Tingting' Cojuangco. Mikee, a former actress and champion equestrienne, was herself once a member of the Sangguniang Kabataan in Tarlac. Husband Dodot, became representative of Pasig City in Congress in 2004, but is said to be now eyeing the Pasig mayoralty.

Those who do not have direct access to media and celebrity make do with ensuring they get good media coverage. This is especially true for those who come from urbanized districts whose constituents are more thoroughly exposed to the media than those in the rural areas. This is also true for those whose ambitions go beyond their districts or beyond the House of Representatives, and so need national exposure via the media so they can vie for higher office.

Third-generation legislator Manuel Roxas II, a two-term Capiz representative who was President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's trade secretary, used clever TV advertising and maximum media visibility in preparation for his Senate run in 2004. Such exposure entails money as the cost of television advertising is prohibitive (in 2003, the top price for a 30-second placement on primetime TV was P130,000). In addition, politicians often give under-the-table payments for journalists in exchange for favorable coverage.


In medieval times, marriages were used to consolidate kingdoms and expand empires. In the same way, political marriages consolidate political networks and expand the reach of clans. The marriage of Benigno Aquino Jr. and Corazon Cojuangco in 1954 united two of the most powerful political clans in Tarlac. That same year, Ilocos Sur Rep. Ferdinand Marcos wed Imelda Romualdez after a whirlwind 11-day courtship. It was considered a master political stroke for the ambitious Marcos, as the Romualdez clan was influential in Congress-Imelda's cousin Daniel was then Speaker pro tempore and her uncle Norberto was once House Speaker. For a politician like Marcos — who had presidential ambitions and already had support from the Ilocano-speaking provinces of Northern Luzon — a Visayan bride, especially a looker like Imelda who came from a political clan in a part of the country where he had little influence, was an invaluable asset.

IMEE Marcos is the product of a marriage that united two political clans from different parts of the country. [photo by Ben Razon/PCIJ]
Families whose members marry astutely are able to pool various assets together to enhance their political chances. For example, real-estate entrepreneur Manuel Villar Jr. married into a political family, the Aguilars of Las Piñas, whose political experience and electoral machine helped him win a seat in the House in 1992. Using the Aguilar political machine, Villar took over the seat held by his father-in-law Filemon in the Eighth House. Villar's businesses benefited from his political clout — several laws benefiting real-estate companies were passed in the House during his term and he also successfully weathered a congressional inquiry into government financing for his housing projects. When he reached his three-term limit, Villar, who was Speaker of the 11th House, made a bid for the Senate while his wife Cynthia took over the House seat once held by her father and her husband. Villar is now seeking a second term in the Senate.

The political career of Jose de Venecia Jr., who was House Speaker from 1992 to 1998 and again from 2001 to 2004, was also launched through marriage. His first wife was the daughter of Pangasinan political kingpin Eugenio Perez, who represented the province's second district from 1928 to 1957 and was the powerful Speaker of the House from 1946 to 1953. With the help of the Perez machine, de Venecia succeeded in his first foray in politics in 1969, when he won a House seat representing his father-in-law's district.

In the past, political families tended to marry into wealth (Sergio Osmeña Sr. married a wealthy Veloso from Cebu while Gerardo Roxas married into the sugar-planter Aranetas of Negros Occidental). Many political clans also tend to intermarry: The Aquino-Cojuangco and Marcos-Romualdez marriages are the classic examples.

Of late, however, some of the clans have married into celebrity (see above). This is because celebrities bring in the vote, and the appeal of a family name is enhanced by the glitter of showbiz.

Click here for more!

Email us your comments about this article, or post them in our blog.

Copyright © 2007 All rights reserved.