THIS HAS become one star-studded election season, but few are under the delusion that artistas have suddenly been seized by profound political or social consciousness.
Longtime observers of the showbiz industry say it’s really mostly about money. “There’s not much principle involved,” says entertainment columnist Isah Red. “Usually, the talent manager handles the deal so the celebrity endorses (a politician) and there’s quid pro quo. But of course, no one will categorically admit that it’s like that.”
Yes! Magazine editor in chief Jo-Ann Maglipon shares Red’s observation. She also says that in general, it is the politicians who seek endorsement from celebrities and not celebrities who go out of their way to voluntarily recommend politicians to voters.
“I know one celebrity, a certified crowd-drawer who wasn’t seeking to become the endorser of politicians,” she says. “He nevertheless did a tour of dinners with top candidates because everyone wanted to get him.”
“The pay is really good,” adds Maglipon, explaining why even an initially uninterested celebrity would be enticed to endorse a politician. “I understand it’s P20 million and above (for top celebrity endorsers). It has reached P50 million (for some), I don’t know if anyone has been paid P80 million, but others have business deal(s).”
Part of the game
Maglipon says that endorsing candidates in exchange for money is already part of the culture among local celebrities. “They think that their services were acquired as an endorser because they were big, so they think they’re entitled to be paid for it,” she says.
Often, too, celebrities start to convince themselves of a politician’s worthiness only after they have struck a deal with the latter. This, according to Maglipon, indicates that principle isn’t the endorser’s primary motivation in campaigning for a candidate.
“I don’t know how many seconds or days later that self-convincing is made,” she says. “But if the celebrity actually knew what the (candidate) was about, and did not have to sit (down) with him, then that means the celebrity studied the politician’s platform and background.”
Yet while she believes majority of the current crop of celebrity endorsers were paid for their services, she says there are still cases where the celebrity really does believe in the candidate he or she was paid to endorse.
Indeed, while Sarah Geronimo isn’t about to say whether or not she really received a multimillion-peso fee to endorse the Villar-Legarda tandem of the Nacionalista Party, she tells PCIJ that her political endorsements were borne out of principle.
“It’s more than just political strategy,” says the young, popular singer and star of recent blockbuster movies. “Our joint advocacies brought us together.”
Meeting of minds?
According to Geronimo, it was her concern over issues about women’s rights and overseas Filipino workers that convinced her to back the Villar-Legarda team. She also says she considers it an honor, at her age, to have been chosen to help spread the message of the ticket’s campaign.
GMA-7 star Dingdong Dantes meanwhile is among the celebrities who reportedly appeared for free in the TV ad that launched the candidacy of the Liberal Party’s Benigno Simeon ‘Noynoy’ Aquino III for president.
Dantes says that while he made it a point to look at the platforms of other candidates, the legacy of Aquino’s family – former Senator Benigno Aquino Jr. and former President Corazon Aquino – was a big factor in his decision to support Noynoy Aquino. He says that his support for Aquino solidified after discussing issues about education with the candidate.
Dantes continues to be active in the Aquino campaign, even organizing the Advocates of Youth and Students for Noynoy Aquino (Ayos NA). “I consider my efforts just the same as those campaigning for him in the streets, in their families, in their own homes,” he says. “The only difference is that I have the privilege of being in front of many people, there are people who can listen to me, and sometimes they believe in what I believe in.”
More than money
He says he isn’t being paid for his services, but volunteers that he has received a small token from Aquino: a small frame containing old five-peso coins from Aquino’s collection, autographed by the senator’s late mother. “For me,” Dantes says, “that’s more than enough, that’s more than any monetary compensation.”
Maglipon, though, cites another reason why some celebrities would endorse a candidate even without payment: prestige. “If you are a star who is asked to endorse a political candidate, the higher the post, the higher your standing is in the showbiz community,” she says. “That means they trust you to bring in the votes, you must be hot, endorsees must like you, the public must like you.”
She rues the fact that involvement of local celebrities on relevant national issues leaves much to be desired. Notes Maglipon: “You can barely hear a peep from movie stars (before the elections) when politics is concerned. How do you then translate that to endorsing a politician? How do you then assume that you can tell the people how to vote, over something as important as who will run this country next, who will make the laws?”
The veteran journalist points out that in other countries, celebrity endorsers have become effective political players.
“They know who they’re voting for, and they know why they’re backing a candidate using their credibility, their stature, their prominence,” she says. “They actually have an articulation of their position, not just during election period, but throughout, when policies are being made and policies are being done.”
At the very least, she says that local celebrities should rethink accepting payment for endorsing a candidate – especially for one who is running for president.
“Over many other issues and products, this is the one thing that celebrities should not be paid for,” says Maglipon. “If you’re going to endorse a person for the highest post in the land, I think your standards should be far above money because what you will do is for the country.” – PCIJ, May 2010