Infidelity no obstacle for Philippine politicians

Infidelity no obstacle for Philippine politicians
Philippine vice-President Jejomar Binay admitted in 2010 to having an affair, after photos of himself and an unidentified woman in romantic poses surfaced.

While leaders around the world are often felled by extramarital affairs, in largely Catholic Philippines, the opposite is true in that an affair - or more commonly, affairs - can actually lift politicians to higher office.

The Philippines has been led many times in the past by politicians known for their political acumen as much as for their sexual exploits.

One politician cultivating the "alpha male" persona, as such exploits are often described in the Philippine media, is currently leading the race for the presidency, with the general election set for mid-2016.

Vice-President Jejomar Binay admitted in 2010, when he was campaigning for the vice-presidency, to having an affair, after photos of himself and an unidentified woman in romantic poses surfaced on Facebook.

Despite that revelation in the socially conservative country, he won the vice-presidency to edge out a clean-image bachelor, Mr Mar Roxas.

Historian Ramon Villegas said the "unabated practice of concubinage" has been a "function of power" since the 1900s, with the deluge of American culture, including its cinema, into the Philippines.

This skewed sense of values is largely a by-product of a "macho culture" that has been a hallmark of Philippine society, Mr Villegas said.

Dr Reuben Canete, associate professor for Philippine studies at the University of the Philippines, said spaghetti westerns and tough guy movies of the 1950s and 1960s "fuelled the Filipino macho icon into the current set formula of physical dominance among fellow men, heterosexual licentiousness and (something for) 'weaker men' to emulate".

Many of the Philippines' most successful politicians were movie stars of that era who cultivated images as models of manhood.

Perhaps the most well-known alpha male in Philippine politics is Mr Joseph Estrada, 77, an actor who parlayed his image as the heroic everyman into a successful political career.

He was first a long-time town mayor, then a senator, a vice-president and finally, president of the republic.

Mr Estrada admitted years ago to fathering at least 11 children by six women.

Two of his children - by his wife, Dr Loi Ejercito, 84, and by his first mistress, Madam Guia Gomez, 72, a former actress - are now senators.

Another popular actor from that film age, Mr Ramon Revilla, 87, served as a senator for 12 years. He has acknowledged to being the father of 72 children by 16 women.

And, late dictator Ferdinand Marcos was known to have dalliances of his own with Dovie Beams, a B-movie actress.

Lately, Marcos' affair with a former Playboy playmate, Sydney-born Evelin Hegyesi, resurfaced after her 17-year-old daughter, Analisa, was axed from a reality show in Australia purportedly for claiming Marcos was her father.

While both Mr Estrada's and Marcos' presidencies ended in disgrace, they were brought down not by their extramarital affairs, but by corruption charges.

For political analyst and former anti-Marcos activist Isaac de Guzman, macho politicians will continue to hold sway as long as most voters remain poor and uneducated.

"Our poor have distinct moral and cultural acceptance of bribery as a fact of election. When morals are low, so goes acceptance of having mistresses. Can we blame them? They are dirt poor and hence, corruptible," he said.

This article was first published on October 7, 2014.
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