By Beting Laygo Dolor i Contributing Editor

(First of two parts)
Besides being the only two cities that served as the country’s capital, Quezon City (QC) and Manila have the distinction of having produced the highest number of celebrities elected to public office.

Of the two, QC has the higher number owing to the fact that the country’s two biggest broadcast networks – ABS-CBN and GMA-7 – are located in the city named after President Manuel L. Quezon.

Celebrities turning to politics is not a new phenomenon in the Philippines. Two of the country’s biggest movie stars from different eras have actually run for president in the past.

Matinee idol Rogelio dela Rosa ran for president back in 1960 but backed out after his campaign ran short of funds. Also because then candidate Diosdado Macapagal was his brother-in-law. (Macapagal’s first wife was his sister but she passed away early.)

Then in 2004, the King of Philippine Movies, Fernando Poe, Jr., ran a popular campaign but lost to Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in what is considered a tainted election. FPJ, as he was called, lost by about a million votes, the same number of votes that Macapagal-Arroyo “asked” a Commission on Elections commissioner to assure she would win in a taped conversation that was later made public.

Meanwhile, QC has had a string of celebrities winning local positions as far back as the ‘60s. Another matinee idol from the time of Dela Rosa, Fred Montilla (who incidentally played Diosdado Macapagal in a movie), ran and won for the post of councilor, which he would win again and again.

Some two decades after Montilla first became councilor, a young TV comedian working at ABS-CBN was bitten by the political bug. Because his father was also a city councilor, Herbert “Bistek” Bautista would first get involved in the youth organization known as the Kabataang Barangay.

He would rise to barangay captain, city councilor, and then vice-mayor, where he served as loyal follower of then Mayor Feliciano ‘Sonny’ Belmonte. Bautista played the role of understudy to the hilt, and when Belmonte served out his term limit and moved to the House of Representatives, Bautista was all but anointed mayor by Belmonte, who had become Speaker of the House.

Bautista is serving his third and last term this year and, while he had originally planned on running for a seat in the House, opted to take a break from local politics to spend time with his children.

Another celebrity who was elected councilor in QC came from the world of basketball. Franz Pumaren, who played for the Philippine national team, had a long stint as a pro in the Philippine Basketball Association, before becoming a multi-titled coach in the UAAP winning five championships for his alma mater De La Salle University. He, however, failed in his bid to become congressman of the city.

With its six legislative districts having six councilors each, QC offers enough opportunities for celebrities seeking political posts.

The vice-mayoralty race is between two showbiz personalities, with actor/TV host Roderick Paulate going up against Gian Sotto, son of Senate President and comedian Tito Sotto and singer Helen Gamboa.

In the May elections, there are again a good number of celebrities who want to be part of the QC council. Included in the list is actress Jan Marini for the fourth district. She is joined by actor Alfred Vargas, who is seeking his final term as councilor for the city’s fifth district.

Another Sotto is vying for a seat in the House as party list representative. Ciara Sotto is with Luntiang Pilipinas. She is the sibling of Gian Sotto.

Incidentally, the Sotto family is bidding to become a bona fide political dynasty.

As stars of the long-running noon time show Eat Bulaga over GMA-7, siblings Tito and Vic Sotto were part of the comic triumvirate of Tito, Vic and Joey.

With Tito as patriarch, it is not only next generation kin Ciara and Gian who are gunning for public office. Vic’s son by Coney Reyes, Vico Sotto, is running for mayor of Pasig City.

For better or for worse, among all the cities and towns in the Philippines, QC has established itself as the home of the celebrity-politician but the City of Manila is fast catching up and may even claim the that title in the near future.

(Next week: Manila welcomes influx of celebrity-politicians)