From action star to No. 1 senator: How Robin Padilla got here

Miguel Dumaual, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 10 2022 06:56 PM | Updated as of May 11 2022 10:43 AM

Actor Robin Padilla bows before President Rodrigo Duterte after filing his certificate of candidacy for senator in October 2021. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News
Actor Robin Padilla bows before President Rodrigo Duterte after filing his certificate of candidacy for senator in October 2021. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — With no experience as an elected official and foremost known as an action star, Robin Padilla becoming the No. 1 senator in the Philippine elections may seem surprising, but is actually the result of various factors aligning for the neophyte politician, according to analysts.

Padilla, 52, has emerged as the top senatorial candidate in the partial, unofficial results, with 97.93% of votes transmitted — overtaking survey frontrunners Antique Rep. Loren Legarda and broadcaster Raffy Tulfo.

In the last Pulse Asia survey released May 2, Padilla ranked third below Tulfo and Legarda, respectively.

“Nasa striking distance [to place No. 1] si Robin Padilla sa huling survey,” Pulse Asia head Prof. Ronnie Holmes said in an interview on ABS-CBN News’ Halalan 2022 coverage on Tuesday.

“Hindi siya malayong maging una. Parang inulit lang niya iyong [nangyari noong] 2013, kay Sen. Grace Poe,” he said, referring to the incumbent lawmaker, who similarly leapt to first place as senatorial candidate on her first try.

Like Padilla, Poe has wide name recall. She is the daughter of the late screen icon, Fernando Poe, Jr., who ran in the 2004 presidential elections, and veteran actress Susan Roces.

“Maraming bagay ang puwedeng magbago,” Holmes said of Padilla’s third ranking in the last opinion poll and his No. 1 finish in the actual elections.

The final Pulse Asia survey was conducted from April 16 to 21.

“Unang-una, ‘yung mga sinabing boboto sa sinumang kandidato, maaaring hindi na bumoto. Iyon na ang hindi natin maka-capture sa survey. Doon, puwede mo rin sabihin na spurious, e, ‘yung hindi mo na mahawakang variable. Maaaring magdulot ng pagbabago ng ranggo sa senado,” he explained.

Senatorial candidate Robin Padilla talks to the crowd at the Marcos-Duterte UniTeam miting de avance in Parañaque City on May 7, 2022. Fernando G. Sepe Jr., ABS-CBN News
Senatorial candidate Robin Padilla talks to the crowd at the Marcos-Duterte UniTeam miting de avance in Parañaque City on May 7, 2022. Fernando G. Sepe Jr., ABS-CBN News

Padilla’s strong showing as a first-time senatorial candidate may be attributed not just to his celebrity, but his association with the Dutertes, political science professor Julio Teehankee said.

Dubbed the “Bad Boy of Philippine Cinema” whose acting career spans nearly four decades, Padilla became an increasingly visible political figure as one of the staunch supporters of incumbent President Rodrigo Duterte.

He carried over his loyalty to the chief executive’s daughter, vice-presidential candidate Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte. Padilla was included in the “UniTeam” senatorial slate of the younger Duterte and her running mate, aspiring president Ferdinand Marcos, Jr.

But even before the Duterte administration, Padilla had been “politically active since the ‘90s” aside from his popularity as a gun-toting leading man on screen, Tehankee pointed out.

“Isa siya sa mga celebrity na talaga namang politically active na since the ‘90s,” Teehankee pointed out, in a live interview on ABS-CBN News’ Halalan 2022 coverage on Tuesday.

In 1995, he sought the vice-gubernatorial seat in Nueva Ecija, but lost.

A year later, Padilla’s “Bad Boy” moniker made a real-life impression when he was convicted of illegal possession of firearms. He stayed behind bars for only two years, after then-President Fidel V. Ramos granted him conditional pardon in 1998.

He also managed to reclaim his leading-man status, with pairings with A-list actresses including Angel Locsin, Anne Curtis, and Jodi Sta. Maria, after first charming the likes of Sharon Cuneta and Kris Aquino in the ‘90s.

Padilla’s re-emergence expanded to politics, as he became one of President Duterte’s fiercest loyalists during the 2016 elections and throughout his term in office.

“Nagkaroon siya ng second wind sa social media. Isa siya sa mga nakasakay. He has morphed into what we call a right-wing, nationalist populist,” Teehankee said.

“Nasakyan niya kasi ‘yung Duterte wave. Iyong pagsuporta niya kay Presidente Duterte, iyong kaniyang pagdigit kay President Duterte, malaking bagay ‘yun,” the professor added.

Actor Robin Padilla gestures respect for President Rodrigo Duterte after the latter granted him executive clemency in November 2016. Simeon Celi, Malacanang Photo
Actor Robin Padilla gestures respect for President Rodrigo Duterte after the latter granted him executive clemency in November 2016. Simeon Celi, Malacanang Photo

During Duterte’s first year in office, in November 2016, he granted Padilla absolute pardon, restoring his civil and political rights — allowing him to seek public office if he so wished.

Fast-forward to 2022, his criminal conviction no longer stood in the way of running for an elected post.

As one of the prominent Muslim personalities in Christian-majority Philippines, Padilla may have also benefitted from “the fact that he is nominally Muslim by identification,” Teehankee surmised, as voters of the same religion could have leaned towards him in the polls.

The endorsement of Iglesia Ni Cristo, the independent church known for its “unity” or bloc voting in the elections, was likewise a factor in Padilla’s victory, Teehankee noted.

Padilla’s popularity and charisma, as seen throughout his decades in showbiz, have also made him “accessible” and familiar to voters. Teehankee noted that Padilla, as well as fellow first-time senator Tulfo, are not necessarily experienced politicians, but both seem within reach for many Filipinos.

Senatorial candidate Robin Padilla greets and mingles with supporters during a UniTeam campaign sortie in Narvacan, Ilocos Sur on February 17, 2022. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News
Senatorial candidate Robin Padilla greets and mingles with supporters during a UniTeam campaign sortie in Narvacan, Ilocos Sur on February 17, 2022. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

“Nagbago na rin ‘yung complexion ng voting population. Let’s look at this from an institutional perspective. Bakit sila nilalapitan ng tao? Kasi mahina ang gobyerno natin. In a well-functioning democracy, where there is good governance, lahat ng mamamayan has easy access to public service,” Teehankee said.

Instead, with the likes of Padilla and Tulfo in office, some may feel they can more easily approach the government.

For Padilla, however, his No. 1 ranking in the senatorial race isn’t rooted in his name recall or public image. The actor earlier said he believes that votes for him were votes specifically for his plan to push for federalism in the Philippines — one of his campaign promises.

“Hindi naman po ako naniniwala na nanalo ako dahil ako’y si Robin Padilla. Hindi po ‘yan. Huwag po nating paniwalaan ‘yan. Ang paniwalaan natin ay ako po ay nakasama diyan — maging No.1 o No. 2 o maging No. 3 — para isulong ang pederalismo. Iyan po ang asahan ninyo. Hindi po ako diyan magiging bingi, hindi po ako diyan magiging pipi.

“Kung gaano po ako kaingay noong ako’y artista lang, noong wala pong nakikinig sa akin, ito pong lalo na na nagkaroon tayo ng plataporma, nagkaroon po tayo ng sinasabi nating pagtitiwala po ninyo at ako’y iniluklok ninyo, mas marami po tayong masasabi,” he said.