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Robin Abdul Aziz Padilla is the first Muslim-Filipino to top Senate race, garnering a record-breaking 26.6 million votes. Image Credit: File

Highlights

  • With a record-breaking 26.6 million votes, Padilla is relentless in pushing for key Constitutional amendments.
  • Among the dozens of Senatorial candidates, Padilla is one who boldly called for scrapping the 40% Constitutional limit on foreign ownership of Philippine companies.
  • He is also a key advocate of federal-parliamentary form of government.
  • Action-star-turned-politician has 6 years till 2028 to try and make these happen.

Manila: “I feel wonderful tonight.” So sang Filipino Senator-elect Robin Abdul Aziz Padilla, 52, in his acceptance speech, capping his message with a popular Eric Clapton refrain.

The action-star-turned-politician (full name: Robinhood Ferdinand Cariño Padilla) crooned his favourite line from Clapton’s hit song after being declared senator on May 18, following the May 9 Philippine elections in which he clocked up 26.6 million votes, a record.

The social media-savvy actor already has 4.9 million Facebook followers. The numbers are more than symbolic.

26.6m

The number of votes garnered by Robin Abdul Aziz Padilla
Robin Padilla
Robin Abdul Aziz Padilla was one the 12 senators proclaimed by the Commission on Elections (Comelec), sitting as the National Board of Canvassers, on Wednesday (May 18, 2022).

Despite the elitist put-downs thrown at him, Padilla is undeterred. Now, the Bicol-born senator leads a fresh batch of legislators keen to usher in badly-needed amendments to the 1987 Constitution, which has seen zero amendments over its 35-year history (by comparison, the US Constitution has been amended 27 times).

Muslim-Filipino Senator
> 26,612,434 — the number of votes he garnered, the most votes among 63 candidates who ran for the Senate, based on Comelec tally.

> Besides having the highest number of senatorial votes, Padilla is also the first Muslim Filipino to be elected in the 24-member Senate in about 30 years.

‘Let’s give reform a chance’

In his proclamation speech, Padilla said in Filipino: “My only wish now, the 26-million plus who voted for me, they believe in my platform — and that is to reform our Constitution. I ask of you, my fellow Senators: let’s give reform a chance. The people are asking for this. The sighs people have about pay, jobs, education — all of that is dependent, if we look closely, on Constitutional reforms."

Robin Padilla
Image Credit: Creative Commons

As an actor, he won numerous awards, including the FAMAS Award for Best Actor, PMPC Star Awards for TV Best Comedy Actor. Now, he’s focussed on legislation, and declared he will quit movies while serving as senator.


4 PHILIPPINE CONSTITUTIONS
> Historically, the Philippines has established the first republican constitution in Asia.

> The current one, known as the “Cory Constitution”, was promulgated in a referendum in 1987. It replaced the 1973 Marcos Constitution which, in turn, replaced the 1935 Constitution.

> The first Philippine Constitution, known as the Malolos Constitution, was promulgated in 1899, making the document the first republican constitution in Asia.

> It lasted only from 1899 to 1901, as the Americans started their occupation, of the Philippines.

In his speech, Padilla honoured the military, the police, and teachers as well as the commission for securing a clean, honest and peaceful election in the country. Padilla also thanked the Catholic church and other Christian believers.

1. From Eric Clapton fan to Constitutional reformist

“My victory is a symbol of the unity between Muslims and Christians,” Padilla said in Filipino language. “After a long time, for nearly 30 years, no Muslim was elected Senator. In the sorties, rallies I joined, I appealed to our fellow countrymen to give a representation to our brethren in the Senate… It is an honour for me to become part of a very clean elections,” he added.

Padilla has been consistent in his messaging. He’s the only senator-elects who strongly feels it's time to amend the 1987 Constitution — especially the provision that limits foreign ownership to 40%.

He makes the point in his speeches and interviews.

This cap is seen as self-defeating for Filipinos and favours local oligarchs in ring-fencing the economic growth for themselves.

It also places the Philippines at a great disadvantage in wooing foreign direct investments, a key to job creation and helping the country achieve a middle-income status. In his victory speech, Padilla unabashedly mentioned his desire to have a federal-parliamentary form of government as part of his legislative agenda.

He has studied the subject, having lived in Australia for 10 years, and was the only Senatorial candidate who openly campaigned on a platform of federalism. He believes it would address centuries-old discrimination of Filipinos outside the capital and help unleash the economic potential of outlying regions.

2. Family background: The boy from Bicol

By birth, Padilla is from Bicol, a gold-rich and fertile region (3 active volcanoes) 5.5 times bigger the Rhode Island in the US, but is one of the country's poorest regions. Padilla has 8 siblings, three whom are also actors. 

His ancestry shows his paternal grandfather was once a politician who also made movies in the Philippines — in Spanish language. These Philippine-made films were and became hits in Spanish-speaking countries around the world.

Padilla is now pushing for Spanish to be a declared a “heritage language”, instead of it being only an optional language under the 1987 Constitution.

3. From 'bad boy' image to student of history

Padilla is known as the "Bad Boy" of Philippine cinema — he portrayed gangster roles in his films Anak ni Baby Ama, Grease Gun Gang, Bad Boy 1, and Bad Boy 2. among other box-office hits. He also immersed himself in history: he produced and acted in a bio-pic of Andres Bonifacio, a national hero and one of the revolutionary leaders who led Filipinos’ uprising against Spain. Here's the movie trailer:

In real life, he has worked to rescue hostages in southern Philippines and currently serves as chairperson of the Philippine Army Multi-Sectoral Advisory Board’s Strategic Communications (StratCom) Committee.

4. Abdul Aziz Padilla

Padilla embraced Islam, adopting the name Abdul Aziz, while serving a sentence for illegal possession of firearms at the New Bilibid Prison, in Manila. He was convicted in 1994 to a maximum of eight years in jail, then  granted conditional pardon by then-President Fidel Ramos in April 1998.

He has reportedly converted his Quezon City house into a pre-school for Filipino Muslim children, called Liwanag ng Kapayapaan (Light of Peace). His frequent visits to Mindanao opened his eyes to the reality that lack of education is the root of the insurgency problem. He has accompanied Muslim Filipino leaders in foreign trips, especially to the Middle East.

In his campaign sorties, he has expressed this desire to improve the wages of employees, specifically teachers and healthcare workers.

Comelec Chairperson Saidamen Pangarungan, a Filipino-Muslim lawyer from Marawi, shared what he knew about Padilla. (During the proclamation, Comelec’s tradition includes introducing the senator who topped the race).

“This is an overwhelming testament to the trust and confidence that the Filipino voters have reposed in him. His political career has only begun but his interest and knowledge in politics has long been established,” Pangarungan said, adding that Padilla has been a strong proponent of social justice and good governance prior to entering politics.

5. Lobbyist for the 'common people'

In the past, Padilla has been engaged with the country's legislators by lobbying the passage of security of tenures for the contractual workers and pushing the “restructuring of the government."

“As a Muslim brother, we share common advocacy for safeguarding the welfare of every Filipino including the underprivileged and the marginalised in our Muslim population. I am proud that prior to entering politics, he is always ready to provide much-needed help to the sector as vulnerable as ours,” Comelec chief Pangarungan said.

Pangarungan said Padilla has been relentless in pushing efforts that uplift the lives of Muslim Filipinos.

“Getting the top spot in the senatorial race is a proof that one is not defined by their past performances or circumstances,” Pangarungan said.

6. Endorsed by Dutertes, Moro groups

Padilla ran as a senator under the ruling Partido Demokratiko Pilipino–Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban).

Robin Padilla
Robin Abdul Aziz Padilla expressed his desire to improve the wages of employees, specifically teachers and healthcare workers. Muslim-Filipino Senator is also a strong advocate of constitutional reforms and federalism. Image Credit: Facebook

Both President Rodrigo Duterte and his daughter, presumptive vice-president, Sara Duterte have extensively endorsed Padilla during the elections. He has been backed by various Moro (Muslim-Filipino) groups.

Would it be a wonderful time to have Padilla in the 19th Congress of the Philippines?

"Ako po ay di titigil. Wag po tayong panghinaan. Meron po tayong anim na taon (I will not stop. Let's never grow weary. We have six years (to do it)," he told a meeting of the Federalism Study Group on Tuesday (May 24, 2022).

The actions and choices he makes going forward would prove his resolve. Besides crooning “Wonderful Tonight”, Padilla’s other campaign call is “Action, not drama.”