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Mayor Aleli-3



Choosing between prioritizing
show business or public service
was an easy decision for the
altruistic Arjo Atayde

In December 2020, Juan Carlos “Arjo” Campo Atayde won the Best Actor Award at the 2020 Asian Academy Creative Awards, beating actors from China, Taiwan, and other Southeast Asian countries. He also earned the distinction of being the first Filipino actor to win such an award and as an additional stroke of luck, he nabbed the award just as he was about to celebrate a decade in the entertainment industry.


Atayde won the award for his portrayal of Benjo Malaya in the movie Bagman, a barber who, due to circumstances, becomes a ‘bagman’ or henchman for the governor of the fictional province of Magdiwang. Released in streaming sites, the two-season series depicts the family man getting caught up in “a dangerous web of crime, corruption, and political turmoil.” His character’s many tasks include being a getaway driver for an assassination, a vote buyer, and an intimidator. While the series paints a convoluted world, it still, as one Esquire review puts it, “hits close to home.”

Playing the anti-hero who eventually became the governor of Magdiwang, Atayde admits, has been one of the most difficult challenges in his career. In one interview with Philippine Star, the actor explains that the film “depicts the despicable nature of corrupt politics that could be happening in any part of the world.”

“I hate to think it’s reality but [corruption is] definitely something we’re all turning a blind eye to—something that needs attention, solution and action,” Atayde adds.

Further, he shares that playing Malaya made him realize the nuances behind people who commit crimes, that some people have to because they have no choice, citing the famous adage—“Desperate times call for desperate measures.” While he assures that it’s not something he agrees with, Atayde muses that this is part of the realities of life, that sometimes these ‘desperate measures’ are simply ways for people to cope.

One popular acting technique is method acting, developed by Russian theater director Konstantin Stanislavski. There are many ways to go about the technique, but in general, an actor using the ‘Method’ is encouraged to dive deep into their character’s inner thoughts and emotions, looking for the motivation behind their actions and behavior in order to produce a realistic and powerful performance. For many actors, even those who don’t use this technique, their work allows them to understand people by ‘living in their shoes.’ It’s this level of empathy developed in his line of work that Atayde believes is the key driving force which would make his transition from being an actor to being a public servant a seamless one, should he win in the upcoming elections.

“Politics is different, of course. I think one reason why [some] actors are turning towards politics is because every day, for every role and human experience we go through, we have to dissect and understand people. We develop our humanity with the job and find it easier to empathize with people. [To be a public servant], you’ve got to understand humanity,” the 31-year-old actor tells LEAGUE.

Undoubtedly, his role in Bagman had a huge impact on the aspiring politician, but his empathy for the plight of the masses and his resolve to bring about change stems deep within Atayde. Bringing about change in ‘traditional governance’ is his ultimate goal in his bid to become Quezon City 1st District’s congressman. He laments the fact that corruption is so commonplace in the country that it’s become the immediate thought amongst people whenever politics is brought up.

“We’re the new generation [of politicians] who want real change. For me, I know I can make a difference, not just by creating pieces of legislation for the district, pero para sa buong Pilipinas (but also for the entire Philippines). I promise to be one with the people and makikinig ako sa mga tao (I will listen to the people). I will not tolerate anything, no one can buy my principles and values, that’s for sure. People will not be disappointed [if they vote for me] because just like them, we want change. [Politics] is a platform that I want to use to bring about change and it’s not just a title for me,” Atayde stresses.

“The way people see congressmen, laging kontrabida sa pelikula (they’re always villains in films),” he adds. “But hopefully, this time, the next generation will uplift the image of politicians. [Gagawa kami ng] gobyernong maaasahan, gobyernong tapat, gobyernong may puso ([We will create a] government that you can rely on, trust, and one that has heart).”


For the neophyte politician, an ideal public servant respects the people and has a heart that is ready to listen and solve their problems, whether big or small. “Handang magbukas ng pinto, makipag-usap sa mga tao (Whose doors are always open and are ready to talk to the people). Looks at the problem, observes, analyzes, and provides solutions. That’s our responsibility as public servants,” Atayde says.

The ease with which the aspiring congressman shares his thoughts on politics reveals that he has spent years pondering its essence and numerous facets. So when the opportunity presented itself, Atayde knew right away that he has to act on his beliefs and serve the public, even if it means turning away from the limelight for a while.

“[Acting] is my livelihood, my source of income. But I have to focus first on the 1st District, get a grip of everything, start projects that I promised, and prioritize the people. Maybe someday I’ll shoot another film or series, but definitely my focus is on District 1 and I’ll lessen [my acting commitments],” he shares.

Aiming for a seat in Congress, Atayde hopes to serve the 37 residential and commercial neighborhoods that include Barangays Bagong Pag-asa, Project 6, and West Triangle. Among the priority pieces of legislation he wants to enact for the district are enhancing the bill on fire protection, citing fire incidents as one of the major problems of the district.

“Palaging may sunog dito sa (There’s always a fire here in) District 1. They don’t even have fire hydrants. We were able to give fire extinguishers and other stuff, but knowing the situation of the houses here, made of wood, cement, and yero (corrugated aluminum sheets), and crammed together. So when a fire starts, it spreads very easily,” he reveals.

Another priority for Atayde would be the ‘Ayuda (assistance) bill’ which would allocate a certain budget per barangay on a monthly basis to enable them to provide necessities to their constituents in the form of medicine, food, or other basic needs. This COVID-19 pandemic, he shares, highlighted the necessity for the bill.

But how will it be different from the various assistance given by different government agencies throughout the pandemic? He explains that the ayuda “is not conditional. Nakaka-receive lang ng tulong ang mga tao kapag eleksyon (People only usually receive plenty of help when it’s election season). This bill will allocate a budget that would immediately help people. Since there’s no money involved and it’s goods, the bill also lessens corruption.”

Lastly, he shares that he also aims to push for the Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) Bill and is fully supportive of legalizing same-sex marriage in the country, or at least in Quezon City. Atayde again emphasizes the importance of respect when it comes to governance.

“It’s 2022, things have changed. People are now discovering their identity and whatever it is, they deserve respect. [Respect] is where every relationship starts and it’s how you build a community. There are some who are not for [same sex marriage] and I understand that older generations are a bit harsh when it comes to understanding the LGBTQ community. But for me, as I’ve always said, I will be their kakampi, kaalyansa sa pagsusulong ng kanilang karapatan. At di lang ng LGBTQ, pati na rin ang mga kababaihan (supporter, their ally in pushing for their rights. And not just for the LGBTQ community, but also for women),” he elaborates. “We just celebrated International Women’s Month at marami pa rin sa mga kababaihan ang naaabuso (and there are still plenty of women who are abused). We will help and take care of them, also solo parents. We are trying to build a better community, and a more friendly, reasonable government.”


These bills are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what the budding politician has in store for the 1st District of Quezon City. With this upcoming election as the actor’s first foray into politics, achieving his ambitious plans is a considerably tall order. But Atayde is not daunted nor afraid, even if he is rallying up against a seasoned politician. “They say that I’m new in politics so I might not be able to accomplish anything. But tell that to the new doctor, or lawyer, or saleslady, or taho vendor, anyone. Everyone starts by being new at something. And I might be a ‘newbie’ in politics, but I’ve been helping people ever since,” Atayde says. For him, he adds, his bid for a Congressional seat stems from his desire to fight for the best interest of the people of Quezon City.

“We have no time for politicians who prioritize their personal interests over the people’s. You have to give everything to the people. [Congress] would be a big platform for me to help people and develop the district. It could also be a chain reaction which would help the entire city and even Congress.”

As a ‘newbie,’ Atayde fully understands that he has a lot to learn and why some people would have doubts about his ability or his motivation behind running. He assures the people that his intentions are pure; all he wants is to serve and make a positive difference. With the support of no less than incumbent Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte, Atayde assures that, given the opportunity, he will stay true to his word.

Atayde shares that his generous and philanthropic nature are mainly because of the influence of his parents—businessman Art Atayde and veteran actress Sylvia Sanchez. Ever since they were kids, Arjo and his siblings (Pia, Ria, Gela, and Xavi) would visit their mother’s hometown of Nasipit, Agusan del Norte yearly and hold outreach activities. They would also help local charities and donate whenever they can. Atayde reveals that this exposed him to the provincial life and the needs of the people and subsequently, also led to him meeting city mayors whenever they would turn over donations.

“During one turnover, I met Mayor Joy Belmonte. Atty. Carol was with me, she’s like family to us, and it turns out she’s also a friend of Mayor Joy. She mentioned my interest in politics and after a few weeks, Mayor Joy called to talk to me about running. We spoke for almost an entire day and that’s what led me here,” he recalls. “I had no idea that I’ll end up here; this was unplanned. But I’ve always wanted to be a public servant.”

And now that the election draws near, Atayde derives inspiration from the leadership and character of those around him, including Mayor Belmonte and his parents. He shares that he has no hesitation when it comes to being in Belmonte’s corner as she is “straight as an arrow.” Last year, the QC local government received an “unqualified opinion” rating from the Commission on Audit (COA) for its 2020 annual audit report. It is the highest audit rating that COA can award to a local government unit.

“Besides Mayor Joy, my parents are also my guide. My parents inspire me to be an efficient and respectful leader. My dad also stressed that, I mean it goes without saying, but he would always remind me to focus on the people. No stealing, no ‘hocus pocus,’ no [advancing of] business [interests]. We’ll take care of [his] business, but not as congressman.”


The entertainment industry is notoriously messy and it’s a running joke in this country that we often hold our celebrities to a higher standard than politicians. But with the Philippine political landscape being just as messy (and notorious too), moving from showbiz to politics seems a lot like moving from a lion’s den to a tiger’s den. “Magulo ang mundo ng politika. Magulo sa showbiz, pero iba ang gulo ng politika (Politics is messy. Show business is also messy, but politics is different),” Atayde muses.

What compels the young actor to take the leap anyway is his deep-seated inclination towards helping people. His compassionate nature may come across as naivety to those who are jaded by the dirty workings of politics. But as we continue to live in a world that often discourages caring for others and pushes for a selfish, dog-eatdog culture, empathy, as it turns out, is a sign of bravery.

As former United States President Barack Obama said, “Learning to stand in somebody else’s shoes, to see through their eyes, that’s how peace begins. And it’s up to you to make that happen.”

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