On the Spot: Erick Habijan, the "bakla" who ran for Marikina councilor
The fabulous candidate on his perfect jumpshot, how his sexual orientation pushed him to strive for excellence, and what his plans are after losing the election.
(SPOT.ph) If you were active on social media during the recent elections (and you most likely were), chances are, you've stumbled upon the viral, colorful campaign posters filled with catchy taglines like, "Bata, Bago, Bakla."
That beaming candidate is 28-year-old Erick Habijan, who ran for city councilor in Marikina City's second district. Erick is the eldest son of two educators: Erico, the Chief of Basic Education of DepEd Region 4A, and Irene, a teacher-turned-entrepreneur. He eventually went the same teaching route, while dabbling in many other colorful career paths, including teaching at Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Marikina and writing for ABS-CBN shows like Gandang Gabi Vice, Your Face Sounds Familiar, and The Buzz.
Although he didn't win the election (he earned about 27,000 votes), he won the hearts of plenty of people on the Internet, who immediately took to his bubbly personality and fabulously witty campaign.
In an e-mail interview with SPOT.ph, Erick shared snippets of his childhood, why he decided to run for office, his plans for the LGBT community in Marikina City, and how he mastered that enviable jump shot in his posters.
Erick has joined pageants, including Binibining ABS-CBN pageant 2014
Can you tell us more about yourself? What was your childhood like?
Looking back, I can say that my childhood has mostly been "gay" (pun and fun intended). I was a happy kid kasi. So noong bata ako, active ako sa halos lahat ng bagay...except sports and visual arts. I excelled in school. I loved to perform whether singing dancing or acting. At super friendly ko. I have always loved making friends with everyone. Kumbaga, sumusuway ako sa bilin na "Don’t talk to strangers."
And yes, pun intended, my childhood was “gay” as well. I was four when I first saw Miss Universe on TV and I became fond of pageants since then. Consequently, that led me to dreaming of becoming a beauty queen, no kidding.
I preferred Barbie dolls and cooking sets over toy guns and cars. My sister, Reina, would end up crying because I would get her toys. In addition, I was not athletic, but I was good at playing Chinese garter, piko, 10-20, and jackstone. Kine-claim ko nga na Olympic champion ako sa mga larong 'yan.
I was always with the company of girls and hated the boys. Pero 'yon pala, I would end up loving boys and hating girls. Haha! But because I was really feminine, the boys would always tease me, "bakla." And that time, I felt being "bakla" was a weakness.
Hence, that led me to strive for excellence. Because I was seen as "bakla," I did not want to be regarded as a weakling. 'Yon ang hugot ko kaya ginalingan ko sa pag-aaral. I made sure I excelled in school. Kailangan Top 1 ako sa klase. Kailangan ako 'yong leader. Kailangan ako 'yong pinapadala ng school sa contest at dapat manalo ako. I’ve always been driven to excel para hindi ako asarin or laitin dahil bakla ako.
What pushed or inspired you to enter politics? Were you active in the student council back in school?
This was my first time to run for a government post and it was an unexpected decision. In fact, it all happened within 72 hours. It was actually my dad who was being invited to run, but he declined the offer. When my teammates from Gandang Gabi Vice learned about it, they convinced me to file instead.
I was really hesitant at first because I have never imagined myself entering politics. In fact, my ultimate dream was to write for Ellen DeGeneres. But my workmates told me that I have the potential to lead and be a great public servant. My friends, including Facebook friends, also got excited about the idea when I posted a status on Facebook about me running for Councilor in Marikina. But it was my parents’ approval and blessing that led me to filing my Certificate of Candidacy on the day of the deadline.
Bata pa lang ako, may lider-lideran syndrome na ako. Noong elementary ako, I had always been elected as the class president. Kapag group projects, ako 'yong leader parati. In high school, aside from being a classroom and organization officer, I was one of the Chairmen of Fair Com, the student body that organizes the annual fair in Ateneo High School. In college, I was part of the Student Council (Sanggunian ng mga Mag-aaral ng Ateneo de Manila) as the a Block Representative and Course Representative. And in my senior year, I got elected as Queen Mother of The Dollhouse, the LGBT group of Ateneo.
Talk to us about your witty campaign slogans like "Bata. Bago. Bakla." How did those come about?
"Bata. Bago. Bakla" came when I was reflecting on how I would be easily remembered by the voters—what would set me apart from the other candidates whom I must admit were household names in politics in Marikina. Mahirap makipagbanggaan sa mga kilala na kaya kailangan kong mag-shine.
Then I assessed at naisip ko, "Okay, isa ako sa mga bagong kandidato, ako 'yong pinakabata, at ako lang ang bakla!" These are my unique points. But I reflected again—bago, bata, bakla...Sabi ko, from a voter’s perspective, puwede nilang isipin na weak traits ito. In fact, my parents, friends, and my other teammates did not want to highlight "bakla" because they thought it might turn off the conservative and old voters.
But my gut and instinct [told] me to do it, I [took a risk] and put the [slogan]. Because for me, these were my strengths. I'm young at matalino ako. I can bring in new and dynamic ideas because of my competence and wit. I'm new and that’s a good thing. Wala akong bahid. I'm not tainted. Wala man akong [experience] but I'm willing to learn. Hindi ako nagpapakabog bilang paandar akong tao. I always strive for excellence in everything that I do.
I'm gay at para sa akin, this has always been a gift. Kayamanan ko ito. In fact, nagamit ko ito sa napakaraming bagay. My charisma, my drive to excel, my desire to be a better person have always been rooted from it. Gusto kong makita ng tao na magaling at mabuti ako dahil bakla ako.
Can you talk to us more about your campaign platforms? If you were elected as city councilor, what would you have pushed for in office?
I ran primarily because I would like to represent the youth and the LGBT community in Marikina. I looked forward to proposing bills and creating programs that I believe would have a great and direct impact on them.
Education is really a priority. I was a professor at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Marikina (PLMar) from 2008 to 2013, the local community college in Marikina. It was painful and disappointing to see some of my students drop out from school due to financial reasons. Hence, I really wanted to push for free tertiary education at PLMar. As a scholar myself, having free education from one of the best universities in the country gave me high hopes of having a better future. At 'yon ang gusto kong maramdaman ng mga bata sa PLMar, 'yong magkaroon ng kasiguruhan na makakapagtapos ng pag-aaral at makatatanggap ng college diploma.
I would also like to spearhead MPerYO (Marikina Performing Youth Organization). Marikina is a city filled with young talents and I’d like to give them a platform wherein they can be at their best [by] undergoing training from [the] best performing artists in the country. Sa pamamagitan nito, mas mapagyayaman ng bawat bata ang kaniyang sariling kakayahan at mas magkakaroon ng oportunidad na ipamalas ang kanilang talento. Ito rin ang daan para malayo sila sa bisyo at katamaran.
I also wanted to push for LGBT empowerment. Naniniwala akong malaki ang maibabahagi ng bawat bakla, tomboy, transgender at bisexual para muling maging maganda at maayos ang Marikina—mula sa turismo hanggang sa industriya ng sapatos.
Pangarap ko rin na sana hindi na bahain ang Marikina. Kaya kaisa ako ni [now Mayor] Marcy Teodoro na bigyan ng permanenteng solusyon ang pagbaha sa Marikina. We no longer want to be known as the "Ondoy Capital of the Philippines." Instead we aim for Marikina to be regarded as one of the "Most Liveable Cities in the Philippines."
You're very out and proud. Was that a big part of your identity growing up?
My parents’ acceptance was the most crucial factor why I live happily and freely as a gay guy. I have fully loved and embraced myself because my parents gave me unconditional love and acceptance. Ang sarap ng feeling na ipinagmamalaki nila ako...'Yong sasabihin nila sa tao na, "Bakla ang anak ko pero tanggap na tanggap ko siya. Matalino, talented at mabuting anak! At maganda!" Sinasabi pa nga ng tatay ko, "Hindi siya guwapo, maganda siya!" at ang sarap noon sa pakiramdam.
That made me realize that even if there are a lot of people who would judge me because of my being gay, but they won’t matter; because the people who matter the most are proud to have me and call their "beautiful son." My parents taught me that our loving God would judge me by how I lived and how I loved.
Photo by Jason Arquiza
Your youth was also a huge part of your campaign, and plenty of people don't enter politics until they're of a certain age. Is there any reason you decided to embrace your young age?
I don’t believe that older people are wiser or younger people are better. But I believe that age is always an advantage. Every generation has valuable insights to offer because we all lived in different contexts.
Older people’s wisdom is inevitable because of their vast experiences in life; they’ve witnessed world wars, Martial Law, past administrations, and the like. While we, the younger generation, can also give valuable contributions to society because we clearly understand the language of post-modernity and globalization.
This was what I wished to offer: A perspective of Generation Y, the so-called "Millenials," which I believed could contribute to a better understanding of the Philippine society in the "now."
What's the biggest lesson you learned from this entire experience?
I realized that public service is deeply rooted in relationships. An aspiring public servant-leader earns the trust and respect from his or her constituents [by] being true to them. Kailangang ipakita ang totoong pagkatao—'yong positibo at negatibong aspeto—kasi doon nagsisimula ang tiwala. And I’m happy that I started it right by being truthful and transparent.
"Bakla po ako! Mas bagay po sa akin ang adjective na maganda kaysa guwapo. Tingin niyo po sa akin, bakla, pero ako po 'yong bakla at may magagawa." I got nothing to hide because there’s nothing to hide. Kay Erick, laging what you see is what you get.
More importantly, in life, we don’t always win. We don’t always get what we want, the things we dream and hope for. May mga laruan tayong hindi binili ng magulang natin noong bata tayo, hindi tayo natanggap sa dream job natin, na-reject tayo ng taong gustong-gusto natin, hindi tayo natanggap sa audition ng Pinoy Big Brother, may mga dasal tayong tinanggihan ng Diyos. But cliché as it may sound, everything really happens for a reason. At ang rason para hindi natin makuha ang mga bagay na ginusto natin: hindi ito makakabuti para sa atin, hindi pa natin ito kailangan, o hindi ito para sa atin.
In life, we don't always win. But that doesn't mean we can't be a winner and be victorious. Sa eleksyon lang ako natalo, pero panalong-panalo ako sa buhay.
Now that the elections are over, what's the next step for you? Would you ever try to your luck again next elections?
People are asking me to run again on 2019. But it’s still too early to tell—puwedeng oo, puwedeng hindi...a lot of things can happen within three years. Who knows, I might be writing for Ellen [DeGeneres] next year. For now, I want to cross the bridge when I get to 2018.
In terms of my career, there are a lot of options: I can re-apply in ABS-CBN and hopefully continue to become a writer. I can teach again at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Marikina so I can mold the minds of the future pillars of media. I can apply and pursue a Master’s degree in Television, Public Relations, or Public Administration. I will still accept the invitations in Calabarzon to teach and train young feature writers. I’d still ask my family to continue our thrust to provide quality private education at a low tuition in our school, Gentle Angels School.
I’d like to ask my newly elected mayor of Marikina, Marcy Teodoro, if I could continue to organize MPerYO (Marikina Performing Youth Organization) and an LGBT group. I'm thinking of starting a website or page which I can call "Bonggang Buhay" or "Bonggang Pilipinas" that would feature happy and beautiful stories about our country. Hahanap ako ng paraan para makapasok sa Ellen [Show]. And lastly, I can help through simple ways: Magpulot ng basura sa daan, mag-post ng happy thoughts on my social media account, ngitian ang lahat ng nakakasalubong ko, magsabi ng kapuri-puring bagay sa mga katrabaho ko...
Basta gusto kong maging mabuting tao at maging mabuting Pilipino. And I’d like to continue being an inspiration [for] other people.
What about showbiz?
Showbiz? Hahaha! Tanong natin si Mr. M, Tita Cory Vidanes, Direk Lauen Dyogi, or Sir Deo Endrinal kung nakikitaan nila ako ng star quality.
What's the secret to your perfect jumpshot in your campaign photos?
Being a frustrated model, I unleashed my inner Coco Rocha and applied what I’ve learned from Tyra—smize and be a diva in front of the camera. Kidding aside, my jump shots clearly represent my persona and character—I’m a fun-loving person, I’m free-spirited, and I’m very optimistic. I love enjoying life at lumulundag ako nang masaya para maabot ang #MasBonggangBuhay!
Photos courtesy of Erick Habijan