On a bus ride here in sunny Cebu, I would hear a young couple comment on every candidate whose poster we'd pass by. This would go on until the lady concluded: “Ngano mag-elections pa man ta uy nga sila-sila ra ma'y mandaug (Why bother with the elections when it's always the same people winning anyway).”
It's almost always true, especially for Cebu. But that's not what's so disappointing. What's more sad is the fact that a lot of us would really rather not bother with the elections.
Ever since I was born in 1987, we’ve been blessed with a venue called the elections. And elections in this country is a season in itself. Maybe in other countries too, but in the Philippines, there are interesting indicators that tell you this season's here:
1. You will notice a spike in ad spending—from Mr. Kiko’s noodles to some green leafy vegetable to some congressman flaunting his biofuel bill outside the campaign period. Add to that a mountain of print ads turned into wallpapers or tree ornaments. Make that “ugly and illegal tree ornaments.”
2. You will notice that your public market is under construction, including your access road, your footbridge, your waiting shed. Make that “finally under construction.” I remember thinking that I should not be so jaded and so posit that there’s a causal relationship between the two. Besides, maybe I was not just as observant as before.
3. You will notice people dying. I mean, people die all the time but I do not think dying for political reasons is remotely acceptable. I read how election-related violence this year was not as much as before (so far) but so what? An improved statistic does not raise the dead mayoralty candidate shot within Cebu Capitol premises or discount the possibility of having to jump off a car in the middle of Pasig City traffic.
4. Yes, a lot more are dying in Iraq or of AIDS but in my own country I call home, people are dying. Again, maybe positing a causal relationship is premature since all these are still under investigation. But come on: people are dying. No, people are dead. For so many reasons that include a thirst for power.
Worse, all these are not new, far older than us and they persist, and like the lady who notes how the same people keep on winning, we note how the same problems keep on coming back. We never learn to learn. Elections remain dirty, short-term and deadly violent. Elections remain as seasons all to themselves.
Maybe we can change that. Just maybe.
I remember telling myself how I should not look at Christmas as a season of love but as a reminder that it’s always, even after Christmas, the season of love. Maybe that’s too mushy an analogy but hey, I don’t think this election be a mere season in itself too.
It ought to be a reminder of a democracy we’re all counting on day by day. In fact, it is a reminder:
1. that anything illegal, those tree ornaments included, should not be tolerated;
2. that doing projects, lampposts included, is not a means to buy votes;
3. that people need not be dead to make sure who he believes in wins; and
4. that for every Serbisyo Eusebio I see in this city where I temporarily reside that I be humiliated of the fact that I allowed someone to label as his what is all ours.
This election too is ours and maybe we can start by admitting how nasty and gruesome it is. Then maybe we can all build on and figure out together a way to make this democracy work. Then maybe the conversations I hear while riding buses won’t be too much of a downer.