Finally, the electoral process has ended. Well, almost — we still have the vice-presidency on the balance. True to our previous statement, one candidate who lost the count accuses his opponent (and her ruling party) of cheating. The issue has further divided supporters of both parties, each claiming the right to the contested position. If basketball is the Filipinos’ favorite pastime, as a sport and as a spectacle, then this is a crazy extension of the game in an unending, real-time competition where the ball is passed and grabbed around by everyone and everywhere yet nobody getting a chance to shoot the ball until the referee — the government — whistles and makes the final decision. And even that may not be the end of the silliness. They have the entire six years to contest the result. No kidding! I heard of a candidate who won the electoral protest and sat for only a week or two – maybe only days — before the term expired. Woooooh!!!
Crazy? No, it is a symptom of a society that has put its trust on a process that is generally a money-run and money-motivated enterprise (as basketball is) and where power is the prize as well as the means to perpetuate power itself. The ball changes possession, once in a while. And, as in the case of the recent presidential contest, a certain degree of change in the players and the rules of the game accidentally tweaks the outcome and the powers-that-be scramble around for damage-control or to maneuver themselves in order to prepare for the next contest.
Often in all this craziness, the people traditionally wait by the sides for the crumbs coming from the fighting giants to fall their way, somehow feeling they have been blessed by their right to choose their leaders once in six years. They wait and hope, pick up the pieces, wait and hope and pick up the pieces, . . . .
Until the craziest thing happens: A mayor from a faraway city in the south overturns the process! He never wanted to run and even chose not to file for candidacy; but he eventually threw his hat in and became a substitute candidate amidst the swelling clamor for his participation. And in spite of all the insane things he had done and said before and during the elections, he still made a brilliant showing at the polls, leading by more than 6 millions votes.
With about forty days before his inauguration as the 16th president, he has made pronouncements and has proposed programs that seem to augur well for the masses who have been neglected for many decades. He has even spoken openly against the traditional and non-traditional enemies of the society: aristocrats, feudal lords, imperialists, criminals, corrupt officials, drug-pushers, arrogant officials, vagrants and street-corner drunkards. And to prove he means business, he has practically challenged a high official who accused him of corruption to a legal or a real duel. And he is a self-claimed banterer who uses four-letter words and no-word curses (sticking his tongue out and saying “Read my lips”) to dress down his detractors.
Many certainly consider him crazy; but the funny thing is that he makes sense to a lot of other crazy people. Explain this: So many (including respected men of the cloth) campaigned against him, perhaps, because they disdain his uncouth ways; and yet at least 16 million Filipinos love him enough to vote for him – warts and all! My friend Emile Sanchez calls the movie-like turn-of-events “The Revenge of the Poor”. Such craziness never ceases to amaze many.
What do I think in all this? Only one story to bring out the feelings and thoughts I have harbored about my country since I was a boy walking barefoot to school for five years in what is now called “The City of Gentle People” – Dumaguete, Negros Oriental. Yes, there is a province here called “Negros” and, coincidentally, I was teased by other children as “negro” because of my dark-brown skin since I loved to play under the Sun. My childhood was a happy and peaceful one in that peaceful city. Until I learned that the world – particularly the country I lived in – was so crazy that I kept dreaming of going back to that city. Or any other place here where I could be myself – at peace and happy. And sane, if possible.
We lived a simple and happy life in Dumaguete. There you could walk and reach places. A horse-buggy was the most common transport which we used sometimes as a family.
Moving to Manila changed all that. I rode a jeepney twice to get to school, which took 30 minutes flat from Mandaluyong to Diliman and the only traffic light was at the corner of Highway 54 (EDSA) and Aurora Blvd. Today, it probably takes at least an hour and a half or more through traffic. Time and space will not allow me to tell all the crazy things that happened from that time until I finally moved to a small town where I have reclaimed my childhood dream, somehow. As a nation, we may not actually regain our sanity; but we can at least remain crazy and live happy lives. That is what being crazy is all about, isn’t it? To be crazy and have a good time living because the un-crazy are not happy at all. So, it seems.
But life is crazy, wherever you go. The other day, I told my friend Andy Bernal of the insult that leaders of this land have placed upon the people for many years. You see, I told him, I have studied at the best high school and best university in this country, bar none. Although I am not rich, I am not poor either. My dream car is a Tesla, not because he was crazy, as they say, but because I hate combustion engines. They pollute and make a lot of noise. I know; my neighbors remind me every time they warm up their engine. And half of the time, the car remains in the garage, sending its fumes downwind to my door and rooms.
I ride a bike and prefer to walk if I could. But at times, one has to take public transpo. The worst insult that a carless old man can experience in this country is riding a tricycle whose design is “substandard” — my way of saying that the government never had a say as to how it should have been designed and operated. Their operators are practically a syndicate, making arbitrary fares and route schemes. And local officials cannot do much because they depend on the votes of these people and their families. With so many of these small inefficient, polluting vehicles clogging the streets, it is no wonder why traffic everywhere (even along national highways where they are not even prohibited) is that bad. I made a computation once and came up with at least an hour of lost time just because a bus or a car has to slow down behind a tricyle for a minute or two (not counting motorbikes, trucks and jeepneys), multiplied by the average number of tricyles per town and by the number of towns between NLEX and Baguio City. What used to take only four hours or more now takes six or more through the old national highway.
I have learned to adjust to this monstrous conveyance because our officials consider it the poor man’s car and to prohibit it would be anti-poor. I am not anti-poor for I live like the poor; but even the poor deserve to have comfort. For fifty pesos over 3 kilometers, that is much more than what jeepneys charge. An air-conditioned taxi in Baguio can bring you over the same distance or more and they do not charge you for the fare going back, which tricycles do by virtue of their might as a powerful sector. But we cannot be anti-poor. Yet, even the poor suffer under this crazy system every day.
Before, tricylces had enough head space. Today, the owners arbitrarily decided to save and cut down the space. So, I have to sit on one buttock (there are two; hence, buttocks), leaning so I would not have to bend my neck to one side or nod uncomfortably. Now and then, I shift to the other buttock, still avoiding the shiny hard stainless roof so I do not hit my head when the tires hit a bump on the road. And since the motor works over time to navigate uphill, the noise becomes atrocious, although most of these tricycles are meant to be noisy so others can hear them from afar. Or the owners do not care at all (neither does the government) and do not put on mufflers. Oftentimes, their brakes squeak and could make your ears hurt so much you become deaf for a while. And their standard excuse is: new brake pads. Solution? I put on ear plugs!
Wait, there is more. Because the fumes from the exhaust pipe is sucked in by the vacuum created by the moving tricycle, the passenger (as well as the driver) inhales much of that toxic gas. Solution? I wear a Ninja mask or use a hanky to cover my nose. And considering that many of the roads are not well-maintained, one has to hold on to the vehicle in order not to be juggled and buffeted around and hit by the metallic hooks owners have put around “inside” and right at the back of your head for curtains to keep out the rain.
There is more. Because many of the roads are dusty or unpaved, one has to cover the eyes to keep from smarting. In my case, since my hands are occupied, I close my eyes and pray for safety and sanity!
So you get the crazy picture? Cramped inside the vehicle, clinging for life and salvation, with numbed buttocks, crooked neck, closed eyes, pinched nose, plugged ears and insulted soul, one endures the few minutes of hell courtesy of a poor man whose best excuse for the unintended insult is that he needs to make a living (although he is slowly killing people and himself in the process). That is a graphic picture of the life of the crazy Filipino ruled by crazy Filipinos. Thanks to a government run by many people who may have never ridden a tricycle or do not ride one anymore because it is below their dignity.
Dignity!!?? You have dignity because you took it away from millions of Filipinos who have to suffer the indignity of being poor in a country that is so blessed with natural wealth but has been cursed by decades of corrupt governance and ruled by many greedy officials who never seem to satisfy their lust for power and wealth. If these people really do have religion as most of them claim to have, then they have never read Rizal. They are as crazy as the people the hero wrote against and about.
But the craziest thing we can say about the past electoral process is that finally Filipinos now have the hope to achieve a meaningful and lasting change. That is crazily late because that hope was already mine when I was ten years old. More than fifty years ago, I dreamed of a country where people did not have to fall in line to buy rice and corn like we did then. Surprisingly, the newly-elected or soon-to-be-proclaimed (whoever started using the adjective “presumptive” is trying to make him appear presumptuous; yes, it is grammatically correct but it is so laced with poison, it smells of conspiracy) president announced that he will do away with the system of falling in line in applying for permits or licenses in government offices.
And he must be that crazy because he also wants drinking outside of the house and at street corners to cease, one bad Filipino habit that I despise. So with noisy karaoke singing beyond bed time. So with short-term contractual workers. So with the boundary system used by bus operators. So with wearing barong (like him, I hate synthetic fiber and prefer cotton). So with meaningless protocols or rituals (such as living in a palace, praying to saints, using very formal language and others). I must be as crazy as him! And so are the rest who voted for him.
But I just wonder: Does he feel that tricycles should be improved or upgraded or strictly regulated so that Filipinos will have more comfort and dignity? I wait with bated breath and pray for all the real craziness to end. We can actually be happy without being crazy, too.
(Photo above: Dr. Jose Rizal’s statue at the poblacion in Taal, Batangas)