The choices we make

This time tomorrow, the initial results of the 2016 national elections will have come in. If everything goes well, and the polling process proceeds as orderly and as peacefully as it has done in the last two elections, we may yet pat ourselves in the back for another successful validation of our electoral traditions.

But because our country is more democratic in theory than in practice, there are few things more sacred to us than our freedom to directly elect our leaders. We see it as the be-all and end-all of our democratic project—we care little for the day-to-day tedium of running the government; we often neglect our essential, but oftentimes inconvenient, duty to hold our leaders accountable for their conduct in office.

The result, as we have all seen, is the bewildering turn of events in a highly polarizing election season. I have never seen such intense mudslinging and muckraking. It has been particularly more vicious in social media, where it is easier to express and share commentary about the candidates. I myself have gotten into online word wars, and have even been asked by a supporter of a popular candidate to a face-to-face dialogue!

In due time, I will write about my whole experience of being a keyboard warrior, but let me tell you this now—there is little satisfaction to be had in arguing with a stranger who has turned deaf and blind to views other than his own.

In the end, it is our openness to opposing views and criticisms that help us forge sounder judgment and decisions. I do not necessarily think that I have made a better decision than those who do not share my choice, but I stand by the process with which I arrived at my decision. In my view, one’s preference for a candidate matters just as much as why one is making that particular choice, and I hope everyone has had enough time to carefully study the candidates’ different platforms and relevant issues facing our country today.

As we troop to the polling precincts, let us remember that the elections alone do not chart our nation’s destiny. Our responsibilities do not stop with installing a leader—we have to support him in his programs, disagree with him when he’s wrong, watch his every move and word, and if he gravely fails to carry out his mandate, seek out justice against him. The choices we make after our votes have been cast will spell the difference between our collective defeat and victory.

Prayers for the presidents

Manila is currently at a standstill to accommodate the hosting of this year’s Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit. Twenty-one world leaders, including United States President Barrack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, are in town to discuss various issues, chiefly trade and economic relations. Work and classes are suspended, roads are closed, and security is at its tightest, all so the delegates can move seamlessly from their hotels to the summit venues.

Not everything has been all pomp and glitz, however. There’s already widespread criticism of the preparations undertaken to host the summit, viewed by many as “excessive”, “anti-people”, and “hypocritical” for the amount of disruption and inconvenience they have caused the public. Even foreign leaders are hounded by crises in their home country–Nieto by a worsening drug problem in Mexico, Xi by maritime disputes in the South China Sea, and Obama by every other major geopolitical conflict in the world.

All these make one wonder what it must really be like to be a national leader in a globalized world. These men and women are among the world’s most powerful, and collectively, their day-to-day decisions affect billions of people. It’s often so easy for ordinary citizens like us to find fault in their actions–we whip them for the smallest infractions, and blame them for problems that have preceded, and will outlive, their terms in office.

The truth of the matter is that national leaders are confronted by complex and interconnected issues that are sometimes very far removed from their citizens’ daily lives. A simplistic understanding of the powers they wield–that they can make problems disappear in one fell swoop “if they will just choose to”–can be misguiding, and will often lead to disappointment and blind anger.

We have to understand that these men and women juggle complex roles–they manage cabinets whose members may not always agree with them; they command armies whose generals may have little regard for civilian law; they must constantly make themselves available to personalities who have brokered their rise and perpetuity in power, even if it’s against their better judgment; they must make alliances with each other and endlessly worry about their positions in the global pecking order; they must look after their families, who, by extension, are vulnerable to the same security and reputational risks.

One wonders if these leaders don’t often catch themselves wishing that they can just be one of us, the nameless multitude who never have to think beyond our own backyards, and who still have the luxury to ridicule government leaders whenever we get stuck in traffic.

Bingbing’s fan!

I’m not really a big X-Men geek, but the Days of Future Past has some of the of the most awesome action sequences I’ve seen. Especially towards the end, where the Sentinels finally found the mutants in the monastery and began killing them one by one. It was just heartbreaking to see them get killed like that. Special mention to Blink, played by Chinese actress Fan Bingbing, who was the last X-Man to fall before the Sentinels penetrated the barricaded temple! It was so awesome watching her avoid all those beams with portal after portal! I think there was a good chance she could’ve escaped them, but maybe seeing your friends get ripped apart in front of you can be really emotionally and physically taxing. Good news is that we’re seeing more of Blink because Bingbing signed up for four more movies with 20th Century Fox!

Friday evening thoughts

These days, I couldn’t seem to get to bed without first having coffee and peanut butter sandwich, then watching at least two hours of Suits. Even when the day is long and my legs are dead, and I’ve already eaten some 500 calories (food-court pad thai, sometimes two Goya chocolate bars), when I get home I’d still make myself coffee (three-in-one Kopiko brown) and scour the kitchen for every last bit of leavened bread I could find. Then, after I’ve showered and brushed my teeth, I’d let myself be sucked into the glass offices of Pearson Hardman. It’s become a habit, one which I’m not too keen to break just yet.

Maybe that’s what you do when unemployment is staring at you in the face. Or when your salary is withheld and you realize you’re basically living on your savings now. You feel very queasy, you start to lose motivation, and suddenly you could only find redemption when engrossing yourself in fictional litigation.

I recently had a dinner with a close friend who’s still in school and, listening to her stories, I couldn’t help but sorely miss the life I used to live–that she still lives. I don’t want to go all Thought-Catalog-y here and say I’m “lost” but okay, and that I’m living one day at a time. It isn’t okay, and I haven’t spent one minute not thinking about what I’m going to do next.

Maybe tonight I’ll make a second cup of coffee. I will hold sleep–and dreams–at bay. Maybe in the zone between grogginess and perpetual anxiety, I might come to an epiphany.

Tuesday grime

I clung to the overhead handrail for support, like everyone’s shirts clung to their backs with sweat. I didn’t know which was worse–to be out under the sweltering noonday sun, or be boxed inside the train’s asthmatic air conditioning with human beings whose hygiene were already in varying degrees of deterioration. Everyone had a sweaty nape. And I was going to utter, for the millionth time, a silent plea to God–he could redeem murderers, so maybe He could also redeem an incompetent management board–when I espied, not more than arm’s reach from me, a couple animatedly talking to each other. The short, plump girl, a nurse, was facing away from his boyfriend, towards the glass window smeared with palm and fingerprints. She was fanning herself with a notebook while her boyfriend, equally plump, but taller, spoke to her hair. The suddenly boyfriend took out his MRT card, and I thought he was going to preposterously fan himself with it, too. Instead, he began scraping his face with it–left cheek, right cheek, forehead down to the nose bridge–so that when enough dark brown material had caked on the card, he wiped it clean on his shirt sleeve. My plea lodged on my throat, and I turned away, to my biceps and the antiseptic scent of my morning soap. The station of my salvation was still far away.

Neighbors

You discreetly pick a bit of meat stuck between your teeth, then triumphantly flash a smile again. Your living room is more cramped than usual because it’s your lola’s birthday. Her friends, a gaggle of old ladies from the neighborhood, have gathered around you. Their cackling sounds hostile, and you can’t believe you feel threatened at your own home. You stretch your lips even wider, hoping that your smile deflects their probing questions. Across the room, your cousins, all tall and self-conscious now, deliberately avoid eye contact. Never have smartphones been so handy.

You’re surprised at the amount of information they know about you. They know you work in Quezon City. They know you work for a government agency. They know you went to Hong Kong for your birthday. But there’s one thing you know they’ve been dying to ask. One thing they’ve been at pains to get from you. You see it in their quivering brows and knowing glances as they muster the subtlety they don’t have. You know it’s coming, because your twenty-three-year old cousin is there, and he’s brought along his baby and the baby’s mother.

But you are far smarter than any of them. So you pick up your plate, load it with a fresh slice of cake, and smile to them before they can even so much as give each other another glance. “My phone’s dead, I’m just going to charge  it.” They don’t see it, but as you rise from your seat, it vibrates inside your pocket, like a writhing fish waiting to be unhooked.

The taxman

Seems like the taxman is really on a killing spree, and the latest to have fallen prey to his sickle is none other than…my father. My poor old man and his wife recently got the shock of their lives when they saw from his latest payslip that he earned a lot less than what he should have. Now, my father doesn’t really make that much to begin with, but when you subtract from what is already meager, well, I guess it makes older people’s arteries constrict faster than normal.

The HR’s explanation? Now that his firstborn–yours truly–is no longer 21, I’m no longer counted as his dependent. Under Philippine law, each taxpayer is entitled to a 25,000-peso exemption from taxable income per dependent up to four dependents. Now my dad has less dependents and therefore has more taxable income. The bottom line is, I’m paying my own tax now, too, so it’s become very hard not to put “BIR” and “vicious” in the same sentence. Meanwhile, fast, comfortable trains that could take me from Alabang to anywhere in the metro remain a distant dream.