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.

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.

Aftermath

Thousands of kilometers away from the ruins of Tacloban, in the high, glass buildings and sprawling villas of Makati, the devastation is viewed through wide LCD screens and swivel monitors. There is shock and pity, but hardly any understanding. To wade through deep floods, to be cramped into unsanitary shelters, to have everything you own be whisked away in the wind—all are alien experiences to the well-heeled. They will shake their heads and write their checks. But they will carry on aboard their fleet of sedans and SUVs, crowding the streets and sending toxic gases to the atmosphere.  “Resilient” is what they will say about the survivors. But silent is what they will be about the harder questions.

One night in the city

Jenny* was relieved to have finally punched out of her shift. With a spring in her step she headed towards the store’s back door, where she removed her high heels and the day’s weariness. She looked at her plastic watch and smiled–with luck, she could probably beat the late-night traffic and still catch her favorite Koreanovela.

She got off the jeep where the main highway intersected with the street that led to her neighborhood. The streetlamps were always broken, but she knew her way around the narrow pavement. She knew where drunken fights usually broke out, and she was careful to avoid them. She always took the longer walk home.

Nobody knew, however, that she would never get home that night. Not her mother, who always waited for her to arrive before turning in. Not her siblings, whom she had been helping send to school.

Jenny was found in a nearby creek the next afternoon, stabbed and possibly raped. But nobody knew about it, except her family and neighborhood, whose mourning was lost in the din of the city’s restlessness and hardship.

Meanwhile, not many miles away, another girl was found dead under a bridge. Everybody knew about it, because they knew she was missing right away when she had failed to update her Facebook status. Her car would not be found until a little later. It was dented and covered with soot, as if someone had tried to set it on fire.

Her friends took to Facebook to express their grief, and with every comment and like, their mourning grew louder and louder. Justice, they wailed. Justice for their friend–a bright candle snuffed out too soon. She was a manager in a top advertising firm. She had a boyfriend. She had a whole life ahead of her.

The police even set a huge bounty for the capture of her killers, who were then arrested shortly after. Justice at last, the girl’s friends and family thought. And they were glad for the collective public outrage, for the President personally giving a directive for the case, for the CCTV cameras that tracked the girl’s drive home the night she went missing.

Jenny’s mother never knew this other girl, because she had stopped watching the news. She no longer had any reason to stay up late; Jenny would no longer be coming home.

*For everyone who suffers all sorts of adversity, but not fortunate enough to have the voice to make the world listen and care.

“Roar,” “Wrecking Ball,” and the UAAP Cheerdance Competition

There’s a lot to like about Katy Perry’s newest music video. With all the colors and the tiger, it actually reminded me of Ang Lee’s Life Of Pi. I was loath to see the vain boyfriend get eaten by the tiger too soon! But well, obviously he held Katy down, and she needed to be queen of the jungle ASAP.

Many people, on the other hand, felt the opposite about Miley Cyrus’ newest video. The internet was abuzz with comments, most of them spiteful, about Miley straddling a gigantic wrecking ball naked. Frankly, and to plagiarize one Youtube comment I’ve read, I think Miley’s the perfect example of not giving a f*ck.

sloth

Miley the sloth here couldn’t care less, too.

Miley is totally fit and I have no problem with her showing off all her hard work at the gym, however she wishes to do it. Let’s lay off a bit on bashing her, people, and let a pop star be, well, a damn pop star!

In other news, NU bagged the UAAP cheerdance title for the first time ever. I heard they’ve recruited top gymnasts from the last Palarong Pambansa. In my honest and biased opinion, UP’s routine was still superior, both in difficulty and the wow factor. But they had too many mistakes. I liked La Salle’s too, and I correctly predicted they’d place in the top three this year.

If there’s one thing I didn’t like about the whole spectacle, it was that all those lithe and nimble young men and women made me feel extremely fat and sedentary.

“Where Quezon City goes, the Philippines follows”

I found this rather disturbing pronouncement on a tarp by the Quezon City hall announcing that Herbert Bautista has recently been chosen as the president of the League of the Cities of the Philippines.

While much of the last five years of my life happened in this bustling city of almost three million, I regret to say that I have not developed any fondness for the place. Sure, I love UP, its trees, and its dark, momol-ready corners, but my nostalgia ends when my memory wanders past University Avenue into Philcoa, where urban sprawl is at its worst.

Okay I take it back, the worst part of Metro Manila for me is still Pasay Rotonda.

But Philcoa, Cubao, SM North, and any of Quezon City’s major intersections are not far behind. Their roads and sidewalks (if not overrun yet by vendors) are grimy and dangerous. In college I dreaded having to stay late in Katipunan for org meetings because that meant braving a two-minute trek up Cubao’s footbridges and dodging leers from pimps and prostitutes.

Maybe it didn’t seem so far-fetched to QC government officials to make such a pronouncement. After all, they are one of the country’s largest cities in terms of large area, income, and population. In its Wikipedia page, QC is described as being the “wealthiest” city in the country.

Well I don’t know about that. Certainly all that wealth hasn’t translated into effective urban planning and management. QC is always in the news for demolitions of slum areas. You’d have thought that with its Php14-billion revenue collection last year (seven times that of my home city Muntinlupa), QC would’ve managed to provide decent housing for its homeless people. Instead all I see everyday are waiting sheds in varying colors and degrees of dilapidation carrying politicians’ names, most conspicuous of which is “Belmonte.”

Quezon City is hardly a model city for the rest of the country to follow. A model city for me would be one where people ride their bikes to work and school, and not carry them on the back of their pickup trucks and SUVs, one where there are adequately equipped public libraries, one where the centerpiece of urban development is not a mall but a well-maintained public park. 

In short, one that we have yet to build and develop in our own country.