Friday, May 6, 2016

Embracing the Red Sea

When Miriam Defensor-Santiago announced that she was running again, I thought I would end up voting for her. She is a feisty and intelligent woman with quite a track record. Sure, she isn't perfect, but who is? Right?

I didn't really find anything hugely despicable about Noynoy Aquino; I just genuinely thought this woman would be a good alternative because of her intellect and her extensive experience in public service. Sure, she has done some rather horrid things (case in point: playing crony to both Estrada and Arroyo), but she has hilarious pick-up lines and she was one of the most active proponents of the Magna Carta of Women. She may have a foul mouth and a patronising attitude, but she championed the Reproductive Health Bill. See my dilemma there?

I was contemplating, for once, jumping off the political mini-bandwagon of the family and the party it supported. For the sake of being true to myself, I thought. I even pondered on coming out as a Miriam-supporter a day after elections. It would have been my second coming out.

And then she chose Bongbong Marcos as her running mate. I was shattered. For years within the period of Ferdinand Marcos' Martial Law, when they were in university, my parents risked their lives to raise public awareness on the atrocities he had committed. They took to the streets and participated in demonstrations against his violent regime. And now, here's this woman, for whom I had great admiration, peddling the son of a criminal. Here she was presenting Ferdinand Marcos Jr--who indubitably benefited from the wealth his parents amassed by pillaging the country's treasury--as her choice for the country's second highest position. Here she was putting a virtual pedestal below the feet of a man with an indomitable will to deny that his father ever committed any crime against the Philippines and its people.

To add insult to injury, she had this to say: “If I die before I finish my 6-year term, Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr will be able to fit that blank.” I was fuming for days. I was not angry at Miriam but at myself. I was angry at how I was less than three centimetres away from voting for the wrong person. It certainly doesn't help remedy the occasional bouts I have with my propensity for self-slapping that Bongbong Marcos is a front-runner for the vice presidency.

I was at a loss. At the time, I was brainwashed by the rhetoric that Mar Roxas was worth flipping off due to his alleged incompetence at handling the responsibilities of the DILG (Department of the Interior and Local Government) concerning the relief efforts for victims of Typhoon Haiyan. Binay is corrupt; Poe is inexperienced; and Duterte is a mass murderer. I gave serious thought to abstention. I filled my idle hours with beautiful daydreams about Leni Robredo becoming president with Risa Hontiveros as vice.

Then I asked, "Why would a person as noble as Leni Robredo consent to becoming Mar Roxas' running mate if she didn't genuinely believe in him?" And before you insinuate that I am on a weak bandwagon of people who only think Leni is clean because of public perception, I'll tell you that I actually have very strong connections with people who have known her personally for a long time. Vicente R. Hao-Chin Jr, a good personal friend and spiritual mentor of mine, a philanthropist, former president of the Theosophical Society in the Philippines--of which I am a member, co-founder of the transformative school called Golden Link College, and a person whose friends and acquaintances regard as one of the holiest and most noble people in the Philippines, is a first cousin of Jesse Robredo, Leni's late husband who died in a plane crash in 2012. He has known Leni for years and can attest to her genuine kindness and integrity.

I decided to actually do some reading and discovered that the accusations against Mar are largely baseless. On the issue about fund misuse, audit reports prove that the 4 billion pesos that passed through his office has been completely disseminated to local governments whose approved rehabilitation projects are now over 90% complete. And if you know me, you know I can be monstrous when I read so you can bet that I didn't cheat myself. Believe me, I even took time to read loads of articles slamming Roxas. Still, none of the accusations of corruption checked out. They all proved to be baseless and, if not deliberate fabrications for the sake of ruining his name (because I'd like to think the best of people), simply misinformed.

Still, though, he is not the most charismatic of leaders. He does not seem to me like the kind of man capable of rallying a crowd towards a common goal. Add these, too: He still thinks there's a chance that clean coal might exist; he maintains a capitalist mindset that supports some of the big corporations that I find absolutely abhorrent; he was born into privilege and is largely detached from the conditions that poor Filipinos experience on a day-to-day basis. I was only just getting to know him, so it would take a stronger push for me to actually declare (even to myself) that I would be voting for him. It was different with Miriam because she has been an object of fascination for me since I was a child. Mar Roxas, on the other hand, lacked the force of personality to even warrant an effort to type his name on a Google search bar. I only ever looked him up once when he ran for the vice presidency in 2010. I read one article, watched one YouTube video and then chose to ignore him in favour of Loren Legarda.

This time, I do not have the luxury to be complacent or to abstain. Running for the same position is a mass murderer who has gained a following whose chest voids his false messages of hope have filled instead of allowing them to regain their hearts. They ooze with fanaticism, praising and justifying every single thing he says and does like they have been possessed, banking on the possibility that maybe the country can be molded into a large version of the orderly Davao City. Nevermind that it may only be achieved through the death of hundreds of people and the trauma and insanity of thousands more. Nevermind that we might, for six years, live in fear of the unchecked power of institutions supposedly charged with our protection.

I was now vacillating between abstention and pragmatism. Should I declare that nobody deserved my vote or should I go for a lacklustre candidate that I didn't know enough about to trust with the job of serving as the country's commander-in-chief for the next six years? On Christmas eve last year, my answer manifested itself. With my mother and grandmother, I visited a Mosque in Sabah, Malaysia and sat silently for about ten minutes mentally chanting "Abstain or Roxas?" And then I said to myself, almost as if prompted by an external force, "Come on, who are you kidding? You know you're voting for Mar." The night of the 25th of December, a foreign friend asked me whom I was voting for and I found myself saying "Roxas" with absolutely zero hesitation. It was then that I truly knew he was getting my vote.

In spite of my mother and father's strong words of encouragement early on that I pick Manuel Roxas III, I still took days and days to ponder long and hard. Any other election without this much pressure and I would probably abstain, having learned my lesson from back in 2010 when I voted for Gibo Teodoro who turned out to be an Arroyo crony that opposed the RH Bill. My consolation was that he lost but I can't help but pound on my noggin a bit for picking him without knowing much about him, just because my maternal family prescribed it. This Sunday, it's a different story. It's not that I strongly want Mar Roxas as the next president; it's that I dread the idea of Rodrigo Duterte rising to power. I have visited places where murder is an everyday occurrence. I have been to countries where living in fear of the military and police is the norm. I don't want the Philippines to be that way. Not this year, not ever!

For a moment, let's disregard the fact that his real name is Manuel and pretend it's just Mar. In Spanish, "mar" means "sea" and "roxas" is an ancient spelling of "rojas," the feminine form of "rojos," plural for "rojo," which means "red." I am voting for a man whose name means "Red Sea," not thinking of a bloodbath, but a body of water that I, a drudge, must traverse to reach the promised land and be freed from vassalage, just as the Hebrews did thousands of years ago when they left Egypt. He isn't the promised land. He will merely help us but we don't have Moses so we're going to have to do our part. We must row or swim as hard as we can if we are to get what we want. This man has neither messianic promises nor deluded predictions. All he said was he would help and he would do it in a civil and decent way. And we know it won't be easy. But at least, instead of perishing over a few rectifiable mistakes, the vast majority of us have hope of being alive to see whatever fruits our labour might bear.