By Menchu Aquino Sarmiento
The utility man Nelson told me he had to leave early that day. It was the campaign season and their Barangay Captain needed him to attend a meeting. Cap had even gone by his house earlier to remind him. Nelson was obviously pleased to be recognized by a public official, the most powerful personage in their little community of informal settlers. Every few years, during elections, his presence counted for something. There were perks, of course, cash being foremost, as well as invitations to festivities. But from his blissful expression, it was clear that for Nelson, it was the being singled out by the Barangay Captain which mattered the most.
“Everyone is worth talking to,” the actress and political activist Bibeth Orteza emphasized during a TVUP webinar on political literacy titled “Over-Entertained and Under-Informed.” Many voters do not overthink political platforms, socio-economic issues, or even a candidate’s character, qualifications and track record. Orteza advices us to start with our own immediate circles of influence, i.e., our family and household members. It is worthwhile to find out why our kasambahay or even our suki sa palengke have decided, or are yet undecided for whom to cast their sacred votes.
Journalist Vergel Santos of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility was adamant that despite their numbers, the poor are not to blame for the course steered by the ship of state. Generations of poverty are unconducive to the subtleties of critical thought or informed choice. Years ago, I witnessed how the armed overseers at an hacienda, herded the plantation workers and their families into the same trucks which were used for hauling sugar cane. They were then taken to the polling precinct with instructions to vote according to the landlord’s pleasure. Failure to obey meant being summarily thrown out of their huts, jobless and homeless and probably beaten to a pulp as well. Political dynasties and warlordism continue to thrive.
For those of us fortunate enough to have full WiFi and access to social media, the great divide is heightened by “Smart Shaming.” Bad English grammar, factual and spelling errors are mercilessly mocked, and names like taboga (tanga-bobo-gago) applied. That’s not what radical love is. Difficult as it might be, we must resist the impulse to ridicule or to argue with the others, but be the bigger person instead. Besides, by ignoring, or blocking and reporting the obvious trolls, we ensure that they don’t get paid.
A UP College of Mass Comm professor reminded his students to infuse kiliti into their writing to appeal to a broader audience. In terms of political campaigns, the strategist Alan German sums up the essentials of messaging into the acronym DEAN which stands for: delight-entertain-amuse-(make some) noise. “Why are we Filipinos so shallow?” lamented the late F. Sionil Jose, a National Artist for Literature. Our elections’ carnival atmosphere may dismay those who want voters to take politics seriously but that may just not be the way we are. Being a newbie democracy, like a teenager, our national identity is still unclear. Come May, we take another step towards our journey into nationhood and defining ourselves as a people.
Menchu Aquino Sarmiento is an award-winning writer and a social concerns advocate. IRL (In Real Life) are short verbal pagmumuni-muni, the essay equivalent of fast fiction--but in real life. She really wants more Filipinos to care, and to do something legal and non-violent about it, preferably together, so that we act more like a civilized country, a mature democracy.