Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Survivor Politics; or, Writing Political Commentary Gets Silly when You're Battling Insomnia

Perhaps it was the fact that I’ve been reading up on health and fitness websites for the past 12 hours, but I haven’t been able to get Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical” out of my head. It’s become so pervasive that, as I was thinking of a title for this little rambling on next year’s presidential elections, the only real idea I had was to use “Let’s Get Political” (sung, of course, to the tune of the aforementioned pop song). I realize that it’s downright ridiculous to start off an entry about politics with a rather personal issue with an 80s pop song, but then again, that’s exactly what I think of our country’s current state of affairs.

I’m not the first to say that the state of politics in the Philippines is ridiculous, and I certainly won’t be the last, but all this talk about the elections had me thinking – just how many people are going to run for president next year? A little bit of research tells me that a whopping 18 individuals have expressed their intentions to run for office. Among those 18, only 6 have dropped out of the race. Am I the only one thinking how stupid it would be if things stayed the way they are come election time? Those are 12 names potentially on the ballot, each vying for a chance to be the leader of our nation.

Now color me idealistic, but how the heck are we supposed to pick a leader based on majority of the public opinion if the public’s opinion is divided 12 ways? If things stay the way they are, the eventual winner will probably claim the presidency with only 20% of the vote! Sure, that 20% may have had the majority of the votes, but is it really what most of us want? In terms of population size, and not the number of votes cast, 20% is a paltry amount. That’s like saying someone gets to be class president because 8 out of 40 people voted for him.

Of course, the number of candidates is bound to drop the closer we get to the elections, but the final number will likely still be too much to constitute a good vote. See, having too many candidates appears to be a part of our political culture. Since 1992, we’ve had an average of 7.33 presidential candidates over three elections, none of which has won by over 40% of the vote. Former President Ramos, in fact, won by only 23.6% (or, in classroom terms, around 9 students). Next year’s election will probably turn out like this – 6-9 candidates on the ballot, with the winner getting roughly 25-35% of the vote.

I, for one, think that’s really, really stupid. No classroom is going to be happy with the class president if only 14 students voted for him; in the same fashion, the voting population is never going to be happy with the country’s president if 60% of them didn’t even choose the guy. No wonder we keep squabbling with each other – the other guys fucked us up with their votes.

The sheer number of candidates tends to divide the public rather than unite them, which is the opposite of what an election should do. Again, I’m being idealistic here, but I’d like to imagine that an election is a time for people to come together and discuss what exactly the country needs, as personified by a leader. Sure, there are always going to be opposing voices, but look at it this way – with two candidates, the worst you’ll get is one half of the population disagreeing with the other half. With 5 candidates, your worst case scenario involves each fifth of the population fighting with each of the four other fifths. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have two large-sized chunks of the population fighting each other rather than 5 smaller chunks arguing among themselves. At least more people work towards a common cause in the former scenario. At least there’s some sense of unity there.

I don’t see this problem going away, either. I’m not going to pretend that I know anything about bipartisan politics, and I’m probably exposing myself as a himbo here, but I do know that our politicians are too involved with themselves to actually sit together and decide which single person would be the best candidate to represent either the left or the right. Our leaders would rather divide the public’s opinion than bring it together, all for their own ambitions for power. It’s downright ridiculous.

This is why I’d like to share an equally-ridiculous, completely uneducated solution: hold the elections like fucking Survivor. That’s right – have the candidates battle it out and prove their worth to the Philippine tribe. Let the candidates scramble for public favour in an effort to save themselves from being voted out by the population. Hell, we already have the personalities to make a decent show – Manny Villar, the picture of success; JC de Los Reyes, the spunky young upstart; Joseph Estrada, the charming ex-con looking to redeem himself; and Noynoy Aquino, the guy whose mom died. All we need is an impartial Jeff Probst to give them challenges and tally the votes.

I can see it now – on week 1, Jeff tells the candidates they have three weeks to improve the nation’s hunger issue. The candidate who feeds the most mouths gets immunity. Villar takes the easy route and rains money over depressed areas while perched on his solid gold helicopter. Noynoy distributes canned goods with yellow labels (natch), helping the hungry subsist on Argentina Corned Beef and canned lychees. De Los Reyes plays the youth card, calling all students to volunteer in the effort and promising them better grades in return. Erap smiles and winks at the populace, assuring us that “mabubusog ang masa sa pagmamahal ko"(the masses will get full thanks to my love for them). At the end of three weeks, Erap inexplicably survives the vote despite 600 people dying of starvation on his watch. By the time we reach the grand finale, the remaining two contestants make their final appeals to the voters before the ballots are cast.

Sure, it’s impractical, oversimplified, and lacks any proper understanding of politics, but at least we’ll have the candidates actually serving the country as they campaign, rather than the empty posturing we see all the time. Even if the winning candidate turns out to be a major bomb, as was the case with our more recent administrations, they’ll at least have done the public some service.

Just don’t let Bayani Fernando walk around naked on camera.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Happy Birthday

Looking back at my previous entries made me realize one thing – I haven’t posted in over a month. There’s no better time than now to write, though; I’ve been fighting a bout of insomnia, and just had one of the most enlightening talks I’ve ever had with my brother.

Those who really know me know that I really look up to him; he’s not only my brother, he’s the very reason why I’ve been so enchanted with writing. I already mentioned briefly about how my brother’s writing got me interested in doing it as well, but I never said how powerful his influence was. To many impressionable young kids, a brother four years your senior is the closest thing you have to a role model (aside from superheroes and cartoon characters). When I was younger, my brother would write and write and write, and he’d get praise from his teachers and my parents for his skills as a wordsmith. The pride my parents took in his writing made putting good sentences together like the ultimate achievement. To me, writing was, in layman’s terms, the shiznit.

So I grew up reading his work and wanting to write like him. For a while, I did my best to copy his style and pass it off as my own. Whatever I did, though, it never really came out as good as his stuff, so I decided to stop trying and develop my own voice. Writing grew to be my passion, and it’s led me to where I am now.

Where I am now is sitting in front of my laptop a few hours after my brother’s birthday ended. There was some impromptu get-together held at my second-favourite source of foreign beers in the country, but I couldn’t go because of A)work, and B)budget. I also found out about it pretty late – around 10pm – and I really had my hands tied. I figured I could make it for my brother’s real birthday celebration on Saturday, but then I found out my sister and mother were going.

This was an unexpected hitch. See, my mother believes that familial obligations are of the highest priority, and I’d agree with her on most nights. It’s just that too many circumstances were going against me, and I really wouldn’t have been able to make it (the bar is pretty far from my place). The fact that my mother was going, though, meant that I had to force the issue and go, or else face her wrath; “wrath”, in this sense, meaning “life-long guilt trip from Hell”. I’ve always felt like the failure son in her eyes, and this incident would have only reinforced that image.

But here’s just how awesome my brother is – he completely understood my predicament, AND he reasoned it out with my mother. This is a man who, on his own birthday, dealt with familial drama that didn’t directly involve him. On his very birthday, he defended me.

I found out about this when he came home, drunk but very much awake. I greeted him, and then apologized profusely for my absence. What he did next was just amazing to me – he started going on and on about how he kept defending me against my mother, in front of everyone at the establishment. When she complained about my absence, he told her that he didn’t find it a problem; and if he didn’t find it a problem, it shouldn’t be an issue. When she insisted that I simply didn’t value family as much as they did, he told her that she didn’t really know me that well. When she got drunk and started complaining about my career choices, he told her to have faith in my ability, just like he did.

At some point in his passionate recounting, I asked him if he’d like to cap the night off with a final birthday scotch. He happily agreed, and we relocated to the dinner table. Once we had our glasses, he continued talking about how much he believed in me, and about how much it kills him that no one else in this family seems to do the same.

That’s just the guy my brother is – he’s one of the most incredibly selfless individuals I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing. He spent most of the closing hours of his birthday making ME feel good about myself. He went on and on about enjoying my blogs and hearing me ramble on and on about anything and everything at the end of the day. He told me about how he wished he could do what I was doing, and that he had complete and utter faith that I could do it well. For one night, he made me feel the opposite of what I felt all my life – I felt worthy of admiration this evening.

Despite all that ego-boosting, he closed by thanking me. He told me that talking with me salvaged what might have been one of the more depressing birthdays of his life – although he had a great time with his friends, there was the shadow of a quarter-life crisis looming overhead and a mother who just wouldn’t stop bringing up familial drama. Talking to me, he said, made him feel like he had family more than the physical presence of the others did.

Afterwards, I told him my piece about how he was the original inspiration for what I do, about how I think his own noble selfishness sort of cheats him out of pursuing writing, and about how talented and smart and good he is for being that unselfish. Like every nice guy, he took it with a grain of salt. He probably won’t remember much of it until he reads this post.

We continued well into the wee hours talking about the fun random things people talk about when they’ve had a little too much scotch – sexuality, comics, software development, friends, relationships, work, beer as the reason for civilization, and Japanese exploitation movies from the 1970s, among others. When his eyes started doing the “will we or won’t we close?” dance, I suggested calling it a night. He happily agreed.

This was perhaps one of the best talks I’ve had with my brother, even if he was probably only half-sober. Heck, it was one of the best times I’ve had with him, period. I’m really happy that he enjoyed it too, and that he had a pretty good end to his birthday, despite my earlier absence. He may not see me in any pictures from the celebration, but at least he’s got these thousand or so words.

Happy birthday, Mart.

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