To the Undecided on the Eve of the 2016 National Elections

crossroad in decision making for elections

I was on a line to a counter in a 7-11. Like any resident of these sun-drenched Islands, you probably noticed – as I have so often when purchasing – that there’s a tally board above the counter. And unless you’ve been under a rock these last five months at least, then you know what that tally sheet is for: the number of people who, on purchasing Gulp, choose a tumbler that corresponds to a particular candidate.

And if you’ve looked at it as much as I have at least in these weeks leading to the National Elections this coming Monday, 9 May 2016, then you’ve probably noticed one thing common to most, if not nearly all, 7-11 outlets:

A strong second, no matter who is on top, are the Undecided.

Andami pala natin.

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This is not for you who already have a choice for President this coming May 9. As many have often said, this late in the game there is very little, if any, chance of your changing your decision. Nothing I can say at this late a stage can change your mind

I trusted in your judgement.

But I think I misunderstood your anger and frustration.

I understand you all. Even, I think, the few Binay supporters among you.

And to some of you, especially for those of you who can forgive what we once thought was unforgivable unless certain amounts of restitution were done, your fear. They are my own fears. But I fear that the kind of justice the Jesuits implanted in the minds of the ones they trained is far stronger than my fear for the future of the Republic that I can, for the sake of expediency, forgive one who helped betray and destroy us. It’s partly his fault we are now on dangerous ground.

So this is not for you.

You’ve had all these months to make your case, to speak your mind. We have heard you. But we remain Undecided.

At ang dami pala namin.

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I speak now to the Undecided, those who, like me at this late stage of the game, are part of that glaring gray stripe on that 7-11 tally sheet.

Ang dami pala natin.

I am not here to convince you to vote for any candidate, although my words may seem like they castigate or condemn a candidate. Forgive me those lapses: I spent more than ten years trying to help make a better Philippines for you.

We failed.

Some might say that it wasn’t our fault, that our elders who were supposed to be the heroes and heroines of this Republic betrayed us and the ideals they drilled into our heads, but we could have done something.

But now we are here.

On one side, two choices for the status quo. More of the same nepotism and corruption, and on the other more of the same only for a different group. Although, for that latter one, some of my former comrades who themselves are victims of that other choice say that there’s a chance it wouldn’t be too bad. That he who once represented the best of our ideals can still find it in himself to once again be that bright, shinging light.

The former, I don’t need to tell you much about him. He’s probably down on the bottom of your lists, anyway.

He’s actually in the middle of mine, if that little test I took is anything to believe in. I was as surprised as you, to be honest. What. The. Fuck. Why?

On another, a choice for uncertainty and disloyalty. Sure, your politicians have been the most disloyal to you and Inang Bayan, but at least, so her detractors say, they’re your fellow citizens. Not only is this a choice for the largely untested, but a foreigner, too?

To be fair, though, the Republicans of the United States, and even some Democrats, made the same accusations of a half-Black man with a Muslim background. I’m not saying this choice is like Barack Obama – very far from it – but the attacks on her somehow remind me now of him. So that’s where that part of the playbook was used on.

To the other side is a choice that was so once, before the Millennials among you were even born, I think. I’ve seen many egg her to try again in the years leading to 2016, and many still declare she is actually the best of them all… only she is sick. She is a shadow of her former self (yet still better than the other four, yes?). Can she finish her term? More uncertainty! And what’s that business with choosing the Only Begotten Son of the Dictator as her running mate?

And there on that side stands one for strength, security and maybe prosperity. From almost nothing this choice has become the strongest. I have seen this growth. I have heard his words… and theirs. His supporters. Few people have commanded such a following in this country. It has captured the hearts and minds of even people I count as close friends and also members of my family. It is a phenomenal event.

And it is also what deeply frightens me.

This phenomenon isn’t like the Arab Spring, or the one around Poland’s Solidarity. This isn’t in the spirit of reconciliation and unity following the end of Apartheid in South Africa. This isn’t the call for simple reform towards a genuine upliftment of the Republic.

This is a phenomenon fueled by anger, disappointment and frustration. Fear drives this movement. And the notion, whether true or misguided, that only through this coarse, mercurial, irreverent man will their fears be put to rest.

And that is what deeply frightens me.

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That sounds like a scathing rebuke of certain candidates, no? I apologize… or maybe I don’t. They all have had the last few months to speak their minds. I see them in my feed everyday. Before all this, I was perhaps one of the few people who flooded THEIR newsfeeds with political stuff. Now everyone’s politically active.

Would that I see such passion and fervor not for any particular candidate but for ideas, concepts and actions that will be done for the betterment of the Republic, the upliftment of its people. You don’t need a politician to do change. Every single one of them has an agenda of their own. Serving the Republic, taking care of you and meeting your concerns has rarely figured in the equations of those courting your vote, Dear Undecided, unless it be for good soundbites to hoodwink you to their side.

I should know. My specialty was Political Media Operations. I’m in political PR. Lying is not necessarily what we do, just… obfuscation. I always tell people that public relations and communications is simply the repackaging of information for a desired outcome. Look at your Decided Friend(s), my dear Undecided, and you tell me just how successful the repackaging has been.

That’s partly the reason why I’ve remained as Undecided as you for so long: I am not only a ten-year veteran of political operations, but I was in Media ops. I know most of the tricks of the trade. I used some of them on you to make you hate Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2005 and blind you to the contributions of her administration (declaration: an admin I was part of until 2010) that played a big part on the economic miracle your country supposedly has today.

And part of the reason why I’ve remained as Undecided as you for so long is that I am privy to information I can’t just reveal to you. I trust implicitly the sources of my information, but for these to be given to the wider public it needs corroboration. I have a rule that if I can’t independently corroborate something, I don’t share it.

I also fear that, even with what should be substantial proof in ordinary times, a lot of the Decided will just ignore what I know.

Would that I could share them with you, dear Undecided. But I fear that even what I know will just be part of the noise that has made it difficult for you to make your decision. I who know so much can’t decide, so how much more you who have to go by press releases, biased media coverage, fanatical supporters (all candidates have them, to be fair), and hearsay?

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Instead, dear Undecided, I will ask you to discern. I will ask you to look beyond the candidates, even beyond May 9. That is the important thing behind the vote, after all: when the smoke has cleared and the last vote has been cast on the final minute of Election Day 2016… what then?

What then, dear Undecided?

What are your concerns, dear Undecided? Is it the basics of food, clothing, shelter and the Internet? (Yes, that’s a basic right now, so says the UN). Is it a chance to a better life that economic opportunities – whether a better job or better chances at setting up your own business – provide? Is it the right for your gender preference to be respected by the Republic, that you, finally, be recognized at least by Civil Law that you are human and thus should not be denied the inalienable rights of a human citizen of this Secular, Liberal Democratic, Representative, Republic? Is it the right to give your opinion, without fear or fervor? Is it the right to make your choices with as many options as you can? Is it about being secure in your person, your home, your city, your country? Are you afraid, too, about our powerful neighbor to the north and wish your nation could be strong against it, with or without allies?

These, I know, are but some of the things that might concern you, dear Undecided. It doesn’t matter how simple you think you concerns are; you are a Citizen of this Republic. Your concerns should matter.

But why are you still unable to decide on who should be the… point person for the address or redress of your concerns?

What holds you back?

What are you afraid of?

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Like the Decided, even those who you think blindly follow their chosen candidate, you have your own fears and concerns, dear Undecided. The problem is that, on Monday, we who can still vote all have to decide on whose name goes into that ballot.

I really wish we can just abstain but there’s no option for that we can mark. COMELEC tells us to just leave it blank. In the face of everything, do you really want to leave that position blank?

And what will an Abstain vote do? Our election system is a variant of First Past the Post. It’s not a majority who decides but the largest plurality. If among all votes cast Candidate N gets the highest number, he or she is the winner. No matter if the percentage is in the single digits. Abstain here is just another non-vote, only not for any of the candidates.

So what do we do? We all wish we can all have an Obama or Justin Trudeau to choose. Or maybe an Angela Merkel. I think I’ll even go for a Lee Kwan Yew, seeing as the man seemed to know what to do with an iron hand.

What I suggest you do, dear Undecided, is to look again at those five. They are all we can choose from, after all. I bet if they retained Mr. Space Ambassador, we’d all be voting for him on Monday. You know, to give the elites a big fuck you. And because teleporters are fun stuff.

Look at those five. And then look at your hopes, your fears, your dreams, your concerns. Look at all you care about. Look at all you live for. Look at the things you have lived with.

Then ask yourself what price your willing to pay to have your hopes and dreams realized, and your concerns and fears addressed.

Which of these things you hope for, you dream of, will be what you give up to address your fears and concerns?

Politics, my dear Undecided, isn’t a game where we all get what we want. It is about compromise. You give this to the other so you can get that from them. Only the tyrannical and rapacious are about taking it all, and only the naive think that the Sheep can get the protection of the Lion without having some of the flock get eaten in return.

You want peace and security, a strong nation that can stand up for itself. What are you willing to pay for it?

You want prosperity, better opportunities, a better life. What are you willing to pay for it?

You want a people who will follow the laws of the land, safe streets and homes. What are you willing to pay for it?

Each of those candidates have their answers to your questions. Unlike the Decided, who immediately hung on to any, most, or even all of the pronouncements of their Chosen, you, my dear Undecided, looked at all of them and said, “wait, hold on.” Even without my access to information and my wealth of experience in political PR, you realized that all these seemed, well… not convincing enough for you.

You’ve held off this long in deciding because you’re not sure any of them has the answers you seek.

And, maybe like me, you are frightened by the specter of what some of them represent but are caught in a bind because elections are numbers games and you feel like it’s choosing between the devil(s) you know and the one(s) you only have a vague idea of why he or she is scaring you but you’re scared, nonetheless. You want so much to vote for Candidate A but he or she has very little chance to win. Candidate C can beat Candidate B, but… what is Candidate C doing? But I don’t like Candidate B, either.

So much blood has been spilled to get where we are now. So much blood is being spilled, figuratively and literally (in the case of the AFP and PNP), to protect what we have now.

For that and the future, dear Undecided, what are you willing to pay?

Because it’s not a stretch to say that the vote this coming Monday may decide the future of this country. What are we as a nation after May 9? That will depend on the confluence between your hopes and fears and the person you think gives you the best offer in realizing the former and addressing the latter.

But that can come at a cost. And at this late stage in the game, even for us Undecided, it’s pretty clear what kind of coin each of the five is asking for.

Are you willing to pay that coin, dear Undecided?

I know it’s hard. I know more than you do yet I’m also caught in decision paralysis.

But we have to decide. Because, my dear Undecided, ang dami pala natin. We might have the power to decide this elections because they’ve been so… relentless in fragging each other that it’s all a fair game now, sans cheating. I haven’t looked at the math, but just casually looking at the results of that highly-unscientific exercise in 7-11 makes me think that ang dami pala natin.

Look at the five of them. Look at what price they are asking from you to realize your dreams and address your fears. It’s there in what they say and unsay, what they did and do and say they didn’t or will not do, in who are the people around and behind them.

And, then, ask yourself… am I willing to pay this coin?

Am I willing to let the Republic pay for this?

Am I willing to let the future of this Republic pay for this?

Because in the 1960s and 1970s, cheating aside, these questions were answered by your parents and grandparents and we’re still paying for those decisions today.

What are you willing to pay? What are you willing to have your children and grandchildren pay?

Is the price for your vision of the Philippines, which will be realized in that man or woman, worth it?

I hope you find your answers, dear Undecided. Because on those might rest the future of this country.

Kasi, ang dami pala natin.

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Arming Teachers: Not a Solution

I don’t understand arming teachers in order to protect schools from crazy gunmen.

Do these people have ANY idea of the psychological cost in pointing a gun at a living human being and pulling that trigger?

A decent person will find it hard to do so, especially if the target is relatively young and someone they know. Meanwhile people not so right in the head or just simply bloodthirsty will have no compunction in drilling even a newborn with holes.

You need conditioning to be able to use a gun effectively, with the intent that it was designed for (which is, after all, TO KILL PEOPLE). Do you honestly think that a teacher will be able to effectively use a gun when faced by someone who has both the training and desire to use one? How can you even compare the mental makeup of a person whose lifelong ambition is to help children to someone determined to kill even defenseless kids?

And a pistol versus assault weapons? Seriously? I know that’s possible but only if the pistoleer knows how to make use of his or her weapon’s strengths, minimize the advantages of assault weapons and/or shotguns, and make effective use of the terrain. But that takes training. Are we going to include “basic tactics” in Educ 101 now? Time spent on the shooting range just won’t cut it when you’re in a real shooting situation.

And please remember that in most cases the perpetrators of these horrible murders were wearing body armor, probably in expectation of confrontation with police and on-site security. That body armor is most likely capable of protecting them against the kind of standard ammunition teachers can buy off a gun store. Unless Departments of Education will issue them special, armor-piercing rounds?

Do the advocates of this move see how… strange this can be?

I think there are many effective ways to prevent another Newtown from happening. But, in my opinion, arming teachers isn’t one of them.

Edit [19 Dec. 2012, 11:53 p.m., Manila Time]

Slate has this nice article on some of my thoughts above. You might want to check it.

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The Blood of my Brothers and Sisters

I think I just wanted to watch the second part of History Channel’s “Mankind: The Story of All of Us” because I’m a history buff and it dealt with the Roman Empire. I was even kind of… leery about its approach to Jesus (devout and practicing Catholic that I am). I swear I could hear all those atheists complaining about the pre-eminent role given to Christ and to religions in this episode.

Strangely, this episode though was evoking some strong reactions in me for how it presented the role religion played both in empire-building and in the transformation of lives. Perpetua’s story engendered in me an awe for the power in the faith of those early Christians, able to face certain and extremely painful death without much hesitation.

I even quipped over Facebook how the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) should watch this episode, if only to be reminded how Christianity was once a faith that offered emancipation and empowerment to the poor, slaves and women.

But I think I wasn’t prepared for one scene further into the episode.

I am a student of history, or at least I’d like to believe myself as such. One of my favorite topics involves anything military, and the Crusades have always been one of the eras I read on. I know its origins and its outcomes, how its effects reverberate to this day. Some scholars even say that the vicious fighting that often flare up between Christians, Muslims and Jews even today can be traced back to the disruptive effects of that era.

So it was with some consternation that I watched the transition from the presentation of Islam as a vehicle for the preservation of knowledge lost in the West due to the Dark Ages towards the gates of Jerusalem as the forces of the First Crusade finally broke in. I know of the slaughter that followed: often it is written how the victorious army of the First Crusade went to the Church of the Sepulcher to thank God with boots red with the blood of the men, women and children they killed.

The show featured one Tancred, a knight, leading the charge in. He kills several warriors. Around him, other Crusaders kill civilians too slow to run away. When the scene shifts back to Tancred, he is shown removing his helmet and looking onto the carnage.

He stops. This man, given leave to kill and plunder by religious fiat, probably with thoughts of glory and riches in his head, suddenly stops at the sight of all the dead. Men, women and children.

Then, he moves to stop his fellow Crusader from further slaughter. He shouts to the others to stop. He then gives a frightened Muslim man his banner. We are told by the narrator that he ransoms these, and that his standard would be a sign to other Crusaders that these people are now under Tancred’s protection.

I don’t know why but there is something in that scene that strikes me hard. I think I was prepared to watch this slaughter perpetrated by fellow Christians, as I have read it so many times in books on the Crusade. For all we condemn jihadists about the thousands they’ve killed in the name of a perversion of Islam, we Christians are not wholly of clean hands. There is blood on them. Our swords, spears and lances once made the streets of Jerusalem run red with the blood of innocents.

I think I wasn’t prepared for this one knight who stopped and let his humanity, his common decency his… Christianity rule him. Amidst the slaughter, one man remembered what that cross on his surcoat really stood for.

I guess I was hoping that someone would stop the killing even if you know from the historical records that it was total. You wanted to see a Christian knight act like one, like a true Paladin, a warrior of the Cross… even if you didn’t expect it because you’ve read about it so many times. In fact, Tancred’s act was for naught. This true knight, this Paladin, went to the Church of the Sepulcher to pray. But when he came out, the Muslims under his protection had been killed by other Crusaders. You could see the agony in Tancred’s face.

But I think part of me felt glad seeing him stand up for what is right, even if his attempts at  saving even a few from the carnage failed in the end. Because someone remembered. Someone, even a man who is supposed to hate these people, saw these not as enemies… but as fellow humans. Maybe even brothers and sisters.

For some days now, fighting has been going on in Gaza. Somewhere in the world, there are people who plan the death of others simply because they don’t worship God in the way these extremists think God should be worshiped. And more all over the world live in fear and hate because of a noisy, influential few who lead a misguided many to be uncompromising when it comes to people of other faiths, other beliefs.

I consider myself a Defender of the Catholic Church. I will protect the Bride of Christ, His Faithful, from all those who wish to harm it.

But I cannot imagine putting to the sword anyone simply because they happen to refer to God the Father by another name, so long as they respect the right of others to worship Him the way they wish. Are we not all Abraham’s sons and daughters, the spiritual offspring of one man to whom God promised children as numerous as the stars in the night sky?

Why must we keep repeating Cain’s sin? Why must we offer the blood of our brothers and sister just to curry the favor of our God and ensure our place in eternal life? Surely, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – be He called Yahweh, God the Father or Allah – has shown us a better, less violent way of praising His Name?

There is so much we can do if only we pool our might and work together to order a world, or even a universe, that we believe our God gave onto our care. A lot of the good humanity finds itself in today is in large part because of the work of our three religions. Why can’t we stay with that? Why can’t we work together instead of killing each other over our shared inheritance?

I wonder what God will find more pleasing: oceans of blood from our slain brothers and sisters, or a world made perfect by the combined work of the hands and minds of the Children of the Covenant?

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On the recent flare up in Gaza

I understand part of the reason why Israel acts and reacts the way they do to the threats to their country. Far be it for me to tell one of the most militarily-successful nations in the modern era what to do, but I’m of the opinion that they really should rethink their strategy.

Perhaps Israel should try to practice spannungsbogen, as the word is defined in Frank Herbert’s Dune. Especially in the context of the latest Hamas rocket attacks during the supposed ceasefire brought on by the Gaza visit of Egypt’s PM.

They really should try not to be… goaded that way. Can’t the IDF just stay on the defensive for a while, at least for the length of the Egyptian PM’s stay? Or can’t they use the (admittedly) riskier-yet-more-precise special operations units to hit back?

Because, of course Hamas won’t respect the ceasefire. Of course they’ll hit Israel. Because they know how you’ll retaliate.

Imagine what would happen if, somehow, the Egyptian PM got killed in the retaliatory airstrike. Just imagine that.

There are better ways to reply to asymmetrical threats like terrorists than sending in the army and air force. The lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan, when contrasted with how Bin Laden was killed or the retaliatory strikes after Munich, should always be on our minds.

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The victory of the young and women of America

I can remember my apprehension at about this time 24 hours ago. There was this real fear that Barack Obama will lose, that somehow enough Americans will let their disappointment, ignorance and/or hate cloud their judgement and put the Republicans back in power.

As I told a friend over Facebook, we haven’t even gotten out of eight years of Dubya: are the Americans going to put us back in that situation again?

Thankfully, a convincing number of Americans saved their nation and the world.

I haven’t really slept – for various reasons, US elections anxiety just being a part of it – so I won’t be tagging stuff right now. But then, if you’re reading this then you probably have seen or heard the various analyses and articles from everywhere. If you haven’t, then this is a good time to practice your Google Fu.

If you have been diligently following the most anticipated US election in recent history, then you know to whom we owe this save: the young of America and its women.

According to articles I’ve read, the Republicans were banking on disillusionment among the young to keep them away from the polls at worst or outright defect to Romney at best. America’s young responded by turning out a hefty 19%, if I remember the numbers from CNN correctly. And they all overwhelmingly voted for Obama.

But for those of us who almost went nuts at the prospect of a return of the Republicans in the White House so soon (this was before the exit polls went West of the Mississippi), the true heroines were the women. Whether because of Obama’s own positions, his amazing wife, or the way Republican leaders treated them, America’s women fought back in a way that early Women’s Lib protesters will approve: more than half of total votes cast were from women, and they overwhelmingly voted for Obama.

I am actually in awe of this. Through the exercise of their democratic right, the women of America have shown just how powerful suffrage is. Radical elements wanted to silence them, to put politics into their reproductive concerns. Some political leaders even condescended them. In response, the American women voted Obama back into the White House and voted a stellar cast of women into positions of power, including Elizabeth Warren and the first openly gay Senator of the Union.

My lack of sleep – I’ve technically been awake for at least 24 hours now – is keeping me from properly expressing what I feel about this, or to illustrate to you just how… changed, and I think for the better, the public sphere of the world’s foremost democracy is after 6 November 2012. For now, this I will say: the young and the women of America have spoken. And it is a mighty declaration, indeed.

I’m sure the more astute of you will infer the implications of that.

Thank you, youth of America. Thank you, women of America. The rest of the world can not only breathe easier because of you, but perhaps hope for better things.

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Butterflies in the stomach on the eve of the US national elections of 2012

I have that funny feeling again that I get before US National Elections. Kind of like butterflies in your stomach when you fear the outcome of something. And since I’m a cynic, I can’t not be afraid.

Because the Democrats have a history of losing when and where they should be strong and dominant.

And because Americans have a… funny way of thinking politically sometimes.

What Americans do to their country should be fine, if what happens there didn’t affect the rest of the world so much. Or if the pretender to the world’s lone hyperpower was a country that didn’t send tanks to shut its own people up.

Please vote wisely, people of the United States. I so do not want to start learning Chinese soon.

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Does democracy have a dollar sign before it now?

I don’t understand how a Super PAC could influence voters with so much bullshit. Don’t people check whether what they’re being told is true or not?

I mean, this isn’t the 1930s. This is the 21st century, with its Internet and Google, and America isn’t exactly a place where a Great Firewall keeps out most information.

So why this fear over the activities Super PACs do? If the citizens of the world’s foremost democracy can be hoodwinked by expensive ads and money blitzes, what hope does the rest of the world have to make democracy work?

Because that simply means democracy can be bought. Are you, dear American voter, prepared to accept the consequences of that being true?

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