Thursday, November 06, 2008

Election fever

Finally, the US presidential election is over. Let's start praying for Barack Obama. He will need lots of prayers.

Here in Canada, we had elections last October and Stephen Harper got to keep his post as Prime Minister. The campaign period was short, and compared to that of the US, it was much tamer. I find the election process here quick and simple. It is relatively easy to choose who to vote for. You base it on party platform more than personality or looks or patronage.

In the Philippines, it is very different. Each election season is marred with mudslinging, violence, vote-buying, cheating, murder... I can't remember it ever being peaceful. Party platforms are not very clear. Candidates change parties. Balimbing! (Like the starfruit) Election day itself is so chaotic at the polls. Even the dead vote. Flying voters are bussed to polling places. These are all allegations with sufficient evidence.

The counting process takes a long time. Ballot boxes are stolen. Election returns are doctored. In the end, you don't really know who won fair and square. I'm not sure if things have improved.

But the campaign period in the Philippines is festive. You will hear various jingles on the airwaves or blaring from vehicles going from place to place from early in the morning till evening. Posters and buntings are everywhere.

There is one Philippine presidential election that stands out in my memory. The year was 1992. The main candidates were Ramos and Santiago.

During one of my fieldwork assignments in the province of Laguna, I learned that Santiago was going to hold a rally in San Pablo City on the same day I would be in the area. I thought it was a good opportunity to hear a presidential candidate in person. When else could I have that opportunity? So I decided to stay and wait for the rally scheduled early in the evening.

6 pm. People started arriving. Soon there was a huge crowd and the roads were closed. 7 pm. still no Santiago. Someone announced that Santiago and her party would be late in coming from another rally in a different town.

I had waited anyway, I decided to stay. Finally, Santiago's party arrived and the crowd started cheering. Several people spoke and finally Santiago herself delivered her crowd-rousing speech.The rally ended past 10 pm.

As people left the area, I realized that there were no more public transportation plying the road. I was stranded in a strange place where I did not know anyone. What to do???

I walked and walked looking for the bus terminal. No bus. No jeepneys. Should I spend the night here? Where? There was a McDonald's in the town square and although it was closed, it was lighted and there were chairs outside. I could sit there, chat with a homeless and wait for dawn. What if I fell asleep? Nah, not safe.

I walked around looking for someone I might be able to approach for assistance. I saw a policeman standing by the road but I was hesitant to approach him. During those days, policemen had a bad reputation. You couldn't tell if they were on your side or they were goons in uniform. But what choice did I have? I took my chance and approached him.

"May motel ho bang malapit dito?" (Is there a motel nearby?") I asked. I didn't see a hotel in the area, but a small motel or hostel might be available.

"Nag-iisa ka? Huwag, delikado," (Are you alone? No, it's not safe.) he replied. He looked concerned. This was an honest policeman, I thought. Travel tip: A lone female checking into a B-class motel in the city outskirts could be perceived as a hooker or an easy target of thieves, rapists or voyeurs. He did not want me to take that risk.

When the policeman asked me where I was staying, I told him I was staying with an aunt in Los Banos, a town about 30 minute-drive away. He said there was a group of jeepney drivers who were headed to that town. They were having an association meeting in a nearby beerhouse. He could ask them to give me a ride.

At around 11 pm, several men started going out of the beerhouse. The policemen approached someone and told him about me. They seemed to know each other. I could tell they all had a drink, and I was going to ride with these guys? At midnight???

To be continued...

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