Monday, May 14, 2007

the first ballot.

"That's it." I told myself when I finally got up from my seat to submit that delicate piece of paper, running its written contents in my head. Minutes later I emerged into the sunlight with a purple smudge on my right thumb and indelible ink on my right index finger – two telltale signs that I have just perfected my duty as a citizen of this country.

As a classmate put it in her blog, "I was happy. I voted." And perhaps rightly so, especially when you're one giddy first-time voter who has just turned 18 within the last three years, and who hasn't had the previous excitement of seeing his/her name posted on the door of some precinct, foolproof evidence laid out for the whole world to know that you have finally acquired the power to choose the leaders of the land.

The experience was surreal. And strangely real, too. Seated in a secluded spot far from the prying eyes and stretched necks of those who strained through the window panes for a glimpse of democracy (or what comes close to it), since voting is what makes a democracy after all, you suddenly find yourself an unlikely judge shut off from the outside world for a few private minutes by the mere shadow of a secrecy folder, time seemingly at a standstill as you finalize the list you have been attempting to assemble over the course of weeks or months, resolving an internal crisis on whether to fill up that last empty space with some lucky candidate's name or cross it out in haste (and disgust) altogether, making sure you had done yourself justice in writing down what you stood for and believed in.

Because that is what voting is about: standing up for your beliefs. It’s the ultimate hidden power every true-blue citizen wields, ready to be dished out at the call of civic duty. It is also a great equalizer – former presidents getting no more than the same one vote as the poorest of the poor. And not just any “voting” will do – it has to be wise voting, informed voting; the freedom of choice coexisting with the responsibility of knowledge.

Such has been the clamor of all who, in one way or another, have been seeking out every possible means for a holistic picture of each candidate. A common ground is almost always shared in the lack of information, practically leading to a less-than-informed, if not haphazard, choice. People resort to racist and/or religious biases, forgetting the more essential platforms and track records. This may partly explain the observed low turnout of voters, who, dismayed and tired of voting for nothing, have somehow made it their mission to keep some precincts relatively uninhabited. My dad, who is in Manila for health reasons, wasn’t able to exercise his right. But it is the least of his concerns. It’s just one vote, anyway. Many people I know too, who have either failed to register or who simply considered it a waste of time and energy to troop to their assigned precinct, have preferred to do other things more worthwhile. It’s just one vote, anyway.

One vote?

One single, tiny, utterly insignificant vote?

And we go back once more to the story that I believe has been around since the time elections were invented. A lot of historical fallacies have been circulating in the web regarding the astounding power of a single vote, like how some states allegedly became part of the US by virtue of one vote, or how a major political figure was removed or put into power by that same single vote. Though I don't exactly commend these sites for their sheer failure to verify their sources, the message they bring across is loud and clear: Never underestimate the power of your vote. It IS enough. And it IS important. It counts. Assuming you don't become the unwitting victim of some nameless, faceless shenanigan, that is.

I am reminded of the time I registered as a first-time voter in the Comelec last December. The miniature office was already bursting at the seams with the throng of youths shoving and elbowing their way through the narrow gate, prompting a cacophony of mixed yells, cries and shouts of anger, desperation, frustration – sometimes all at once. It didn’t help that the guards deployed to maintain order were in a brazen fit themselves, hurling their own tirade of threats and intimidating anyone who got too stubborn-headed.

But again, the message was clear: The youth are there. And they sincerely WANT to vote. To think people have been too keen to say that the youth are slowly becoming apathetic to the plight of this country. Nevertheless, the situation was so dismal that it merited the attention of no less than the city mayor, who was himself already reeling from the outpouring of complaints from concerned citizens. This would have to be a stern warning to the Comelec to straighten up their act, or they won't be seeing much of new voters in the coming years if the nasty trend continues.

And what of the fancy anomalies digging right into the electoral process itself? One disheartened columnist in a major daily chided the sanctimonious show of glib candidates strutting their showbiz-styled stuff on TV, saying the polls have become a mere competition for those who hold the clout and the means for an assured victory. Sadly, there indeed lies some truth to this statement. Sometime last week, my mom casually asked one of our regular customers in jest, "Any bills yet?" which I initially perceived to be the profitability of business with the upcoming elections. Imagine my shock and great surprise when I found out that she actually referred to the sordid process of vote-buying, and talking about it as if it were the most natural thing in the world!

Why not, I half-concluded after some minutes of self-realization. It's time to wake up to the present, and if you're one of those who find themselves assailed with a daily dose of bad news, sculpted across the front page, what's not to expect? The arithmetic of dagdag-bawas, the superb flying acts, the dead returning from their graves – these will come in their own time, perhaps not with our own eyes, perhaps not with our own ears, perhaps not with anybody else's – but they're there, definitely.

So maybe with that one single vote I cast, I may not make a difference. Well, I suppose not yet – the latest news on TV show the members of the leading pack ahead by a few thousand votes over their closest rivals. Or perhaps, fully unaware of it, I turned out to be that unwitting victim whose ballot has fallen prey to deceitful hands. A thousand possibilities exist, and to accurately predict the fate of my one true ballot would be to say that it hovers somewhere between being safe inside a bonafide Comelec box and being left floating (perhaps already dog-eaten) in the murky waters of an underground estero. But the fact that I was able to vote with a clean conscience is enough to keep me sleeping soundly tonight. My first ballot was cast, and proud to say I cast it with my dignity intact.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

blackout sessions.

Lights off.

Only, this isn't a theatrical production, or a simple bulb-switch test for that matter. You know it the instant the electric fan also stops humming, the instant your beloved PC switches off without warning. It's every urban denizen's regular pain in the neck – a blackout.

Or here, what we usually refer to as a "brownout" (Honestly, how did the term come about?), one of two unwanted phenomena we've been getting a lot of lately (the other one is intermittent water shortage.) Last April, we experienced almost weekly blackouts, most of which just struck from out of nowhere. The worst one – lasting almost a hefty 30 hours – put the last straw on the patience of the otherwise mild-mannered Ilonggos, creating such a huge public uproar that the city government, under attack from angry complainants, threatened to slash the budget of the National Power Corporation (Napocor) should the latter fail to put its act together in the nick of time.

Fortunately after that the frequency of blackouts was significantly reduced – until yesterday that is, when we found ourselves enduring not one, not two, but THREE successive sessions in the dark, a pitiless cycle of lights on-lights off and jubilation-frustration episodes that took place arbitrarily in the store, at the dinner table, and in the bedroom, all unexpected and much more unwelcome when you already see yourself drenched in sweat and intensely yearning for that moment of electrical reemergence to show up like an oasis in the desert.

But that was too much of wishful thinking, I guess – not necessarily a good thing lest “wishful” turns to “wistful” in the long run. If there’s a side to blackouts that people don’t readily acknowledge, it’s that it can make you realize that electricity is such a huge necessity, but that we can also do without it – many thanks to emergency lamps, flashlights, and the trustworthy candle whose services to humankind cannot be simply undermined. True enough, as I stole a quick glimpse out the window into the next household, I beheld a lone candle bravely permeating the otherwise bleak monotony of a powerless landscape, its own steady strand of light defying the harsh environment. And again, you realize that contrary to what your own childhood made you believe, the dark isn't so frightening after all.

Blackouts take the edge out of our perfect everyday routines. It can give you the opportunity to make proper use of your time, having the conversations you never had, picking the chance to reflect and pray, taking a leisurely walk around the house, listening to the sounds of nature predominating. And it just struck me how the night could seem so much purer and unspoiled when there are no sounds of technology to clog your ears, when all you hear are crickets and birds, forgive the occasional vehicle passing by.

For almost five redundant hours, we waited eagerly for that ecstatic shout of joy from neighbors proclaiming the good news, which would then be accompanied by the welcome glowing of streetlights in succession, and ultimately, the resumption of life temporarily driven to a slight yet sudden pause with the (non) electrical interference. What irked us even more was that rain suddenly fell, prompting us to close the windows and get deprived of the infrequent summer breeze. When the day is hot, the rain is even more humid; and the raindrops didn't exactly alleviate the situation as they made their way onto the pavement, falling at the height of the sweltering summer heat.

It was almost midnight when power was finally restored, but long before that I had already made up my mind to just sleep it off till morning. And far from knowing it, someone next door might still be fully awake, perhaps already rejoicing, that lone candle perhaps already extinguished.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

mang nick revisited.

The first time I encountered the story "May Day Eve" written by the indefatigable Nick Joaquin, let's just say I was a little short of being blown away. The enchanting atmosphere permeating the plot, the magic realism employed, the skillful use of language - all contributed to a total feast for the senses. This time around, I gave my own shot at a poetic interpretation of the hard-drinking, no-nonsense writer's most famous magnum opus. I hope I have given it justice.

May Day Eve

“If all goes right, just above your left shoulder will appear the face of the man you will marry."
"And what if all does not go right?”
"Ah, then the Lord have mercy on you…because you may see the Devil!"

A hint of brilliance in the dark, a hand piercing
through the blackness. Candle-wielding fingers,
shedding light into a room that speaks of emptiness
forgotten. Here, a spot by the old mirror where
the moon casts a glow with its ghastly shimmer,
a slight breeze murmurs its phantom whispers.

This indecent hour of night when witches start to
forage for some rumpled mortal flesh, for victims,
the scent of someone courting what’s forbidden.
Somewhere, dogs are howling, shadows on walls
shuddering in fright. They are in another place,
another home – and she shrugs these thoughts off.

Tomorrow, the flowers bloom in their pompous
magnificence, but tonight, her young heart beats
with a love yet uncertain, with a longing finally
freed from its shackles, emerging into the light.
The urgings of the soul giving way to the first word.
And “mirror, mirror show to me him –

whose woman I will be.” She hesitates, her voice
trailing off into muteness, the chant still resounding
within the confines of her head. Farther off, her knees
buckle from the weight of the unfamiliar, skulking
towards her like an unseen spider. But there is no
turning back, and she repeats the incantation

with pleas thrown to the wind, bated breath, half-
heartedly anticipating the final instruction: look, look
closely. And gazing into the mirror, excitement
intensifying with each tread towards the unknown,
towards a shot for true love, the inescapable arrival
to a secret discovery. True enough, it is there:

a face white and pure, unblemished and radiant –
hers. A blink, then a second look, and suddenly
saw an image that could’ve made her scream, a
hair-raising shriek spilling over trees and roofs
and rousing the household from its slumber.
That earsplitting disruption of the stillness

is her option. Only, it is not taken.
For the night remains untarnished, the same
enchanting elegance, punctuated somewhere
by a gasp of sheer terror, a soul perhaps claimed
in the name of love, or in the fires of hell.
Which is which, no one ever knows.

This question remained unanswered, the one
her child keeps on mouthing. The innocence of youth
peering out from two curious eyes, waiting for
salvation. But she was staring past those eyes,
forgetting herself, succumbing to the subconscious
world of the infernal. The present is a blur.

Decades apart, generations in between –
The warning stays. The daunting task for those who dare,
who defy the ancient admonition. Folks quietly stirring
the legend, rekindling it back to life. Far from
oblivion, something thrives in antiquity, the silence
caressing stories that almost become actual

when he closes his eyes and grasps the old summer air,
as if looking for something, someone he once loved.
He opens the windows, takes in the whole setting,
regret overpowering him like the weather.
The vision flickering in his graying mind, of her –
now imagined, now real, now
a tombstone.