And now that the ride is through…
This is what democracy looks like.
The beaten and battered pavement upon which a “government that is elected by an empowered people” is built, by which it is guided and through which it is safeguarded leads to one detour time and again: election day.
This day was designed to keep democracy alive, kicking and, rightfully so, in the hands of the countrymen. But the trip down this road during the 2019 Philippine general elections felt more like mourning a death than much else. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance: Each stage of grief made a cameo in my personal plight as a Filipino voter this year. And I can’t say with absolute confidence that I’ve completely made my way through them just yet.
Denial, no surprise here, came first. It loomed as I campaigned for my senatorial bets weeks before the midterm elections (if you could even call it that anyway). I only did so, regrettably, by way of retweets, reposts, and word-of-mouth among people who already shared my views. Seeing numbers like 9K RT’s, 11K likes and 10K shares, my involvement nestled somewhere in there, provided me assurance.
Denial hung around a while longer and even accompanied me through May 13. It was there when I shaded those circles on my ballot, hopeful yet oblivious to the fact that while my vote counts, it ironically isn’t enough.
Then, rolled in anger. It came sweeping in while watching the tally of partial votes in real-time. By the end of election day, I was seething. I was angry about corrupt officials resorting to vote-buying. I was angry about lessons the nation seems to refuse to learn, almost willfully, as I saw the name of a man linked to graft and corruption take the 14th spot on the list of senators and then climb to the 10th. I was angry about the Comelec’s incompetence that, in a dumbfounding turn of events, not even the ?10.18B budget granted to the body for election preparations could help. Murphy’s law, I thought. Anything that can go wrong will go wrong: a silver lining for any opportunist with a desire to further corrupt an already broken system.
In an attempt to make sense of events still unfolding, I moved on to the bargaining stage in a panic. Along with several others’ online, my sights were suddenly set on 2022: the next year we would be given a chance to get something right. Another long shot’s long shot, but a shot nonetheless.
At this stage, I also found myself sympathizing with a woman named Frances Lim Cabatuando. She apologized to her senatorial candidate in a Facebook post, also brilliantly analyzing the real-world shortcoming of his campaign; she swore that in 2022, it would not happen again. “Naiinis ako kasi nasa advertising ako, at memoryado ko ang marketing funnel, pero hindi ko ‘to inapply sa kampanya mo,” she began. “Naiinis ako na alam kong awareness [comes] before consideration and purchase, pero hindi ko pinansin na may 160K likes ka lang versus sa 1M ni Bong Revilla.”
(“I’m aggravated because I’m in advertising and I memorize the marketing funnel but I didn’t apply this to your campaign. I’m frustrated because I know awareness comes before consideration and purchase, yet I didn’t notice that you only had 160K likes versus the 1M of Bong Revilla.”)
Picking apart the kind of messaging utilized by recent campaigns, Cabatuando went on to identify the message that resonates best with the people. What sticks, unfortunately, appeals to the senses and not necessarily common sense. For one particular candidate, the message didn’t even have to matter at all. Imagine this: a campaign video that showcased no platform, no vision for the country, no plans for the new term if elected—just a middle-aged man, five months out of prison, dancing to budots with the number 16 bouncing around on the screen. A lower-order thinking mechanism enough to successfully resurrect the political career of a once-convicted plunderer.
“Naiinis ako kasi, in terms of virality, mas ‘sticky’ nga naman yung budots. Para namang hindi ako lumaki sa advertising kung sasabihin kong may laban [ang ‘Chel Diokno~ Chel Diokno~’ na off-sync at walang LSS factor] sa budots,” added Cabatuando. “Eh alam naman nating SexBomb Dancers makakatalo diyan. At kung sinimulan natin sa ‘OYYYY, SI DIOKNO, LUMABAN, MATAPANG, OYYYY!’ baka nanalo tayo. Sayang, sir, pasensya ka na.”
(“I’m aggravated because, in terms of virality, budots really is ‘stickier.’ It would be like I didn’t grow up in advertising if I were to say that ‘ang Chel Diokno~ Chel Diokno~,’ which was off-sync and didn’t have that LSS-factor, stood a chance against budots. We all know that only the SexBomb Dancers could defeat that. And if we were to start with ‘OYYYY, SI DIOKNO, LUMABAN, MATAPANG, OYYYY!’ maybe we could have won. It’s a shame, sir, I’m sorry.”)
Concluding her breakdown of the psychology of advertising, Cabatuando wrote: “Naiinis ako kasi nagtiwala ako na people [would] see beyond these things, pero narealize ko, ito ‘yung problema natin sa advertising araw-araw, hindi ba? Masa yung target market.”
(“I’m aggravated because I believed people would see beyond these things, but I realized that this is the day-to-day problem with advertising, isn’t it? The masses are the target market.”)
It’s an unpleasant wakeup call, but one that ought to free us from the echo chambers we enjoy retreating to: It isn’t enough to have a heart that is in the right place and to have proper credentials in tow. More often than not, and this election season is proof, educated voters do an awful job at promoting choice candidates to those outside of their circle. These choice candidates, in turn, do poorly in communicating their vision to anyone outside of their demographic.
The ugly tendency is that there is a lot of talking down to—and worse, the alienation—of the defining audience in all this, an audience that does not share the world view that the enlightened do nor the capacity to appreciate the platforms of said candidates the way the educated do…not yet, at least. That opportunity is something we have to go out of our privileged way to grant them if the government itself will not. Malicious candidates need uneducated voters. Their careers depend on them.
Alas, it is impossible to change the minds of those we punch down to. When every day, our countrymen are seduced into abandoning their principles and the bleak parts of our reality inflated by online trolls, picking fights in the comment section just won’t do. The bare minimum of reposting things we agree with just won’t do. Unfriending and unfollowing the supporters of public officials we question just won’t do. Because real battles are won offline.
Stage four, depression, made it difficult to go to work in the days that followed election day. It was nigh impossible to focus on tasks without worrying about new developments: an anxiety-inducing state of suspension, of mental unrest, of not knowing. And the more I got answers, the more I wondered why I even bothered to ask.
Things weren’t looking good for worthwhile progressive groups in the party-list race. In a disconcerting sweep reported by The Philippine Star, the national alliance for women Gabriela went from 1,367,795 votes in 2016 to only 440,172 this year. Support for the Alliance of Concerned Teachers took a nosedive from 1,180,752 votes in the last election to only 387,318 votes. Representative of the youth sector Kabataan went from 300,420 votes in 2016 to only 192,705 votes in 2019.
Jumping back to the senate race, all 10 of my candidates (I opted to under-vote, another regret) were nowhere even near the top 20. The daughter of a late dictator, however, who had been caught lying through her teeth about faking her university diplomas, found herself in a comfortable position in the polls, dancing between the #7 and #8 spots. Filipinos online eventually came to terms with this year’s case of déjà vu: “disappointed…but not surprised.”
— Rappler (@rapplerdotcom) May 23, 2019
Filipinos will need to feel the pain of their choices before they learn. It took an economic collapse to send Marcos packing. And it will take one before Filipinos realize the folly of their choices.
Money is the language of Filipinos. Not moral high ground. Money.
— Zion Ryan Cruz (@zryanverse) May 13, 2019
The bumpiest part of the ride in all this turned out to be acceptance. It was the last frontier of emotion that I was jolted in and out of during Comelec’s proclamation rites on Tuesday. It had been made official: 12 new senators, 51 winners in the party-list elections, 50 new mayors in local government with several dynasties finally overthrown in cities like Manila and Pasig. The latter would be my one glimmer of hope. The infinitesimal spark that, I only hope, sets off a flame in 2022 and is later wielded into a torch to guide the generations to come.
In the aftermath, here are some other things I’ve come to accept: Filipinos aren’t nearly as harmonious as they are portrayed to be—especially when it comes to life online. This only drives the point that in order to unite, there is a need to unplug. We need to reconnect in real life. More grassroots initiatives, less dependence on social media, more personal interaction, less online debating: There is no way to answer a call for more empathy, education, and enlightenment by waiting on the internet to make the magic happen. Again, real battles are won offline.
Till these are won, the last of the harshest of truths: ultimately, we get the public officials we deserve.
Tell me again what democracy looks like? This is what democracy looks like.
Art Alexandra Lara