Over the past two years, I’ve come to learn that a resilient heart doesn’t just come in handy in romance and relationships, it also helps keep us alive and breathing in the work that we do. There’s a school of thought that says that one must always have an aura of unaffected detachment in work. Allegedly, this detachment allows one to be more calculating and more efficient. I’ve found, however, in my case that I work my best when I am emotionally invested in a project, when I feel my veins pulsating and my heart on overdrive. Of course, Malcolm Hall has taught us never to cut any corners, to always research for a pleading, to arrive on time and prepared for a hearing and things like that — regardless of amorphous things like passion and righteous indignation. This notwithstanding, I still maintain that it is when we believe wholeheartedly in what we do that we work the hardest.
The downside, however, of this is that it tires your heart so. Stretches and and flexes it and tests its limits with every lost case, every almost-but-not-quites, every concrete wall that you try to break down but just cannot seem to. It’s frustrating and heartbreaking. And to think that I’ve only been at this for a couple of years, I haven’t even earned the right to complain. I stand in awe of activists and advocates and alternative lawyers who have given decades to the cause, and still have the fight in them.
Past midnight two days ago, Barangay Election day, I crawled into bed, dogtired and with a heart that felt as heavy as lead. I had just come from San Francisco Del Monte, Bulacan to provide vote protection assistance to Ka Gerry, an Akbayan leader who was running for Barangay Captain. [Akbayan has a theory called “patches of green” — which means that amidst the barren landscape of traditional local politics rife with warlordism and family dynasties, we must endeavor to create “patches of green”. If we can introduce transformative governance (in concrete terms, defined by transparent budgeting, fiscal accountability, people’s participation as mandated by the Local Government Code), then we must do so, even if it means starting in just one far-flung barangay. We have been successful at it in small towns in Bohol, Laguna, etc.]
The day started well enough. I was perky and in high spirits, partly because I had been mistaken maybe three times for SK. (Woo-hoo! Hehe.) But soon enough, the day degenerated. It was disgusting, the level of corruption and fraud that we witnessed during that one day that we were there. Flying voters were trucked in from nearby municipalities just so they could vote for the incumbent barangay captain. Every single time, our watchers questioned the qualifications of these voters, but even making the Board of Election Tellers record the objection in the Minutes was a battle. Then we saw a ballot box snatching incident, wherein a man in plain view grabbed a ballot box and started running away. During canvassing, we found out that the votes of Ka Gerry and his opponent had been switched and Ka Gerry was effectively shaved some 24 or so votes. When I asked the Board of Canvassers to note the manifestation I made in relation to the ballot box snatching, they abjectly refused to do so. I told them that I was not asking them for a ruling, nor was I asking for a suspension of canvass. I was simply asking that my Manifestation be recorded in the Minutes of the Meeting so that it could be used as a prelude to filing a case in Manila. This was consistent with the Rules of the COMELEC. They would not budge, even accusing me of disruption. One lady began screaming at me, “I don’t care what the rules say. We were given an orientation.” (Oo, english talaga si Ma’am.) At 12 midnight in Santo Cristo Elementary School, Bulacan, I was engaged in an spokenin-in-dollars labas-litid-sa-leeg level shouting match with the Board of Canvassers. When they said that they would not record the manifestation because their Minutes was mysteriously missing, I had to channel my newly-learned yoga breathing skills to keep myself from smacking someone and getting Ka Gerry in trouble.
Oh yes, we eventually lost. 8,000 voters for Barangay Captain; we lost by twenty something points. Heartbreak highway.
But as sad and depressed as I was when I went home, I felt I had become richer from the experience. It was my first barangay election experience, and I saw first hand how the village polls only replicate the electoral fraud so prevalent in the national polls. Trapos are the same — be they presidents or barangay captains. On a more uplifting note, I saw how steadfastly our people worked for Ka Gerry and how they gave so much of themselves, even though they were not paid. Janice and Johnny, a young (my age) married couple at the helm of the campaign, impressed me so much. You get the impression that it wasn’t just Ka Gerry they were fighting for, but for the entire vision of altering the political landscape and starting in this one small barangay they belong to. I’ve always believed that it was important to end up with a person who views the world the way you do, and Janice and Johnny are compelling proof of that. Indeed, to continue the fight against all odds, to surmount the innumerable heartbreaks that will come your way, you do need to be with someone who is as in it for the long haul as you are. Working quietly and unnoticed in Bulacan, this young couple has probably made more difference in the lives of ordinary people than armchair analysts in Manila.
In the previous blog entry on the Erap pardon, many have spoken on the need for us, for ordinary people, to unite and organize, and stop allowing ourselves to be held hostage by powerful players who simply use us to maintain the status quo and to protect their interests. Sounds grim and determined and very angry, but really, we can do our part in the smallest of ways. For starters, by refusing to shrug and say “thats the way it is” when confronted with evidence of election fraud or other such anomalies. Given the prevalence of corruption, gross political entitlement and moral bankruptcy from the highest level of government to the lowest, there is really no alternative but to RESIST AND DEFY.
Occasional heartbreaks notwithstanding. 😦
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Dedicated to Ka Gerry, all valiant souls who ran (whether they won or lost) on October 29, and everyone who took part in this arena of struggle. For believing in transformative governance, for believing that we can make a difference, for not losing hope, this is for you. Galing kay Noel Cabangon.
Tayo na po’t “maglikha ng kasaysayan ng bayang minamahal.”