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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Saturday, May 01, 2010

entry arrow12:22 PM | How To Shade Your Oval

As I write this, it is the last stretch towards the May 10 elections, and everyone is positively going crazy.

Outside my apartment, there is a barrage of noise on parade: there are roving tricycles with inelegant speakers blaring earnest announcements about the suitability of this candidate and that. Those “announcements” are often in jingles of assorted levels of corniness that makes show business circus out of local politics—a perfect showcase for the way we have reduced democracy to a freak show.

In some corners around town, there is a different kind of noise, that of the visual variety, threatening to engulf the landscape it encroaches on. You see them as haphazard posters occupying a different hellishness of kitsch, their clashing hues and headache-inducing whirlwind of fonts a perfect reflection of the inelegance of their possible politics. One poster shouts out: “National Awardee for bagging several awards and recognitions!” And I find myself asking, What does that even mean?

Tacked on the chaos of their WordArt-ish poster designs are the smiling faces of earnest-looking people, all our possible politicians—the wannabes who want to be your President, your Vice President, your Senator, your Representative, your Governor, your Vice Governor, your Mayor, your Vice Mayor, your Provincial Board Member, your Councilor—begging for our consideration. They all aim for the sympathetic touch, the makatao touch. There is a distinct whorish smell to their efforts. One politician boasts of the quality of being “dali duolon” (easy to approach), which speaks well of the overwhelming tendency of our government for detachment, a sheer incapability of addressing our everyday concerns especially after the last ballot has been counted, and our politicians no longer have a need to dance and sing for our votes.

On these posters, their smiles are Photoshopped to death to invoke a sense of familiarity, goodwill, even vicarious friendship. One is a woman politician who never smiles at me every time we have been “introduced.” And we have probably been introduced two hundred and forty-one times. Not that I expect her to remember every person she meets—but there is an iciness in her nonchalance that puts me off, the way one is instinctive about not touching a cobra. Now, her poster exudes friendliness lacking in real life. Another poster is that of an older career politician, known for his stubbornness and bark. Now he smiles like he's your best friend. His smile seems pasted on.

All their smiles scare me.

Everywhere else, the politics of mudslinging has begun in earnest, as they usually do, in these last few days of desperation. In Facebook and Twitter, it is the main preoccupation of many people I know—the endless appeals and arguments in status updates and the endless tagging of hundreds to a poster, a video, a note. I refuse to be reined in—I have done these things before, and I have realized, in the political maturity (or amused acceptance of the circus?) that comes with age and time, that it is better to observe the fracas from an objective spot farther away from the madding crowd. This is not fence-sitting at all, because what you are doing is actually sizing up everything that comes your way, and actively weighing things with both brain and heart.

I say this, because I am a decidedly undecided voter whose brain is working hard to make that semi-final decision on whom to vote for, something he will ultimately make on the morning of May 10 when he finally tallies his own list and proceed to the precinct where his name is recorded. In that voting booth, at that appointed time, he will make the real final decision and shade the necessary oval. It will be a decision that will be unswayed by such untruths as the “wasted vote,” among others. It will be a vote of principle. During the last presidential election, I voted for Raul Roco despite the devastating news of his cancer—and I still believe, to this day, that I made the right choice. Everybody else voted for Ferdinand Poe Jr. anyway, and guess who died first. And guess who “won” by virtue of Hello Garci.

But when I go to that voting booth, it will be Dumaguete and its government that I will be most concerned with, simply because I live here. And my decision on whom to vote for will be anchored in the concerns that follow:

We need someone who can do a better job in traffic management. The sheer volume of tricycles in our streets has choked more than just the traffic, it has strangled the very idea of our “gentle” place. That was Jose Rizal’s famous description of Dumaguete when he once briefly visited from Dapitan on the way to Manila. If Rizal were to come back now, he will be aghast at the sight of a people wearied by congestion, noise, and increasingly foul air—and the paradox of not being able to get anywhere, despite all these tricycles. So, yes, we have narrow streets. We can’t do anything about that anymore. Better traffic management then? We’ve been experimenting with that for years, alternating between drastic methods—one-way streets, blocked streets, rerouting… Nothing seems to work. Reduce the number of pedicabs then? The visionary former city councilor Myrish Cadapan Antonio, now running for Vice Mayor, once quipped to me that that is easily said than done. “What happens to these drivers’ families if we take away their sole means of livelihood?” she said. I agree with Ms. Cadapan—but something must be done. And nothing comes out of the policy of pleasing everybody.

We need someone who has the balls to stop the rampage of criminality. We used to joke to our visitors: “Nothing bad can ever happen to you in Dumaguete. If something bad does happen, you’ll love it.” This is all done with winking and innuendoes. The thing to love about Dumaguete is our freedom to get up at two in the morning to take a walk along the Boulevard—without even being bothered that the night shadows might conceal a lurking evil. This is, after all, a city where stories of dogs biting men still make the local headlines. Today, we hear too many news clips about rapes and hold-ups and murders and sex scandals. And almost always, the investigations into these things have run cold, faced a blank wall. The ineptness of local police? The sheer primitiveness of our investigation methods? So what has happened to the case of the murdered student Jayfel Rayoso? What happened to that sweet peanut girl-vendor whose body was found raped, stabbed, and abandoned in some anonymous lot more than 15 years ago? What about the case of that gay West City Elementary School teacher from a decade ago? Or that travel agent held-up in a pedicab? In Dumaguete, it seems easy to get away with murder.

We need someone who can recognize that a University Town must be student-friendly. The fact of the matter is that Dumaguete is a University Town. This is a city that basically came to its own because of academia—because of Silliman University, for the most part. We have no real industry to make our city thrive: our business is our students. Summer in Dumaguete, for example, is always a sad affair: imagine all that quiet, as if the city had gone to sleep. And yet it cannot be said that the city is friendly to the student, who is an adolescent, or a twenty-something. I remember one of my students, newly-arrived in the place, once complaining: “This city is one giant case of boredom.” She proceeded to yawn to make a point. And it’s true: there’s nothing much to do in Dumaguete for the young man or woman. What can be done about that?

We need someone who can create a better service sector. Let’s face it, service in Dumaguete is bad. Try the exasperating sales ladies in Lee Super Plaza (who have somehow improved of late—they have since been taught to say “Good morning, sir” or Good afternoon, ma’am,” and to give at least a sincere “Thank you”). Try the Videocity clerk who cannot tell the difference between Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese. Try the “galit-sa-mundo” waitresses of some restaurants here. The food may be excellent, but the service is so slow you die of hunger before you get your food. And how about going about your normal day—say, typing a report in your computer—and suddenly having your world plunged into another brown-out? You can cry “Pesteng NORECO!” all you want, but NORECO doesn’t really care about you.

We need someone who can inculcate a better sense of the environment. We used to be so careful with regards keeping the city immaculate, or even just moderately clean. Before Puerto Princesa stole the title from us, we were the “cleanest city in the Philippines.” Not anymore, one can suppose—correctly. What happened? Litter threatens to engulf us. There are no garbage cans in sight anywhere in the city. The Boulevard is increasingly foul from the continuous inflow of untreated waste water. And the Banica River is dead. And most people don’t care.

We need someone who know the value of culture and the arts in city development. We still can boast of being the Cultural Center of the South—but increasingly, it seems, we are being eclipsed slowly by our neighbors Cebu and Bohol. Part of the reason is Dumaguete’s increasing lack of artistic air. Cultural shows, after all, are now given to mediocre ballet recitals, cringe-inducing musicals, and parades showcasing artistas. Another reason is financial. And yet: a city needs its artists to survive—although not everyone knows this to be true. In an issue of Fortune, the presence of artists is an important index to a community’s economic success. Artists, after all, are symbols of creativity, of intellectual ferment, of vision. All these are necessary to the making of a viable city. Without its artists, Dumaguete will just be another boring town, devoid of color and poetry.

We need someone who knows what proper zoning is all about. In many planned communities abroad, zoning is strict and matter-of-fact. Some places specify, to the deepest detail, the size of one’s lawn or backyard, the type of architecture one’s house must be designed in, or the height of one’s buildings. Some maintain exacting guidelines about the cutting of trees, or even the painting of one’s house. There are also strict regulations about electric wiring, the fire hazard potential of building materials, the density of establishments to the square inch. Why is this so? To create aesthetic harmony to the place, to distribute the wealth, to police the traffic of people, and to codify establishments to their proper places in the community. In Dumaguete, the effect is more often than not “halo-halo.” Which is a big headache. We can blame the short-sighted Spanish concept of community-building for our narrow roads, but what about the rest? What about the lack of parking spaces? The baranganic concept of parks? The drooping snakes of electric wires, precariously balanced on short, wooden posts as old as Methuselah? How about the tinder boxes of shops that still litter Perdices Street—all wooden contraptions that may yet lead to the biggest fire the city will still have?

And lastly, we need someone who can redefine and reform our attitude. Because this is what we all need. To shake off a paralyzing complacency. To start dreaming big. To be adventurous, even daring. To move on from the stiffling status quo.

To start believing, once again, in the possibilities of our beautiful city.

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