Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The season of madness

This is my column today at the op-ed section of the Manila Standard Today.

The campaign period for the senatorial elections has officially started. Very, very soon, the campaign floodgates will be wide open. All hell will break loose as candidates for various elective posts join the fray and make a mad scramble to make an imprint on the consciousness of the electorate.

What this means is that the season for tall tales and preposterous claims of valor and heroism, of make-believe accomplishments and expertise, of empty promises and assurances, and outlandish declarations of love for country has come.

Whether we like it or not, billboards of all shape and sizes showing our candidates in various stages of repose will dominate our thoroughfares pretty soon. All available walls will be plastered with all kinds of posters and stickers showing prettified mugs all of which will bear little or no resemblance to the candidates. Electric posts and whatever few trees still standing will groan with the weight of all those streamers and whatever else our candidates will be able to come up with to hang on them. Asinine jingles that will be a rip-off of whatever popular tunes are in vogue will begin to assault us everywhere we go. Just thinking about the inevitable variations of “Boom Tarat Tarat” and “Itaktak Mo” is already giving me a migraine.

All our senses will be battered and assailed. If there were only a way to invade and intrude into our dreams, I am sure candidates will do that, too.

Separating the truth from fiction will be a difficult task, particularly since the ingenuity of public relations experts is now readily available. This early, the handiwork of geniuses in packaging image is already evident in the sleek campaigns that are beginning to take shape.

Senate President Manny Villar and former presidential chief-of-staff Michael Defensor have already pulled the rug under their opponents by being the first ones to come up with television spots. Who is behind Villar’s campaign is not yet publicly known. We all know that television host and talent manager Boy Abunda is behind Defensor’s.

What is very apparent, based on what we have seen so far, is that both candidates are willing to stake a fortune on their respective candidacies. That’s hundreds of millions of pesos for each one.

Villar’s first television spot alone features five women celebrities (guess how much they were paid for the endorsement?) making a pitch for women’s rights. I think it is a brilliant idea, particularly since Villar has been and will presumably continue to make mincemeat of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. So hopefully, that’s enough to get women who empathize with Arroyo’s situation into his side.

Of course, Senator Kiko Pangilinan did one better by appearing in that advertisement for this brand of noodles that has become the staple food for most people in this country. I have to hand it to this guy and his handlers. Not only is he guaranteed round-the-clock television exposure for free (appearing with his celebrity wife at that, reinforcing the powerful association), he got paid to do it, too.

Current estimates of the amount required to mount an effective campaign for a Senate seat is placed at a minimum of P150 million per candidate. If we have at least 30 serious candidates running for the Senate (as of this writing, 79 individuals filed their certificates of candidacies although many of them are certified loonies), the tab comes up to a mind-boggling P5 billion! Whew. If we factor in the number of candidates running for the House of Representatives and for the various other elective posts in the hundreds, nay, thousands of provinces, cities and towns in this country, the total costs involved in this elections is truly staggering.

Is all that expense really worth it? It really does seem like an utter waste of money which is better spent somewhere else. More importantly, where will all this money come from? Your guess is as good as mine.

***

I can’t fathom the reasoning behind the Commission on Election’s refusal to grant accreditation to Ang Ladlad for party-list representation. And Ladlad is the party-list of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders.

The whole point of having a party-list system is to grant representation to marginalized sectors of society. One has to be totally insensate not to recognize that sexual minorities are a marginalized lot in this country. LGBTs are heavily discriminated against in practically every aspect of social life in this country— employment, social welfare, even in terms of basic legal protection. To this day, there is a vagrancy law that is still being wantonly used by policemen to apprehend gay men and transgenders who happen to be walking the streets at night. The sector continues to be the object of harassment, ridicule, and persecution.

What other proof of marginalization does the Comelec need? The very act of not recognizing Ang Ladlad as a party-list is clear proof that this sector is indeed marginalized. The attitude of the Comelec toward the sector illustrates the psychological context that gives rise to marginalization.

It is a shame that the Comelec has given accreditation to groups whose claim to marginalization is obviously bogus. Among them is a group that claims to represent the educational sector but is actually a lobby group for a powerful business interest. There are party-lists that represent regional, industry, occupational, and political interests. The Comelec considers these sectors marginalized but it refuses to see the sorry plight of LGBTs. In effect, the Comelec marginalizes a marginalized group and claims that it cannot claim marginalization. Go figure.

It is enough to believe the scuttlebutt that some machinations by the powers-that-be are involved. Ang Ladlad happens to be pro-impeachment and fiercely anti-ChaCha and has been a vociferous critic of this administration.

***

The Government Service Insurance System, through its vice president for public relations, immediately responded to my column (A heartless GSIS) last week. I appreciate the quick response, although I wish the same speed also marks the standard of service of the agency. Like I said, I have no doubt that the agency has valid reasons for requiring the physical appearance of their pensioners. I do not question why they have such rules. If GSIS wants to convey the impression that the service they extend to the public is already superb, then it is entitled to believe its own press releases.

Unfortunately for it, a man with an experience is never at the mercy of a man with an argument.

What I ranted about was that it seemed to me that there wasn’t—and there still isn’t—a solution regarding cases of pensioners who cannot make a physical appearance because they happen to be out of the country. My beef was that no one, as in not a single one among those we talked to in the agency could give us a solution regarding my aunt’s predicament. And, believe me, we talked to several GSIS people including a division chief, a lawyer in the Legal Department, etc. I do have my contacts in the agency as well. Now it is saying it has plans of putting up GSIS centers abroad. Plans do not solve needs.

I am tempted to continue my rant, but I am out of space and it is Valentine’s Day. So in the spirit of the occasion, I will give GSIS some peace. Temporarily.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

2 comments:

snglguy said...

Happy V'day Bong.

exskindiver said...

"plans do not solve needs."
isn't that so true?
if it makes you feel any better, this is a universal problem.
grandstanding politicians make promises to act like problems are being solved.
unfortunately this m.o. is usually a ploy to blow smoke up peoples' asses.