Monday, May 24, 2010

The freak show

This was my column on the date indicated above. This post is antedated.

On the same day my column came out last week—the one where I expressed full confidence in the overall reliability of the results of the elections—the masked man came out to reveal how he and a team of no less than a hundred people rigged the elections.

As if it wasn’t enough that he was wearing the most hideous and ludicrous disguise, he said people could simply refer to him as Robin. People should have cracked up right there and then, asked him where Batman was, and dismissed him as just another Renaldo Lapuz—you know, that Filipino who dared put on a Knights of Columbus costume and bawled “you are my brother… my best friend forever” at Simon Cowell during auditions for American Idol.

But no, the incredibly amazing thing was that media people actually scrambled all over themselves to give the guy precious minutes on primetime television. Some broadsheets devoted tons of newsprint and ink to the man. The supposed number one broadsheet in the country even gave it a second coming treatment—splashing the banner headline about the tall tale across the whole front page!

The worn-out excuse was that every possible lead that could point to proof of an irregularity—anything that could prove that cheating did happen during the elections- must be pursued in the interest of ferreting out the truth. Why we always suspect the worst in ourselves is a question that baffles the mind; but the even more perplexing question is why we bother with people who wear masks and spin tall tales.

How can media give credence to someone who said that the main reason he was singing like a lovelorn canary was because he didn’t get paid? Not that being double-crossed is not enough reason for someone to start bellyaching; just that not requiring advance payment for something that was presumably labor intensive, involved massive operations and logistical support, required major investments in technology and grassroots infrastructure not only smack of stupidity, it just doesn’t add up.

What kind of fool advanced all that money for the massive operations involving a minimum of at least 200 people (he said they had at least 12 people in each key city and region) without any guarantee of a sure payoff?

And more importantly, where were the rest of the disgruntled people? How come no one else has come forward to corroborate the statements of the masked crusader?

He didn’t—couldn’t—produce evidence; there was no logic in his assertions. Makati Representative Teddyboy Locsin put it in better perspective when he wondered out loud “how can you summon a koala bear to a meeting of the house?” Of course Locsin later on added to the freak show by going ballistic, throwing one giant public tantrum. But the fact that the monicker stuck and the masked crusader became better known as koala bear was more than enough proof of the kind of importance people placed on him and his so-called revelations.

But wasn’t it possible that the guy was telling the truth; that massive irregularities did happen in the last elections? After all, as some quarters have been quick to point out—there’s more than enough people who could presumably have the motivation to spring this kind of caper on the public consciousness. Everything is within the realm of the possible in this country. People give birth to mudfish, non-performing senators get re-elected, people who are ousted from power for shameless and brazen corruption are able to repackage themselves and become fierce advocates of morality and anti-corruption.

But por dios por santo, surely we can still distinguish the muckrakers from the champions, the loonies from the advocates, the whiners from those with valid complaints.

Why do we always presume that evil would succeed, that the worst among us would have always get away with their nefarious activities? Hardly have the people who pitched in to make sure the elections would be clean and honest—the employees of the Commission on Elections, the tens of thousands of teachers, the hundreds of thousands of volunteers—basked in the pride that their efforts yielded some results when the brickbats started coming in. Some people immediately pounced on every little thing that could prove that something went wrong somewhere. It seemed we just don’t know how to celebrate successes; we have to shoot ourselves in the foot every time we do something remotely inspiring.

I am not saying that we should just sit back and ignore allegations of cheating during the elections. My point is simply that people should come forward with more than just an accusation and a pointing finger. They should come forward with evidence—hard, incontrovertible evidence; otherwise they should go back and do their work first or just shut up.

It’s called accountability. And of course, it goes without saying that people who point fingers at anyone should be man enough to own their actions and their statements. This means staking their reputations or putting their names on the line. Coming forward wearing a hideous mask and a clown’s hat are just unacceptable. After all, volunteers who toiled hard to ensure that the automation program worked and that the genuine voice of the people could be heard put their very lives at stake.

How could a lone masked man’s illogical story—or for that matter, the bellyaching and public whining of losing candidates—have more credence over the efforts of hundreds of thousands of citizens who volunteered, watched and guarded the elections process? If there was indeed massive cheating, we would have heard about it from everyone else. Lest we forget, the last elections were a people power uprising in disguise.

It’s really about time that we demand something more from people who want to correct the system, point out what is wrong with something, or even accuse others of wrongdoing. Wearing a mask and a clown’s hat and spinning a tall tale just wouldn’t do.

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