Trekking through the election storm

‘The room, the gate, the hallway, the building – they all seemed to have shrunk in size and impact for me. Everything felt smaller.’

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MY YOUNGER brother and I arrived at a polling precinct in the Metro at around 6:15 in the morning on Monday, May 13. There weren’t many people yet. Laptops were placed on a long wooden table at the right wing of the elementary school building. Volunteers distributed pieces of paper where voters had to write their full name and birthday that served as references in determining their designated room numbers. It was smooth. I was hopeful and ecstatic because I’d get to practice my right to choose the future leaders of my beloved country, the Philippines.

Room 207. Cluster 404A. Second floor.

“Please prepare your ID if you have one with you,” one of the volunteers announced as he went out of the room, “it’s for easier processing.”

I checked my company ID inside my pocket with a blue lace. While I was waiting in line, I saw my name and my relatives’ names posted on the wall outside the classroom. I felt great that I was at the right location.

There were only eight of us waiting in line. I saw familiar faces: a former grade school teacher, a neighbor, an old classmate. It was as if I travelled back in time twenty years ago. The room, the gate, the hallway, the building – they all seemed to have shrunk in size and impact for me. Everything felt smaller.

After 2 minutes, the line started to move. The room had the capacity of taking in 12 voters simultaneously: 3 rows, 4 columns. Then, I presented my ID to the election officer.

Zenarosa, po,” I uttered. “Benre.

“Let’s check,” the officer said as she was scanning a binder with names in it. “There you are… please sign here, sir.”

And sign I did.

Like a dove that’s about to land on a pure, uncontaminated surface, I patiently examined the chamber and decided to sit at a corner at the lower right to avoid any distraction. I positioned the long folder to cover my ballot and I started to shade the small circle beside the name of my chosen candidates.

For senators, I only picked 5; for city councilors 2. I also voted for mayor and vice mayor and congressman and party list.

The marker wasn’t a regular ballpoint pen; it gave me an impression that it’s a pentel pen. The markings can be seen on the other side of the ballot. Is it normal? I asked myself. What if because of the intensity of the markings my votes become invalid?

It took me about 10 minutes to finish the whole selection process and scrutinize the ballot. But for some reason, my hands were shaking. I don’t know if it’s because of a cup of 3-in-1 coffee I sipped earlier that day, or it’s just because my whole being understands that what I was doing was so sacred and precious and crucial to nation-building and the fate of the future generation. That voting wasn’t a banal act, but if done solemnly can bring an enduring metamorphosis.

I carefully held the ballot with my two hands and headed towards the line for the Vote-Counting Machine (VCM). I made sure that the ballot didn’t have any fold or damage. But the voters who were ahead of me in the line experienced some troubles. The ballot of a man in his thirties was rejected by the VCM. The man tried to insert the ballot to the machine multiple times, but it wasn’t effective. Later they realized that his ballot was tainted with what looked like an ink at its top section that prevented the machine from accepting it. The officer told him that they’ll just take note of what happened in their minutes on a bond paper. Disheartened, the man hurriedly left. But they forgot to get his name.

Similar scenarios occurred to two other voters in the polling precinct. The VCM didn’t process their votes. Their ballots got stuck. It could be because of the quality of the paper, the other voters said. They speculated that the machine and the paper were incompatible. Receipts weren’t generated.

Frustration started to surface inside and outside the classroom. More and more people were arriving. We’re delayed. And people started to complain…

It’s around 6:40 AM. When it was my time to slip the ballot to the machine, I secretly prayed for my vote to be successfully read. I really wanted to cast my vote especially for party list. And it worked just fine. I reviewed the receipt and it showed the correct list of candidates I chose. I was grateful.

But it didn’t stop there.

While waiting outside the room for my brother to finish casting his vote, I saw senior citizens and PWDs going up and down the stairs.

“Lola, let me help you,” I told one of them. She was moving slowly, and it was evident that she was having a hard time. The episode pinched my heart.

 “Thank you, but I can manage,” she answered while going down one step at a time. She smiled at me. I let her be.

Weren’t the PWDs and senior citizens supposed to vote at the ground floor for it to be easier for them? Can you imagine being in their shoes at that moment? They just want to be active participants in our society. Why should we make it harder for them to do just that?

Later that day, I joined a party of passionate and vibrant trekkers and mountain climbers from Marikina City. I was on vacation leave. For 2 days and 1 night, we embarked on a journey towards Mt. Daraitan and Tinipak River in the heart of Sierra Madre in Tanay, Rizal. Most of the time during our trip, there was no mobile signal. I was clueless on what’s going in the elections. Ultimately, I turned off my phone.

On Tuesday night, while resting when I returned home, news and updates about the elections were everywhere.

As I dived deeper into the online conversations and headlines, three topics got my attention: “Ang bobo ng mga Pilipino”, “Nag-budots lang nanalo na?”, “Jejomar Binay fails to vote after ballot rejected by vote-counting machine.”

The third one brought me an epiphany. It was somehow similar to what happened to other voters in our precinct on the election day.

According to the Comelec’s resolution: “No replacement ballot shall be issued to a voter whose ballot is rejected by the VCM except if the rejection of the ballot is not due to the fault of the voter.” Clearly, it wasn’t the man’s fault that his ballot got rejected. He should have been issued a replacement ballot. But before he left, he wasn’t informed of this option. Definitely, there were lapses.

How about the defective SD cards? The substandard markers? And more importantly, the 7-hour delay in transmitting voting data into the transparency server?

If we want a more decent and impressive voter turnout in the next elections, the systems and processes we’re implementing should be revisited. We should also investigate the hardware and software we’re using and inquire if the budget allotted to the conduct of our elections is being spent to meet our ideals.

Filipinos deserve the best. If we want to elect the most deserving individuals in our midst for leadership positions and for the voting population to have greater confidence in our elections, the whole voting experience should be credible and dependable and transparent.

As of this writing, the partial and unofficial election results are at about 96%. We know we can do it faster and better. The glitches and maltreatment of some of our PWDs and senior citizens and below standard equipment are surmountable. Yes, our country’s facing so many trials. In order for us to spark real transformations and trek our way to the other side of the mountain, we should also go beyond ourselves and our expectations.

Every election symbolizes a new beginning, a revolutionary hope. Isn’t it intelligent and sensible to start change there?

This Time Around, Trust That It Will Get Better

‘We’re in this puzzle of existence reaching out to the unknown, figuring out what makes sense, doing what’s good as dictated organically by our hearts.’

Dear Kuya Manny: Please retire at 60

‘Sports breathes from hope and to engage in sports is a way to relieve the different forms of stress of life. However, if used the improper way, it can be lethal. A promise of solace can be turned into a nightmare that can haunt the minds of people. That’s exactly what you did, Kuya.’

Dear Kuya Manny,

In a true Filipino fashion, can I call you ‘Kuya’ since I’ve always seen you as an older brother? How are you? How are the bruises? I hope you’re recovering well.

I learned that you had another bout when my sister’s husband called and inquired about its result while we’re having lunch last Sunday.

“Have you watched the fight?” my sister asked while holding her smartphone. “Who won?”

“What fight?” I responded.

“The Pacquiao fight” she replied. “You don’t know?”

I paused for a moment not just because of cluelessness but also because every little reason why I stopped caring about any news about you all came back to me. The horror you single-handedly inflicted into my consciousness three years ago saw the light of the tunnel again. Piece by piece. Detail by detail. Pound for pound.

May 3, 2015. Sunday. “The Fight of the Century.” It’s you versus Floyd Mayweather Jr. SM Megamall Cinema 3. Pay per view. 2 tickets. I was sitting next to my younger brother Ronnel. The 12-round match has ended. Jimmy Lennon Jr. announced the winner. Cheers were replaced by sighs. Nobody wanted to leave the theater. We were shocked. “Is that it?” the old man sitting across me shouted in exasperation. We waited for the climax of the movie pictured mentally by hundreds of millions of fans all over the world: Mayweather, the nemesis – blank-faced, defeated on the canvas after being hit by you in a barrage of uppercuts and right hooks. It never happened.

No, it’s not that we lost that made it unforgettable. It’s the difficult truth hidden behind the curtain that consumed me. You made me despise boxing. The sport died for me on that day.

During a post-fight interview, you revealed that you had entered that fight with a pre-existing shoulder injury and then further injured that area during the fourth round of the contest. When I heard this, my heart wanted to explode. I couldn’t believe it. It felt like I have been deceived with my two eyes wide open by you, the same man who had told in his pre-fight interview: “Don’t get nervous… I’m the one fighting, so relax.”

I watched every possible discussion that one can view online because of the hype everyone has poured for that momentous event. Boxing greats, analysts, and even superstars from other sports became involved and gave their take on who would emerge victorious. It was billed as the modern era’s Joe Frazier versus Muhammad Ali contest. But nobody saw it coming – the lie of the century.

Kuya, it was the first time in my entire life that I decided to buy tickets and watch a fight of yours on pay per view. I had watched all your previous fights on tv and on Youtube. To me and probably just like the million others around the world, it was an attempt to be part of history; to be able to tell myself decades later, if God will permit, that I was there with you in every blow, in every jab, in every hook. It was my humble way of supporting you. But again, I was wrong. You and your camp had a different view the entire time. The world expected a clash of titans with no injury report divulged to the public. Everyone assumed that you were at 100% or almost at the peak of your strength and so tickets have been sold out.

Kuya Manny, a few days after your Mayweather fight, I tried to convince myself that you had hidden the truth for the fight to not be postponed because the other camp might use it a reason to back out. I understand that you had been luring Mayweather for the fight to be realized for so many years. Is that more important than your integrity, reputation and dignity as a man? And just like that, you moved on from one fight to another as if nothing happened.

Sports breathes from hope and to engage in sports is a way to relieve the different forms of stress of life. However, if used the improper way, it can be lethal. A promise of solace can be turned into a nightmare that can haunt the minds of people. That’s exactly what you did, Kuya.

But who am I compared to your greatness? Why should I hold a grudge to you after everything that you’ve done? Is it too hard to forgive another human being and forget all the heartaches?

Whenever I see you in the news or whenever your name surfaces in my conversations with my colleagues and friends, I remember how you made me feel. You brought another exceptional dimension to the word “Filipino” in the international stage. You’re “The Filipino Pride” and “The People’s Champ” and you’ve shown the world what we’re made of.

Yours is a beautiful rags-to-riches story: a mighty warrior who became affluent because of his grit, passion, persistence, and determination. As a storyteller, I fell in love with it. Is it too much to ask for a story book ending in your part?

In his final NBA game, your good friend Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant astoundingly scored 60 points on 22 of 50 shooting against Utah Jazz in 2016. A number of spectators were standing and jumping in the Staples Center arena out of excitement. The mood was festive. Hollywood A-listers were in attendance. He was blessed with an epic ending which is rare for sports legends in history. He retired a winner. After bagging your 60th career win, you have the power to retire a champion.

At 2:43 of the 7th round, you convincingly showed the world what’s left in your tank after defeating the much younger Argentine boxer Lucas Matthysse by TKO and earned the WBA Welterweight title.

But just like a younger brother to his kuya, I hope you retire now from boxing and enjoy more time with your family and loved ones. I’m worried that you might seriously get hurt on your next fight and bid goodbye to the sport you’re passionate about because your mind and body have given up on you. I’m concerned about how your wife Jinkee, your kids, and mommy Dionisia would react if they’ll see you in an unspeakable state. You have nothing else to prove.

Also, please reach out to the LGBTQ+ community and all of those you have offended before. Embrace them with open arms and patiently search for the common ground for us to move forward. I believe you have the heart to spark a real change to the sufferings of our fellowmen. I pray that your health will be at its summit to battle against the more valuable, salient, and pressing issues and challenges that we face as a people in the future. Because your loss is our loss and your win is our win.

Finally, I hope you lend your ears this time.

Sincerely yours,

Ben

(Various versions of this piece appeared on The Sports Column, Read Boxing, Boxing Insider, and United States Sports Academy’s The Sport Digest in July, 2018.)

A comeback story

Somewhere along the way you’ll get hurt.
Broken promises.
Failed relationships.
Frustrations from all angles.
To face these is inevitable.
But take heart.
What’s life if we get everything we want
and prayed for at the moment we
expected them to greet us?
Where’s excitement in not challenging
our limitations and weaknesses?
We’ve all questioned everything at one
point in our lives – our decisions,
our gifts, our value as a person.
But look at the one gazing at you from
the future – the stronger you.
You’ve gone through this before;
you can do it again.
Meaning breathes from tales of triumphs
and overcoming of odds.
Be a comeback story.

The Protest

It’s perfectly legal to get angry, to raise your clenched fist, to shout and to have your thoughts made known to those holding the highest positions in the government. With everything that’s going on, it is a natural reaction, a civilized attempt to express. But it’s scarier I believe if the voices of those who care have been shut, the doors and windows to understanding closed, and hope gone. I wonder if the Philippines will one day wake up on an atmosphere of pure hate, hurt, and heresy. Yes, I still wonder because at 4 A.M. my mind wanted to believe that we can get over these humps. I hope that fear will never triumph against the truth… I hope.

Resistance

Peace will smile at her someday and she’ll try to resist how she feels. But she’ll smile back anyway.

Na-‘Kita Kita’

“Siyam na beses din akong aasa na hudyat ito sa muling pagtitiwala nating mga Filipino na kaya nating makagawa ng quality films na tatangkilikin at pararangalan maging sa international stage.”

HAYAAN MONG gaya nina Tonyo at Lea, magbibilang ako:

Isa. Isa kang rebelasyon, Empoy. Pinahanga mo kami. Matagal ko nang naisip na higit ka pa sa pagiging komedyante, isa kang artista. Naramdaman ko ‘yon noon dahil ‘ika nga nila, kapag komedyante ka, marami kang hugot, maraming pinagdaanan. Salamat pinatawa mo ‘ko sa sinehan kasama ang pamilya ko ng ilang beses. Maraming pinaiyak ang sulat mo.

Dalawa. Dalawang tanong ang nabuo sa isip ko habang pinapanood kita, Alex: una, umarte ka ba?; pangalawa, bakit parang ang tagal n’yo nang magkasama ni Empoy? Parang ang nangyari eh tinapatan ka ng camera, kinilig at lumabas ang dimple nang natural, at ayun! pelikula. Salamat sa mga patak ng luha mo sa dulo ng obra. Hanggang ngayon, hindi makamove-on yung ate ko sa napanood niya.

Tatlo. Tatlong elemento ang kapansin-pansing angat ang pelikula: unexpected love team, cinematography, at pacing. Pang-international yung dating. Salamat direk Sigrid Andrea Bernardo. Isa kang alamat! Hinangaan ko ang bawat eksena at anggulo. Nakagawa ka ng isang produkto na may kombinasyon ng lahat ng mga nabanggit na kinunan sa ibang bayan.

Apat. Apat ang producers ng pelikula: Piolo Pascual, Direk Joyce Bernal, Erickson Raymundo at Suzanne Shayne Sarte. Maraming salamat sa pagtaya. Sa panahon na nilalangaw ang industriya ng pelikulang Filipino eh naglakas-loob kayong gumawa, magisip, at magpuyat. Salamat sa pagpapanumbalik ng tiwala sa talento natin bilang mga storytellers at creators. Salamat sa respetong ibinigay ninyo sa aming mga manonood. Nabusog kami sa halakhak, lungkot, musika, saging, puso, at tunog ng kampana.

Lima, Anim, Pito. Naglalaro dito ang dami ng beses na pinaalalahanan ko ang nanay ko sa pagbibigay niya ng komento sa mga eksena. Madilim ang sinehan, maraming tao, at oo libre ang senior citizen sa sine sa Makati area.

Walo. Walong minuto bago mag-umpisa, ang haba ng pila para makabili ng cheese popcorn. Sa pagmamasid sa paligid, ilang dipa lang ang layo ng ilang tv personalities na nagaabang: Julius Babao, Bubbles Paraiso, Raymond Gutierrez. Physically fit na nga si Raymond gaya ng nabalita.

Siyam. Siyam na beses kong pinanood ang trailer. Siyam na beses din akong umasa na sana maging blockbuster movie ito ngayong taon matapos ipull-out last minute sa MMFF 2016. Siyam na beses din akong maniniwala na hudyat ito sa muling pagtitiwala nating mga Filipino na kaya nating makagawa ng quality films na tatangkilikin at pararangalan maging sa international stage.

Sampu. Sampung milyong piso ang budget ng pelikula. Inasahan ng mga producers na kikita ito ng 50 hanggang 60 milyong piso. Sa huling ulat, umabot na ito sa 200 milyong piso. Samantalang hindi ang takilya ang sukatan ng value ng isang work of art, gaya ng pangunahing karakter nito sa una, may higit pa sa nakikita ng mga mata. May ipinaramdam ang ‘Kita Kita’ sa mga manonood na matagal nilang hindi naramdaman sa ipinalabas na mga pelikula sa Pilipinas.