THERE’S no one like an outsider to focus attention on oneself.
My classmate Mark is most curious about Cebuanos. During last semester’s course on journalism history, he quizzed me about how and why Cebuanos vote.
He only irked me once, when he asked me if Cebu was really “GMA (Gloria Macapagal Arroyo) country”. I hissed back that in the 1970s, Cebu was the seat of vocal opposition to Marcos while the rest of the country, including Manila, was in thrall
of him and the KBL (Kilusang Bagong Lipunan).
A registered Quezon City voter, Mark wanted to know why there was no anti-epal movement spearheaded by Cebuanos. “Epal” is urban Filipino slang for people who grab attention (“pumapapel”). The term includes politicians who exploit projects for self-serving mileage.
Since we were hissing back and forth while our professor was seated across us, I could only retort that Cebuanos at least never voted an entertainer into public office.
Now it seems I might have spoken too soon. It’s not contradictory data dug up by Mark, a history major. It’s the salvo fired by Annabelle Rama who, after publicly castigating ABS-CBN and dyAB broadcaster Leo Lastimosa, said she will be the one to end the Cebuano shutout of actors and other showbiz denizens seeking public office.
Lastimosa criticized the Commission on Elections (Comelec) for accommodating Ruffa and two other Gutierrez siblings, the children of Rama and actor Eddie Gutierrez, ahead of citizens lining up to register as voters of Cebu City.
Rama, who is running to represent Cebu City’s north district, interpreted Lastimosa’s criticism as an attack against her family and gave another demonstration of her signature ability to shoot her own foot with her mouth (pardon the messed-up metaphors).
Comelec officials explained they accommodated the Gutierrez family to preserve order during the registration. The family’s reservation was honored despite the standard of registering on a “first come, first serve” basis because, according to Comelec, star-struck fans might mob Ruffa, Richard and the rest of the Gutierrez family and friends who may not all be movie stars but whose mestizo looks are significantly not impaired from not having to stand for hours under the sun or in lines snaking from sunup till sundown.
Since I have been conducting a Rick Riordan marathon this sembreak, let me draw some wisdom from the old myths. According to Riordan’s retelling, when the gods and goddesses of Olympus chose to appear to mortals, they had to resort to disguises to make them look more ordinary than ordinary. It wasn’t because they left behind in Olympus their powers and conceits—they didn’t—but staring directly at the raw essence of godliness always reduced mortals to donkeys or insanity.
In Cebu City, at least, there’s no need for demigod disguises since the Comelec is around to protect celebrities from zapping mortals who are not yet fried under the sun or from lining up for hours. The law also allows quickie residency since it allows mga “dili ingon nato (roughly translated to mean people not like us)” to set up residency at least six months in the place of registration, and conveniently extends the registration until seven months before the elections.
Yet, Rama is right. Anyone who meets the requirements of candidacy is entitled to run.
In a democracy, there should be no discrimination against anyone desiring to serve the people. Of all the biases, none is more insidious than the prejudice against the Filipino voter.
“Trapo (traditional politicians),” epal or whatever tag of infamy that wordsmiths have yet to invent have long exploited voters’ weakness for the moneyed, prominent and popular. It is a fatal flaw that can be counteracted by being informed before casting one’s vote.
The registration controversy involving Rama’s kin and friends reveals not just the ease of accommodation granted to and accepted as a form of entitlement by those considered not ordinary or extra-ordinary by society. It also exposes the vacuum of humility, temperance and intelligence in some aspiring public servants. Voters, caveat emptor (Latin for “beware”).
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* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Nov. 4, 2012 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column