Organised chaos and the election season

News Philippines May 10, 2019 at 4:53 pm

Top-cover-IMG_9450PH Elections 2019

By Irish Mae Silvestre
The Philippine Reporter

MANILA–Being a third culture kid means I’m not quite an outsider, but I can’t exactly pass for a local either. I’m familiar enough that a lot of things don’t faze me like hotdogs and marshmallows on a stick. But other things (such as “unli rice”) can still throw me for a loop. And one of them is election season in the Philippines.

While I’ve covered elections in the US and in Canada, the Philippines is a league of its own. I’m no expert when it comes to Philippine politics but one thing’s for sure: campaigns here are a world away from the discreet lawn signs of North America.

IMG_9452Having just left Toronto’s negative temperatures, Manila’s January heat takes some getting used to. But that was to be expected. What I wasn’t expecting was that everywhere I looked, there would be campaign posters adorning walls, gates and telephone poles, as well as massive banners across bus stands. Posters with smiling faces peeked out from behind buses and fluttered on the backs of tricylces. In some cases, they served dual purpose by providing extra shade at roadside carinderias (food stalls).

I shared this observation with a friend who, rather ominously, said, “It’s only January – it’s only the beginning. Wait until Holy Week is over.”

In the few months that I’ve been here, I’ve experienced a number of “firsts” such as the water shortage; waking up to a gurgling tap and no running water was a new stomach-churning experience. That was quickly followed by threats of power outages, which, thankfully didn’t really amount to anything. Then there was the 6.1 magnitude earthquake that had everyone scrambling for cover and discussing “the big one” expected to hit at some point in the future.

My emotions ran the gamut from outrage to downright panic. As I ran up the stairs carrying a bucket of water, the old tourism slogan ‘it’s more fun in the Philippines’ came to mind.

Photos: Irish Mae Silvestre

Photos: Irish Mae Silvestre

But those news headlines came and went. And, as my friend promised, after Holy Week, election season reached fever pitch. It was like someone amped up the volume – quite literally.

One after another, trucks outfitted with ginormous speakers would come thundering down residential areas rousing residents from their siestas.

These trucks would crawl to a stop in various neighbourhoods several times a day, blasting each candidate’s campaign jingles. One is set to the tune of ‘Tequila’, another to Lou Bega’s ‘Mambo No. 5.’ These earworms are so loud and so catchy my mom swears she can hear them in her dreams. I once spotted a neighbour having a one-man dance party in the middle of the street much to the amusement of passing drivers.

If the non-stop ads on TV and the Internet weren’t enough, the streets are where the majority of the campaigning takes place.
One candidate made his way down our street in the late afternoon heat greeting constituents, posing for selfies and handing out T-shirts and pandesal. It was mirienda time, after all.

Going door-to-door is one thing but it’s the rallies that truly reach peak fiesta mode. Traffic reaches a near standstill as main streets are shut down to make way for stages and throngs of crowds.

The nightly news often features these rallies and bickering candidates. It’s strangely comforting that that aspect of politics is universal.

When I talk to the older generation about the upcoming elections, there’s an ongoing sense of jaded suspicion. Their generation has seen some things.

But, surprisingly, the twenty-somethings I spoke to didn’t necessarily share their point of view. A lot of them seem to be engaged in what’s happening in the country and take voting seriously. At the least, they’re cautiously optimistic. One millennial I spoke to said, “I hope it gets better with this election, though – I don’t want to leave the country.”

Whether or not things will change enough to stem the flow of Filipinos leaving home remains to be seen.

As I type this at 8pm, one of those musical trucks is making its final round. Lately, I have to mentally check myself whenever I start humming ‘Mambo No. 5.’

May 13 can’t come soon enough.