A Huge Election

It’s election time in the Philippines! I have a lot of unsolicited opinions about politics in this country, but in writing this post I am aware that I am walking on thin ice. When I last landed in Manila, the immigration counter prominently displayed signs informing visitors that they would be deported for participating in any political activism. Unlike the immigration cards which declared “DEATH TO DRUG TRAFFICKERS UNDER PHILIPPINE LAW” years after the death penalty was abolished, I knew this was no joke: I have indeed heard of foreigners being summarily deported for joining in protests. (Not that I’d want to traffic drugs here, anyway – the prisons here don’t seem like very nice places to hang out for a few years.) So, you won’t see me waving any placards this election season. Instead, I’ll take the safer ground and write about the election from a cultural perspective, as a recurring event of monumental significance. I’m not trying to advocate for or against any candidate or position – I just want to share my utter fascination.

Election season in the Philippines has a reputation for being a time of violence and unrest. I’m glad to say I haven’t seen any evidence of that this year, nor have I heard much about it through the news. This leaves me free to focus on the more fun side of the election, with the larger-than-life personalities and campaigns. Of course, even if it’s an exciting spectacle, the stakes are still deadly serious in a country that is experiencing stratospheric economic growth, but where some would say not enough of this growth is trickling down to the poorest Filipinos.

The national political system here is pretty fascinating in its own right. Filipinos vote separately for their President and Vice President, meaning it’s quite possible to elect a President and VP from two different parties who hate each other’s guts (as basically happened in 2010). Senators are elected nationwide, through a process I will not pretend to understand. I could say a thing or two about the larger-than-life presidential candidates, but I’d probably end up a little too opinionated, so I’ll keep my figurative mouth shut. (Rodrigo Duterte says that foreign organizations protesting his candidacy should keep their noses out of Philippine politics, and I won’t say anything about him, either.)

But regardless, the local elections are where the magic truly happens. Although a certain degree of solemnity seems to be expected on a national level, local politicians are seemingly quite ready to employ any sort of razzle-dazzle to win votes. Here in Muntinlupa City, there is a pitched mayoral battle underway between two leading candidates, incumbent Mayor Jaime Fresnedi and former Mayor Aldrin San Pedro.

The most visible sign of the election season is the trucks that drive through my theoretically private subdivision at all hours, loudly blasting pop song parodies with the lyrics rewritten to praise their respective candidates. I can’t claim my Tagalog is good enough to understand most of the lyrics, but the names of the candidates figure heavily. I recognize some of the songs parodied, and not others, but a lot of them are amazingly catchy – Not just because they’re based on already catchy songs, but also because they’ve been so skillfully rewritten to mesh the song rhythms with the cadences of the candidates’ names. I’m always struck by how professionally recorded the parodies are, as well.

THIS IS NOT AN ENDORSEMENT OF A POLITICAL CANDIDATE, but when it comes to roving music trucks I have to give the edge to Aldrin San Pedro, whose vans often feature a man in a chicken suit dancing wildly from the back of the truck, in bold defiance of the brutal summer heat. The Rooster Boy is a reference to San Pedro, St. Peter, and the crowing of the cock – Incidentally also a motif of the neighbouring city of San Pedro, Laguna, which makes everything even more confusing. I have to say that Rooster Boy’s wild thrusting has an air of menace about it, but I guess I wouldn’t dance very happily in this heat, either.

Even more impressive are the occasions when what I can only assume is Aldrin San Pedro’s entire fleet of campaign trucks – five or six in all – drive through my neighbourhood at night in a brightly-lit procession, all blasting out-of-sync versions of ASP’s theme song (you know, the one that goes “Aldrin San Pedro! Aldrin San Pedro! Aldrin San Pedrooooooo! Aldrin San Pedro!”).

Jaime Fresnedi has a strong presence, as well, without quite the same massive show of force or the benefit of a Rooster Boy. Also-ran Temy Simundac lacks the resources of either of the front-runners, and his song parodies also lack the same pizzazz – his parody of Mambo No. 5 is plenty catchy (just replace “Monica in my life” with “Teeemy Simundaaac”), but I imagine voters are looking for a candidate with more timely pop song parodies. But regardless, may the best man (or woman, though I’m not familiar with any female mayoral candidates) win – Ideally not just on the basis of their pop song parodies, but also their policies, which I know nothing about. Although some outsiders seem to imagine it as a murderous den of drug pushers, I have found Muntinlupa City to be a safe, clean, progressive, and eminently sane place to live – Whoever the next mayor is, I hope that he or she will keep it that way.

In closing, I wish the Philippines a peaceful election, one that ushers in a new set of elected officials who will act as wise stewards for this country, which is booming economically but still faces many problems and challenges. And as long as democracy prevails, I will forgive the campaign trucks for waking me up with their song parodies at 6:30 AM on a Sunday – especially since the parodies tend to be so damn catchy! This is Muntinlupa City’s #1 Rooster Boy Fan (NOT THE SAME AS AN ALDRIN SAN PEDRO FAN – I AM NOT ENDORSING ANY CANDIDATE), signing out!

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