Throw out the clowns

Tue, 03/20/2007 - 00:00
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reprinted from I Report, magazine of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, Nov-Dec 2005

Our folklore is populated by frightful, bizarre monsters. For instance, there's the aswang, a shape-changing horror which eats human fetuses and runs for public office. Or the amaranhig, an undead creature which tickles victims to death and runs for public office. Or the tikbalang, a horse-headed humanoid that attacks unwary travelers and runs for public office.

Of course I'm lying. These creatures could actually never run for office – they'd be disqualified for being imaginary (they could probably cast votes, fictitious characters do that all that time in our country). But even if they were real and tried to run, they'd find all the positions already held by truly loathsome, bloodsucking abominations.

You're betting I'm going to say "politician", aren't you? How did you guess? Any discussion on politicians would have to begin with their origin. Most Filipinos would certainly love to know where their politicians come from (one reason is that maybe they can return them, or claim some form of product liability from the manufacturer).But don't think this is a cheap joke. Nothing about our politicians is cheap – we pay billions every year to support them. And what do we get in return? Dedicated, selfless and incorruptible service. Integrity and fearless espousal of the rights of the poor. If you aren't laughing bitterly by now you're clearly not a Filipino taxpayer.

Not many of us give too much thought to our politicians, and rightly so. There are more important things to think about, such as human intestinal flora, or the mating habits of tropical nematodes. But if we'd only spare some time and give some thought to our politicians, if we looked closely at the role they play in our lives and our country's day-to-day dealings, then I'm pretty sure we'd immediately go back to the nematodes.

However, even a close study of nematodes, which reference books say include simple, parasitic worms ranging up to eight meters in length, have a disturbing way of bringing Filipino traditional politicians to mind. And it's possible that studying our politicians will help us understand why our country is in it's current shape (in a word, "screwed"). So if were to keep our inquiry dispassionate and treat politicians as we would any other slimy, spineless lower life form, we'd certainly would come to a keener and deeper understanding of why we keep wanting to move abroad and change our citizenship.

Any discussion on politicians would have to begin with their origin. Most Filipinos would certainly love to know where their politicians come from (one reason is that maybe they can return them, or claim some form of product liability from the manufacturer). If we want to be mythological about it, we can speculate that our politicians were perhaps created at the dawn of time when lightning split a tree open, and from the trunk emerged the very first beings: Malakas, Maganda and Magulang. One of them would have looked like a Speaker of the House.

If we want be more scientific, then we can theorize that politicians, like all the rest of us, came from single celled, primitive life forms, only in their case they skipped any further development. On an evolution chart, politicians would be somewhere between talk show hosts and TV commercial copywriters. Imelda Marcos would have her own branch, a dead end. Another possible explanation is that politicians are mutants who spring into existence when an otherwise normal person is brought near to a deadly, toxic substance like money.

All politicians have similar characteristics: they have thick faces and hides and are immune to heat, cold and extreme poverty. They are very nimble, able to spin around into any position while turning their coats. Just as cats are supposed to be able to always land upright, traditional politicians are capable of surviving any fall, landing on their feet with their hands still in your pocket.

Generally speaking, Filipino politicians come in two varieties: alive and dead. If you think the dead ones can't ruin your day at all, you clearly haven't been paying attention to the names of the corpses being buried with honors at the National Heroes Cemetery.

There are several types of live politicians, but the most common is the "traditional" variety, so-called for their firm adherence to "traditional" core values, which are love of self and self-interest, in that order. Traditional politicians -- trapos for short -- have keen analytical minds that enable them to see all sides in an issue, so that they can pick the one that will help them fulfill their main purpose: to build huge mansions and send their kids to school abroad using other people's money. In fact, one of the dead giveaways that a person is a trapo is that his or her home keeps steadily getting bigger each year. Through hard work and patience, a politician who starts with a humble modest house could in a few years hope to end up owning the Lower House.

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