Friday, September 16, 2011

VICTORY STAINED WITH DISHONOR

PROLOGUE

“When a great tree falls,” so said one great American jurist, “we are surprised to see how meager the landscape seems without it.” So are we, denizens of Isabela City with the senseless death of my dear friend, Nickarter “Boy” Gonzalo.

Nickarter “Boy” Gonzalo was an underrated and often misunderstood political pundit of my hometown. Well spoken, witty and with a razor sharp intellect, Boy Gonz, as friends would call him, could have been the right man to go against the gargantuan tide of abuse and corruption in Isabela City.

Boy was very articulate with his views on local politics. In all our conversations, he consistently displayed his political idealism as he expounds his critique on the whales and minnows occupying top-echelon positions in local government. You may hate his guts, scorn at his peculiar ways, be offended with his candor but at the end of the day you will realize, idealism does not, after all solely belong to the young. And Boy Gonzalo, was exactly that. A man tested by time, his heart was full of idealism that even a million young trapos could not match. Actually, I often tease him that with his age (he was in his 50s), I find it really strange that he still believes in cherished ideals such as meritocracy, idealism and morality as standards for good governance. By now, I quipped, he should be thinking along the lines of trapo politics to get elected as city councilor or whatever. But before I could pound him some more, Boy made a hand gesture signaling me to stop and said, “Pey, I may be a nobody but I would like to leave a legacy for my children before I die.”

Call him a perennial loser in the arena of politics and he would gladly concede. Boy’s fetish to join the political arena could hardly be considered a personal ambition. For the both of us, winning an election is just a bonus. It's the impact that we are making on the voters that counts. But for all his bravado, Nickarter “Boy” Gonzalo is a man of faith, a man of substance and strong conviction that decency in public office is not a far fetched dream.

Below is an article that he was working on, an unfinished diary of his political journey in Barangay politics. “Victory Stained with Dishonor” captures in pristine details how politics in my hometown is being conducted at the grassroots of the political spectrum. Here Boy Gonzalo was at his best. Like a resilient fighter, his consistent failures did not deter him from pushing his deep-seated advocacies. He treats every failure as his badge of honor.

I’m reproducing this write-up to serve as a living testament on the extent of corruption in our political system even at the lowest level. But more than anything else of course, I would like to illuminate through this piece the kind of public servant Boy Gonzalo was. Albeit relatively an obscure and undervalued political figure of Isabela City, to this writer Nickarter “Boy” Gonzalo stands tallest in the pantheon of principled Basilenos to have walked this earth. Actually right now, I am torn into thinking that with the way things went, our hometown doesn’t deserve a man like him.

I’m forever grateful to have met him, conversed with him and to have drunk tons of coffee with him…And oh, the countless books we have devoured be it on Christian apologetics or Philippine politics. Farewell Brod. As promised, I will not falter from keeping the flame burning!

Below is the reproduction of Boy’s unfinished article...

A friend texted me this message quoting Rizal “to fall with the head high and serene brow is not to fall, it is to triumph. The sad thing is to fall with the stain of dishonor.” Further, he elaborated this statement by a political advocacy that seems to be out of the ordinary: the notion of victory is not to equate winning the elections but to shake the system. Winning if at all, is just a bonus. And here is the stronger statement that became both me and my friend’s advocacy in politics: Run not to win but to educate the electorate. He pushed me to run in the barangay elections. I thought of this quite seriously and found this idea a profound novelty in politics.

Run I did…and lost in the elections with serene brow and head held up high perhaps humbled with the fall but triumphant in my (and my friend’s) advocacy to agitatingly shake the tide of evil practices in politics. Now it’s my friend’s turn to go for it in 2013. But that would be another story.

How did I shake the political system? It wasn’t exactly shaking the system but courageously unnerving voters who sell their votes and denouncing political adversaries who were blatantly practicing the usual heinous practice of vote-buying during the campaign.

I ran alone as councilman of my barangay. Not exactly the best of ideas to drum up support or teamwork from fellow candidates within a party system. But more than that, I also prepared my own package of realizable programs for my barangay. I knew I had the necessary credentials to get elected being a former consultant of an ex-mayor, a co-proponent in successfully pushing for the cityhood of my town and a former lecturer of righteous governance in the barangay level. Running alone was my way to escape the company of traditional politicians (trapo candidates swamped even in the barangay level). I knew they were also my target of my so-called shakening. Since barangay elections were free from any political parties, I could just insert myself with any groups holding campaign rallies.

In one rally that I got invited, I detonated a fiery speech mincing no words condemning rampant vote-buying and criticizing incumbents who were only getting their honorarium as barangay officials but were constant absentees in barangay sessions. “Are these the kind of leaders we elected? Bato-bato sa langit, ang tamaan, bukol. There are no vote buyers if there are no vote sellers I screamed.” I was telling the hard truth but then I also realize truth was a very unlikely product to be salable to people. I was paddling against the wave of “normal” campaigning by stirring and shaking the electorate’s ears. My speech also unnerved other candidates that suddenly I had political enemies.

Besides campaigning as honest as I can, I went out of my way to lecture SK candidates about keeping the campaign within legal bounds and never resort to vote-buying. I thought this was a good strategy also of courting the votes of parents while educating these young candidates. If elected, I also volunteered that I was going to be a working partner and guidepost to whoever was the winning SK chairman in the barangay council.

Anyway, why did I lose? I made it very clear to the constituents of my barangay that I was a candidate who would not give, pay, and buy votes to win. The program of giving and helping would come after the elections, not during the campaign.

When the results of the elections came in, barangay folks began whispering that those who mostly won were the ones who gave rice, money, sardines and other food stuffs. A winning candidate for barangay kagawad was overhead that she spent close to P100,000 for vote buying purposes. Another candidate disposed off 35 sacks of NFA rice packed in 2 kilos for every voter using a religious practice of sadaca as a vote buying tool. The familiar corrupt perverted idea “kung wala kang pera, wag ka ng tumakbo” basically means “kung wala kang perang pambili ng boto, wag ka ng tumakbo” which nefarious candidates would never admit in public. Take note of the word “nefarious” to distinguish from some other honest candidates who ran for public office.

The day before Election Day is considered as a non-campaign day. However, many candidates resorted to “kamang” which literally means to crawl. Scrupulous candidates were “crawling” at night from house to house giving away rice and money. A neighbor confided me the next morning that two candidates came knocking to his house at midnight to give rice. A candidate was seen with a short sidearm tugged in his hips. There goes the gun ban blatantly violated.

Another sinister strategy that has become rampantly unchecked is flying voters. Many of my known voters came to me complaining that someone already voted in their stead. A certain stooge of a candidate would offer bribe money to a voter. To ensure the voter would really vote for the stooge’s candidate, the voter would pretend he is illiterate and that an assistor of the stooge would “assist” the voter to fill up the ballot. Thereafter, the voter gets paid the bribe money by the stooge.

NB: Pictures courtesy of LOVE ISABELA at http://www.facebook.com/loveisabela

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