“Ghost Voters”

The first reported paranormal incident in the town of Kamalakal occurred on 7 May 1998. A young widow, one Dymphna Tessalona, claimed that she had been beaten up by the ghost of her husband, Victor. The story of her attack appeared in the Vulgar tabloid, under the sensational headline, “Widow Strangled by Zombie Husband”.

This headline was full of inaccuracies, as pointed out by the host of a television show on the paranormal that appeared on the country’s second most popular television network.

“Zombies eat brains, they do not strangle people,” the host insisted.

Instead, the host argued, based on the classification system of paranormal manifestations invented by a famed Israeli paranaturalist, the attacks on Ms. Tessalona were actually examples of “extreme poltergeist activity” by her deceased husband, Victor.

The host used the word “attacks” because, in his interview of Ms. Tessalona, six years after her first attack, it was revealed that she had been attacked two more times since then.

“I was so happy when Victor died,” Ms. Tessalona said, in a portion of the interview that was edited out of the final program.

“When Victor hit me, he always started in the stomach. Then he would twist my breasts in his hands. He would end by strangling me until I fell unconscious. He liked to work his way up. He always hit me in the same places. He never varied his routine.

“For a whole year after he died, I felt so free and alive. I even thought of marrying again. I had several suitors. This time, I told myself, I would not choose someone like Victor.

“But then the first attack happened. There was no one in the room with me when the first blow fell, but I knew it was Victor. I felt the blows on my stomach, again and again. Then my breasts. Then my neck. It was Victor. He was back.

“When I woke up, I dragged myself to the barangay health clinic, to the health worker who had treated me in the past, when Victor was still alive. She crossed herself when she saw my body; she said the pattern of my bruises was similar to what Victor used to leave on me.

“For a while, I hoped the attack would not be repeated. Perhaps Victor had escaped Hell so he could torment me, but now he was back where he belonged.

“Then, three years later, I was attacked by Victor again. Three years after that — yes, this year — another attack.

“My suitors stopped coming. I did not care. I knew, as they did, that I was still married to Victor. I will never escape Victor. When I die, he will drag me down to Hell to join him.

“When do the attacks happen? I already told you: on the first Monday of May. Yes, 1998, 2001, and, now, 2004.

“Yes, the attacks only happen during the elections.”

Only Ms. Tessalona’s last statement appeared in the final broadcast.

The host was quick to point out that Ms. Tesssalona was not the only person in Kamalakal to experience hauntings such as these.

The host interviewed four other individuals from the town who reported encounters with dead relatives.

Similar to the experience of Ms. Tessalona, the host said, these hauntings all occurred on Election Day. The host did not speculate on the reason for the timing of the hauntings. After the segment was over, the program cut to a commercial break. When it returned, the host had switched to a report about a zombie attack on the island of Siquijor.

The host, of course, knew the reason the townspeople of Kamalakal gave for the timing of the hauntings. All five of the interviewees had mentioned it. But the program editor of the country’s second most popular television channel was keen to follow the winning formula of the country’s most popular television channel, which was to avoid all controversies linked to individuals connected to the Straight and Narrow Party, the ruling political dispensation.

“Kill all references to Dominguez,” she told the host verbally, who agreed. Without intending to, his interviewees had given him an insight into the way Mayor Dominguez ran Kamalakal as his personal fiefdom. The host did not want to get on the wrong side of someone like the mayor.

None of the program’s viewers learned that all five interviewees blamed Mayor Dominguez for the hauntings in Kamalakal.

In particular, they blamed his favorite tactic for ensuring electoral victory.

Mayor Dominguez was appointed mayor of Kamalakal after the first EDSA Revolution. A young 27 at the time, he arrived at the municipal hall with about fifty armed men, and threw out the incumbent mayor on her ass.

In the first democratic election held after the Revolution, Mayor Dominguez relied on massive vote-buying and intimidation tactics by his private army in his campaign against the old mayor, who was trying to regain her position. He narrowly won the election.

The next election, he won by a more comfortable margin.

The next election after that, he won by an even bigger margin.

Because of the three-term limit rule that was supposed to prevent the rise of political dynasties, Mayor Dominguez could not run in the next election. So he got his wife — an illiterate guest relations officer and dancer from a club in Metro Manila — to run in his place. She won the election by an even bigger margin than Mayor Dominguez’s previous electoral victory.

The reason behind these victories was not that Mayor Dominguez had become popular in the interim — so popular, in fact, that he could transfer this popularity to his wife.

The reality was that Mayor Dominguez was universally loathed, hated, and feared in Kamalakal, even by his wife. Fortunately for him, the last emotion overpowered the first two, leaving the people of Kamalakal cowed.

The secret behind Mayor Dominguez’s election wins was known to everyone in Kamalakal: he made liberal use of dead voters. Instead of purging the voters’ lists of dead people, Mayor Dominguez ordered them kept on; come Election Day, these dead people always showed up to vote (at least according to the election returns). Amazingly, these dead voters always voted for Mayor Dominguez or his wife.

(Because of this practice, two decades after Kamalakal’s first post-EDSA election, the town won an award from the Department of Health for having among the longest-lived senior citizens in the Philippines.)

But the abuse of the dead to vote on Election Day also coincided with the appearance of their actual spirits to friends, families, and loved ones.

A few of these hauntings were violent, as in the case of Ms. Tessalona, and sometimes drew the attention of the national media.

The majority were not; though these were not covered by the newspapers and television news programs, they all caused great pain to the living relatives who saw their dead.

The two families of Engineer Santos, an energetic bigamist who cheerfully loved and supported his wives and families, were each haunted by half the ghost of their patriarch: the right half with his first family, the left half with the second one. The two families witnessed the split engineer struggling mightily to move about with one half of an ectoplasmic body; he would often lean his exposed side against a wall, to spare his families the gory sight of his ghostly internal organs.

Even those who appeared to the living as they had in life, appeared as they had at their worst.

Members of the Jeraldo family were forced to watch their grandfather, a brilliant lawyer until senility took his wits away, doddering around the house, burbling and incoherent, ectoplasmic drool slipping from slack lips.

Richie Reyes did not see his mother as he liked to remember her, robust and hearty, gamely taking on the challenges of raising him as a single mother after the death of her husband in an oil rig accident in Saudi Arabia. Instead, she appeared to him as the pain-wracked, disease-ridden hag she became in the last year of her life, as cancer ate away at her insides. Every Election Day, Richie Reyes was forced to relive the guilt of a dutiful son unable to succor the suffering of his mother.

The trauma of these incidents slowly built up in the people of Kamalakal.

At least, that is the only possible explanation for what happened on the night of 12 May 2019, when the people of Kamalakal rose en masse and stormed the Dominguez family compound.

There was no organization or premeditation behind the attack. During the day, the people of Kamalakal dutifully stood in line to cast their votes. Afterwards, they returned to the ghosts waiting for them at home, as in previous Election Days.

But when the polls closed at 5 p.m., individually or in small groups, the people of Kamalakal left their homes to stand before the gates of the Dominguez family compound.

By 9 p.m., the mob outside the gate had swelled to over a thousand people. Even Ms. Tessalona dragged her battered body out of her house to join the crowd.

Mayor Dominguez was unaware of this development, for he was busy monitoring the election results. As an upstanding member of the Straight and Narrow Party, he was expected to deliver votes to the party’s nationwide candidates. To do so, he had sent the bulk of his private army to Kamalakal’s lone public school, to sequester and monitor the teachers’ manually counting the ballots. Only a skeleton crew of bodyguards was left to secure the compound gate, but these fled when they saw the size of the crowd.

At 10 p.m., the apparitions of all those whose names had appeared on the voting lists that day began to manifest among the crowd. Engineer Santos appeared in the midst of his families, briefly whole again. A scowling Victor stood by his wife in sullen solidarity.

It was as if the appearance of these spirits was the signal the mob had been waiting for. An army of the living and the dead easily pushed aside the gates and attacked.

The outlying houses in the compound, belonging to the families of the son and daughter of Mayor Dominguez, fell first. The adult members of the families were dragged from their homes and beaten; the children were left to cower in their rooms.

The mob then moved towards the main house, where Mayor Dominguez was celebrating the election results with a bottle of Fundador XXX brandy. He was surprised by the mob in his private office; wearing only a sando and a pair of briefs, he jumped out of his chair and cowered beneath a table.

But nobody laid a hand on the mayor.

By this time, the mob had entered all the rooms of the main house, and for the first time the people of Kamalakal bore witness to the way their mayor lived.

The mayor’s wife, the former guest relations officer, sat on her bed, ignoring the strangers crowding her bedroom. Her wide eyes seemed only to see the pair of decrepit spirits sitting on the bed beside her. They were her father and mother. She had agreed to marry Mayor Dominguez, in large part, due to his promise to house her parents in the Dominguez family compound. The thought of giving her parents the home they had never had had been her greatest joy while they were alive. But, after their deaths, Mayor Dominguez left their names on the voting lists so they could keep voting for him; after all, they were now legal residents of Kamalakal.

There were other ghosts scattered throughout the main house, deceased members of the cadet branches of the Dominguez family. But the greatest shock was found in Mayor Dominguez’s private office (where he had been drinking). Sitting in a chair, shaking, reliving again the symptoms of addiction that had tormented him in life, was Mayor Dominguez’s first son (by his college girlfriend); the young man had died of a drug overdose in his early twenties. Apparently, he had voted in an election when he turned 18, and had continued voting since then.

The presence of these ghosts saved the lives of Mayor Dominguez and his family.

The mob was unmanned, though not all in it were men; it was disarmed, though many in it were not armed. The same cold thought ran through the minds of every man, woman, and ghost in the mob: How could you fight someone who would do this to his own kin and blood…to his family? Such a man was invincible; a man that hard could not be hurt.

The mob melted away into the night. The ghosts that accompanied them, silent witnesses to the violence, vanished as well.

It was 12 a.m.

Election Day 2019 was over.

Three years later, a Mayor Dominguez was again running in the election, but this time not for re-election. This was the son, not the father. The old Mayor Dominguez had died two years earlier; he had never truly recovered from the shock of the storming of the family compound.

On Election Day, the ghosts appeared again in Kamalakal. But this time, instead of tormenting each other, the living and the dead went to the Dominguez family compound. There was a new gate there, made of reinforced steel, and a new ghost, banging soundlessly and ineffectually against it: the old Mayor Dominguez.

As vice-mayor, the younger Dominguez inherited the mayoral position after his father’s death. But he would need to win his election as mayor by a landslide to continue to enjoy the patronage of the Straight and Narrow Party, which insisted that all its members have an overwhelming popular mandate. The younger Dominguez had apparently decided that he needed all the votes he could get.

The eyes of the living and the dead, with neither malice nor pity, spent Election Day 2022 watching the ghost of the old Mayor Dominguez banging away ineffectually at his own gate. Then, at midnight, everyone went home.G



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