It must have been a dark and stormy night when a classmate of ours from law school, identity undetermined and gender unknown, sat down and put the finishing touches on his thesis. (I use the possessive “his” because the story that follows must have involved a male classmate; females are supposed to be better with words anyway.) The draft that came out of the printer was then handed to his thesis adviser and this submission is where the anecdote begins. Word raced around the class that this unidentified classmate was immediately ordered by his adviser to revise his draft without the latter even bothering to turn the first page. What had gone wrong?
Our classmate’s thesis never got off the block—his opening sentence had done him in. The first line of any manuscript is important because it is, apart from the title, the first text that a reader reads. Properly phrased, a good opening sentence hooks the reader’s attention and, in the few seconds it takes to read it, enables the reader to decide if he should read on or chuck the whole thing into the dustbin. Not that every writer is mindful of this importance: badly written opening sentences range from the banal to the overblown, the latter including among its number Edward Bulwer-Lytton, who wrote perhaps the best example of the worst opening line ever: “It was a dark and stormy night….” I think Bulwer-Lytton’s legacy faces stiff competition from our classmate. The opening line to his contribution to the body of legal knowledge allegedly read: “Kleng-bang, kleng-bang, it’s election time once more.”
I loved it. If accurate to the last onomatopoetic word, the imagery it conjures is raucous, tacky, devoid of dignity, uninspired—all the things that elections in this country are. In other words, it’s perfect. With my classmate’s kind permission, I would like to borrow that bell and do some kleng-banging of my own because, indeed, it’s election time once more, or nearing it. Candidates for next year’s national and local elections began filing their certificates of candidacy last October 11 and for those who haven’t, they have until the 17th to decide if they will run away to join the circus. The presidency isn’t up for grabs—a shame, really—but 12 slots for the Senate are opening up and so are the seats in the House of Representatives. Positions in the local government, from governor down, will likewise become available, and the electorate will have to make up their minds whether to remain loyal to re-electionists or to opt for new faces.
Among the familiar faces seeking re-election are Grace Poe, Cynthia Villar and Koko Pimentel. Francis Escudero, who is on his last term as senator, will instead be gunning for the governorship of Sorsogon. Hoping to join Poe, Villar and company in the Senate as a breath of fresh air is folk singer Freddie Aguilar who, depending on who you ask, is either being officially fielded or not officially fielded by the ruling PDP-Laban. House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, on her last term as representative of the second district of Pampanga, meanwhile announced that she would be retiring from politics next year; she also promised in 2002 that she would not be running for president in 2004 but she did anyway. Joseph Estrada, on the other hand, will be challenged for mayor of Manila by his former vice-mayor Isko Moreno. And shockingly—somewhat—former vice-president Jejomar Binay is eyeing a seat in Congress, all the while his children Jun-jun and Abby, the incumbent, will be duking it out next year for mayor of Makati.
About the Binays, it must also be said that that another of that ilk, Nancy, is a Senator of the Republic and is also seeking re-election. That family is the best example I can name right now of the need for an anti-political dynasty law. Certainly, they are far from the only family that can be accused of being political dynasties, and there are more notorious examples, but they have become exemplars after rival personal ambitions trumped family unity, pitting Jun-jun Binay against his sister Abby for the same plum post. What this means is that the fair people of Makati, the country’s financial district, will not really have a smorgasbord of candidates to graze on; it will be more like being asked if they prefer their coffee black or their tea black. Not being a registered voter of Makati, local politics there do not greatly agitate me but I do worry about the perpetuation of dynasties in general.
Mid-term elections such as that scheduled next year are crucial because, under certain premises, they act as a brake on leadership if the country is not doing well halfway through a president’s term. Rodrigo Duterte’s presidency is characterized by the domination of a single personality on the three branches of government. Such a concentration of power is never good because it stifles voices of dissent, of voices that may have something important to say but are prevented from being heard. We have that now under this administration, so if next year’s elections are to be pronounced successful, it will not be because they were conducted without incident but because the results represent a balancing between a strong executive and an equally strong yet independent Congress.
If not, the next kleng-bang we hear might be the death knell of democracy. G