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Word play

/ 04:05 AM January 19, 2022

Dig deep into the web and one would still find photos of the past elections.

Here’s one: an unfinished cement wall with two rows of gold and red posters with Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in it, a hand raised as if expecting a high five. The upper part of the poster: A huge gold “K” flanked by smaller words: Karanasan, Kakayahan, Karunungan, Kalinga. Below Arroyo’s bust: “Iboto! Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.” Then a phrase at the bottom in red font against a yellow background: “Pangulo para sa kaunlaran!” These two rows of posters served as the backdrop of the photograph itself. The middle ground was six black tires half-buried in a dry, sand-soil in a side street from where rocks, trash, and stray plants sprouted. The foreground was a woman walking on the asphalt, a white towel against her neck, an umbrella, a pair of flip-flops, a silver watch, and a stoop. Her face was almost a silhouette. But you wouldn’t mistake the face of the former president, smiling, in a white get-up, plastered on the cement wall.

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Here’s another one: FPJ’s. Imagine the landscape photograph segmented by the gridlines of the rule of third. The upper left-hand segment and the one under this were mostly filled by a tarp the print for which was on the verge of a fade-out. The print had the colors of the Philippine flag, blue at the top and red at the bottom, with an eight-rayed sun resembling the national flag’s placed at the upper right of the tarp. In the middle of this sun was the face of the famous action star, then running for the presidency. At the red side of the tarp were the following words in blue: “Kay FPJ, Bayan ang Bida.”

“Pangulo para sa kaunlaran!” “Kay FPJ, bayan ang bida.” The elections were dictated by elements beyond mere campaign materials, but I think slogans in themselves have something to say about the nature of language and politics. We all know how the 2004 election turned out, so there’s very little left to say about the historical context of this era. Let’s rattle the context out of the slogans and focus on the words themselves, for whatever it’s worth.

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Arroyo’s was a battle cry for progress. Implicit in FPJ’s was a reversal: the actor almost always takes on lead roles, but should he win, it would be the masses who will have the lead; they will be the “bida.”

At the core of these two phrases was something as simple as a single word: change. Progress is change. Putting the masses on the lead, if someone puts their heart into it, is change. Look at the slogans of the other 2004 presidential candidates: “Ang tama ay ipaglaban, ang mali ay labanan.” (Panfilo Lacson); “Ang Bagong Pilipinas” (Raul Roco); or even the pun of a nuisance candidate: “Time to Gil the Nation” (Eddie Gil). The election itself is the country’s attempt at changing what has been for the past six years.

William Zinsser claimed that clutter is a disease. He was talking about American writing, but perhaps the sickness was passed on to us, as a once American colony and a current consumer of American media. Clutter in the laws, in the sciences, in sports, in film, in literature. A lot of us struggle to say what we mean. Not because we are silenced (well, not yet, or not again), but because we want to sound intelligent or creative. We mostly succeed at being vague, meandering, or even pompous.

No wonder why a man in 2016, armed with a three-word sentence that began with “change,” made 16 million voters swoon and drool. A seemingly no-nonsense guy. He appeared to have no clutter with that slogan. At least, not on the onset.

Now that we are bombarded again with ads and news about who’s running and with whom, perhaps it is the right time to put our doubts on words by people craving for votes at maximum overdrive.

Look not at the posters but at the run-down walls where the tarps hung, at the power lines weighed down by the faces of politicos like streamers in a fiesta where no one gets their fill. Look at the sewerage, soon to be clogged by discarded campaign materials. Look at the roads littered with plastic wastes, smoke, traffic, busted lights, and printed promises. Look at the people who would benefit from the change, from the absence of clutter. That would include us.

Decisions must be made, and it might do us good if we listen to the words inside us, what we mean. Because they—people painted on walls, printed on tarps, roaming around in caravans—all of them have slogans, all of which are reducible to a single word. It is us who will either suffer or enjoy, the consequences of their play of words.

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George Deoso is the author of “The Horseman’s Revolt and Other Horrors” (UST Publishing House, 2020), a collection of dark short fiction.

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TAGS: #VotePH2022, Commentary, election wordplay, George Deoso
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