The color game
The perya of my childhood once stood on a vacant lot of overgrown weeds and grazing chickens. No fairground ride runs in it—no rollercoaster, no carousel or Ferris wheel—but, as soon as dusk falls, this patchwork of painted plywood, lumber, and iron sheets becomes the brightest and liveliest place in town. The blaring stereos make it the loudest too. My late grandfather, who lived just across the street from the perya, always grumbled about the noise. But what Lolo Oscar took as noise was actually a rousing summon to me. Once I heard the bingo caller on the microphone, I knew even from a block away that it was the perya inviting me to play. In one minute, I would be at the betting table, along with the other kids, waiting for Tiya Dulce, the banker, to flip open the color game board and start rolling the dice.
The perya was where I thought getting rich was easy as long as I had some coins in my pocket and a handful of luck (of which, I was blessed with only the size of a pinkie). There, I learned that the color game was just like any other game of chance where losing was always half of the gamble. That’s why I kept returning to the perya nightly just to prove the other half: winning. I made sure to save a portion of my daily allowance, so I could increase my bets. Sometimes, I would search the house for loose change, say, by the TV stand, on top of the refrigerator, and, if I’m really desperate, I even rummage in our silong for some dropped coins.
Playing the color game was simple. On the betting table, there were six colors: green, red, blue, pink, white, and yellow. Three dice determine my chances. If my color appears on any of the dice, I win. But if I lose, I’d leave the perya with all my saved money stacked up in Tiya Dulce’s money basket. However, my misfortune doesn’t end there just yet because a few whippings were still waiting for me at home. The one-minute sprint it took me to go to the fair felt like a tedious walk back to our house as I agonized about whether it’s the rattan stick or the leather belt that is hiding behind the door ready to hit me. I always hoped it was the rattan stick though. It stings, yes, but it doesn’t bruise as much as the belt. And oh, the buckle. You’ll never really know you’ve been at the perya far too long until you get a whip of that silvery buckle on your back.
I can now laugh thinking about those countless lashes I endured for coming home late from the perya as a child. But just when I thought I’ve already outgrown the gaming habit; a new brand of the color game has made me think otherwise.
I’m talking about the Philippine elections. In this electoral color game, every player only gets one chance. That one chance for me, however, was now lost. Why? My voter registration was deactivated. “You cannot vote this coming May 9, 2022 elections,” the Comelec precinct finder said, which apparently made me a default loser. And as I slowly accepted losing my only vote this year out of supposed ignorance, a sudden thought hit me: Do regular voters actually get a chance at winning this kind of electoral color game then?
What the electorate often fails to recognize is that taking chances on a candidate’s illusion of progress is the real gamble they are betting on, not the political color. But no matter how irrelevant it is and seemingly divisive to the voting population, Filipinos remain invested in this color branding scheme that politicians do. When politicians play the color game, we know it is serious business because big money is on the table. We’re talking crisp, bundled money by the millions, not just any of those crumpled paper bills that some drunk men at the perya toss onto the betting table. From campaign ads to bribes, it is clear who makes the highest stakes in the electoral color game. It is clear who is willing to take the favorable half of the gamble and twist the rules. But winning, for the great majority of Filipino active voters—myself excluded—doesn’t happen on the day when all the ballots are counted and the winning candidate is officially announced.
Six years. That’s how long a term should take for national officials to prove their promises to be true. And that’s exactly how long we wait for the real result of the May 2022 elections. That is, whether or not Filipinos had genuinely won. We knew from previous administrations that winning doesn’t mean we get the prize we deserve, or what we were told we deserve. Instead, we got to pay the price expected of us through higher taxes and much higher hopes unmet.
Once this election is over, the name of the game is back to survival again. If we win, we make a living. If not, we might lose more lives. So make a bet.
Christele Jao Amoyan, 27, misses the fun of the old perya, except that one time she got bitten by a rooster tied underneath the betting table. She walked home early that day with a wounded leg.