Flowers and democracies
Under the postwar Philippine Republic and into martial law, the Philippines held elections every November, with the new president sworn into office the following January. It was a practice we borrowed, wholesale, from Mother America.
With a new post-Edsa Constitution, elections were moved to May, which was just as well because it coincided with the summer break, allowing teachers to help with the administrative work and canvassing and transmitting of results, all difficult, if not perilous, work given political goons and guns that accompanied gold (bribery) and glitter (celebrities) of our elections.
The Spanish friars had, centuries earlier, discovered May for another purpose: fiestas or religious festivals, a time to honor the town’s patrons with song and dance, a time for religious instruction, even if, often enough there was in the fanfare a straying from religious themes, much to the alarm of the guardians of morality.
But who could blame people seeking relief from the harsh Lenten penitential practices of fasting and abstinence and motley prohibitions? Nature lent a hand as well, as we found our landscapes splashed with colors of the Flores de Mayo, the flowers of May, which we appropriated for the fiestas, the flowers adorning religious statues, and buildings, costumes, people.
May could not be merrier than it was, than it is, in the Philippines, and the year’s elections, especially national ones, provided additional treats, more festivities, more entertainment … and more passion, often spilling over into violence.
This year’s national elections will be remembered as a colorful and often chaotic combination of the religious and the political. With political parties in disarray, it was not clear what an “opposition” would look like, which may have been a blessing, when people realized our democracy was under siege, that it was time not just to exercise the civic duty to vote, but to ask people to interrogate old values and to produce new visions, new aspirations.
Interrogate we did and never in our history have we seen such an outpouring of political views, expressed so creatively together with a profession of commitment to those new visions, values, and ideals.
This summer of 2022, we were a people coming of age, no longer just fumbling for, but finding our identity, understanding who we were. For years to come, this summer of 2022 will be remembered in the accounts of strangers in rallies building friendships, that would start with offers to share food, an umbrella … and stories about families, children, and dreams.
We were, finally, understanding kapwa as finding ourselves in others, and the power of that pakikipagkapwa.
Nilda, a nurse friend and senior citizen, texted about a “miracle” of sharing her bottle of Padre Pio oil that she always carried with a stranger she met at the rally and who found relief from a throbbing headache after using it.
I smiled and texted: the miracle was of the faith you had, Nilda, and your friend’s too, in an even more miraculous rally of faith in the country.
It will be a few days before we know the election results. If indeed we will have President Leni and Vice President Kiko, there will be jubilation, even as we recognize that the hard work will just be starting, to build new foundations, so we will never have to go through what we just did the last few weeks, democracy at the precipice.
If we end up with a different leadership, there will be grief but, I hope, not despair. The work will be only so much harder, but we need to continue with what has started, to make sure the fragile democracy we have will not be further dismantled. We need, all the more, to be fired up by the courage and faith garnered the last few weeks.
Elections, in November or May, have taught us that democracies are much like flowers, blooming only with the right combination of circumstances and care. We take them for granted in good years, yearning for them only when we realize they’re not doing as well, or may not even have appeared.
We thank Leni and Kiko and their team for this summer of 2022 when the flowers bloomed, furiously, and not just in pink. May our children, and their children, live in times of ever-flourishing democracies.
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