Can we make mud shine? | Inquirer Opinion
Kris-Crossing Mindanao

Can we make mud shine?

This question came to my mind when dealing with the aftermath of the May 9 elections.

It also reminded me of a successful attempt to bust a well-publicized expression that first appeared in published form as part of Geoffrey Stokes’ 1976 book, “Star-Making Machinery: The Odyssey of an Album.” In that book, Stokes is credited for having put into popular consciousness the idiom, “you cannot polish turd.” Some of my former colleagues invoke this saying when they become exasperated after their years of capacity building and teaching their clients in various communities here in Mindanao.


In 2008, a television show called “Mythbusters” demonstrated how mud can be polished to become shiny balls, similar to what the Japanese call the “hikaru dorodango” or shiny mud balls. These are balls of mud, hand-molded, until they become perfectly spherical in shape, dried and polished to an “unbelievable luster.” In effect, this show somehow debunked the idea that turd cannot be polished. Professor Fumio Kayo of the Kyoto University of Education made this technique popular among young children when he taught them how to mold mud into shiny balls, and came up with some insights on how this can spur children’s interest and teach them about other life skills that can help them grow to be mature individuals.

Local-level elections last May 9 mirrored the results of the national electoral exercise, with a lot of contentious results, given several reports of pre-shading ballots and extensive vote-buying that led to the election of officials who have very little or no experience at all in running a complicated government bureaucracy.


Popular elections are actually a pleasant manifestation of our hallowed institutions as a democracy, yet it yields some very unpleasant and even horrific outcomes, ambushes, and murder as among the common ones, especially in places that the Commission on Elections calls “election hotspots.”

More than 20 million voters have elected a much-loved and popular actor, Robin Padilla, as the No. 1 senator who is now getting a plum assignment in the Senate. President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has named him chair of the committee on constitutional reforms. Can someone who has little knowledge about making laws and dealing with the process of no less than reforming the basic law of the land, our Constitution, lead this committee effectively? This is akin to asking, can you pour from an empty cup? Can we expect a “shiny” performance as this committee’s head from someone who has not excelled in matters relating to these but instead, of getting “bad boy” reviews from his being part of our movie and television entertainment history?

Already, we have seen a viral advertisement from Padilla’s office that is meant to make up for his obvious shortfall in the knowledge of the legislative process. Let me quote part of it: “The office of Sen. Elect Robin Padilla seeks an economic focused research assistant to (sic) assist in reviewing and drafting policy, legislation, and voting recommendations as it relates to economics (sic again!) topics, such as foreign direct investment, labor relations and fiscal policy.” Whew! I think if the senator-elect’s screening panel chooses some people to do this, one of them should have been the senator! It will save us a lot of taxpayer money!

So, can we make him shine on this assignment?

As the Japanese and “Mythbusters” have done, shiny balls can be forged from mud. So can people emerge highly knowledgeable after studying intensively on matters they are not familiar with. But forging shiny balls from mud is quite tedious, time-consuming, and requires inordinate patience. And “hikaru dorodangos” are quite fragile, and easily break. They are unlike diamonds in the rough that can be given the most brutal fiery treatment, yet emerge as precious, brilliant gems, or minds, for that matter.

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TAGS: Bongbong Marcos, Commission on Elections
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