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There’s the Rub

One fine day

Next to death, it’s the great leveler. Young and old, men and women, gay and straight, the young in limb, and the young at heart, they came, queuing up patiently before the voting room. The gays were easy to spot, a group of them was performing outside, doing some kind of stand-up comedy to the delight of the crowd. Truly, you take them out and TV will die.

The crowd wasn’t as sizeable as the one I saw in 2010 when people lined up under a blazing sun while waiting their turn in a line that snaked across the school grounds. This is a school house in Pagasa, Quezon City, where I’ve voted since martial law ended.

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The voting in 2010 was magical, an Edsa masquerading as an election. But this one wasn’t a bad deal either. The crowd wasn’t as huge, but it was sizeable. Which suggested that, contrary to rumor, many of us take our vote quite seriously. The composition of the voters, which straddled rich and poor, and their demeanor, which was to wait without complaint—thankfully, the weather last Monday afternoon wasn’t as punishing at it was in 2010—made a case for it.

I suddenly remembered the History Channel documentary “Miracle Rising: South Africa,” particularly the part where villagers trooped around and up and down a mountain for miles on end to vote in the country’s first free elections in 1994. That of course was unparalleled drama, but this one however drastically scaled-down partook of its spirit. People do want to vote, people do need to vote. People do appreciate the power in their hands.

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It took about half an hour for me to get to the classroom. People were strewn about in front of desks filling out the ballot forms, and a line of about 20 or so had lined up before the PCOS machine. After I got my form I went to a desk. The hard part wasn’t filling out the form (I still remembered the system from 2010 and I knew whom to vote for). The hard part was fitting into the chair. It was an elementary classroom and the chairs and tables were meant for elementary kids. No wonder some of the more weight-challenged were grumbling amusedly at their own attempts to plant themselves into the chairs.

But suddenly it dawned on me what an inspired idea it was to have school houses for voting precincts, classrooms for voting booths, and teachers for supervisors and watchers. All around the room were the paraphernalia for learning. Some books were lined up on a shelf at one corner, a globe was tucked away to make way for the voting, and pinned on the walls were kids’ drawings illustrating the alphabet in capital and small letters. Thankfully, the “A” was for “atis” and not for “apple.”

I couldn’t imagine a better place to vote in, to determine who our rulers would be. Not a courthouse, not a gym, not a church, not even a university campus. None of them possesses the luminous simplicity of a public school, none of them possesses the simple luminosity of an elementary classroom. Nothing is more appropriate to house so precious and sacred a thing as the vote. Let there be light, and the first light shone on classrooms. Let there be wisdom, and the first wisdom was born in this classroom.

I filled out the form and laughed as I tried to extricate myself from my chair (my wallet had stuck to one of the corners of the arm). And my laughter rippled through my soul.

* * *

I knew it wasn’t a precinct, but I passed by it just the same out of curiosity. It’s the DepEd office beside SM North. It wasn’t always an office, least of all of the Department of Education. It used to be a military camp, most of all during martial law.

I know that very well not just because some of my friends were detained—and tortured—there, but because I live near there. During martial law, particularly in its last days, there would be checkpoints in that place. The soldiers manning them were far from courteous, and some of them would be reeking of gin. People carrying assault rifles flashing a flashlight on your face while reeking of gin do not offer a pleasant experience.

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The place ceased to be a camp only in the 1990s. I don’t know now exactly when, but one day it was closed to public view and became a construction site. One day too, it was opened to public view and, lo and behold, a DepEd (then called DECS) office stood in its place.

I would remember that in September 2012, during the 40th anniversary of martial law, when a delegate from Argentina spoke about what her country had done to some of the camps: It had turned them into schools. What a brilliant idea, I thought, turning darkness into light, ignorance into learning, benightedness into hope. Until I remembered what we had done to the camp in Pagasa.

What triggered my remembrance this time was an article in Yahoo! about Imelda campaigning in the Ilocos. The article noted how a few decades after martial law, the wife of the tyrant, and a tyrant herself, was back to her Imeldific self, as though nothing had happened, as though her family could come back to torment the nation again.

I wondered if there was a camp in the Ilocos that had been turned into an elementary school. I wondered why she shouldn’t be compelled to vote in one. If only to remind her and her children what a sea change had taken place since they were thrown out by an awakened people, darkness turning into light, ignorance turning into learning, benightedness turning into hope. If only to remind this country and the world what a joy it is to try to squeeze into an elementary school kid’s chair to choose your ruler and what a dread it is to come home late at night to face a drunken soldier wielding an Armalite.

The DepEd office beside SM North stood serenely amid the hubbub of SM last Monday afternoon. It was empty, but it wasn’t desolate.

A sense of peace rippled through my soul.

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TAGS: 2013 Elections, election highlights, Philippine elections
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