As most Filipinos return to work after a four-day Holy Week break, we will be treated to the political zarzuela that begins today across the country. It is a 45-day show called campaign period for candidates running for local positions – from provincial governors down to municipal councilors.
Well, we have had a preview in the last few months as some candidates have begun campaigning in the guise of house-to-house hand-shaking visits and barangay consultations, but we have to brace ourselves in the next six weeks for the full showing of mudslinging, character assassination, and comedic presentation of promises in between singing and dancing.
If we are thrilled or annoyed by the way candidates for president and vice-president call each other names, or how their rabid campaigners inject insults and humors in their spiels and social media memes, we can expect more entertainment from the game in the local level.
The Philippines adopted the zarzuela from Spain, a traditional form of musical comedy. A Filipino sarsuela is defined as a theatrical spectacle that mixes songs with dances. In short, it is play with songs. Don’t political campaigns sound like that?
I remember a story from a campaign rally somewhere in Batangas where a candidate for mayor, who was known for being a maton (thug), challenged his rival to prove his manhood. The rival candidate, in his own rally the next day, dared the challenger to ask his wife. The banter elicited laughter and anxiety in the community. It was funny, but the insinuation that the second candidate had sex with the wife of the first candidate could have violent consequences in that town, where every household was known to keep at least one gun.
From previous years, incidents of election-related violence were higher during the campaign period for local elections than during the first 45 days of the campaign period for national candidates. Most probably, that is because the competition is tighter, often between or among relatives, or between mortal enemies, and the issues become more personal, sometimes below the belt.
In 2013, the Philippine National Police (PNP) reported 66 pre-election violent incidents, including 58 shooting incidents, one explosion and an ambush. This was already an improvement from the reported 176 election-related incidents recorded prior to the 2010 presidential elections in which 51 candidates and civilians were reported killed.
If only the candidates attended the Easter Sunday mass yesterday and took to heart the renewal of baptismal vows, then we could have an election with candidates conducting their campaign without demonizing one another, and pulling down the others just to advance his/her own candidacy.
While reciting the Stations of the Cross last Maundy Thursday, the guidebook we used had reflections that strike deep into our hearts and minds.
One of the reflections succinctly captured the attitude of being judgmental toward others. “It is difficult for us to face the truth and accept reality,” it said. “We have the strong tendency to escape from the truth and pretend to be innocent.”
This was in reference to the third station in which Jesus was condemned to death, although he was innocent.
I would not be surprised if some candidates would have the gall to compare themselves to Jesus for being mocked, persecuted and punished over what they did, did not, or failed to do. But then, Jesus never complained or said anything in self-defense. He endured all the backbiting and punishment that he did not deserve. I don’t think any of the candidates can come close to what Jesus suffered and did in return.
Easter is supposed to be a time for renewal, not only of our baptismal vows but also of our faith. Let us go down on our knees and bow down in prayer that our country be spared from disasters, both natural and man-made, including the wrong people to be thrust in positions of power.
Because campaigning was prohibited on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, I hope the candidates had time to reflect on the meaning of Holy Week, even if they did so in the comfort of their homes or on vacation places, and without media coverage or even a selfie.
It was unfortunate however to see a picture of a candidate for President who was kneeling in church, looking like being in prevent prayers, but was surrounded by photographers. She could at least have asked for privacy inside the church; the photographers would have obliged. But I heard that the activity was open for media coverage. If that was true, then she was inviting criticisms for the pretension of being religious. That was out of taste!
With a livelier zarzuela in town, it becomes more difficult to choose the least of the evils that are presenting themselves to serve our needs but would more likely end up serving their own.
I would say we have matured as voters if the candidates would treat us with decency; when candidates would be honest in their campaign ads instead of feeding us fantabulous claims of non-existent or bloated accomplishments.