POSTSCRIPT / February 17, 2004 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Protest votes to decide trapos’ fate on May 10

MAN WITH THE HOE: The San Francisco Examiner published on January 15, 1899, a poem by Edwin Markham, a teacher in nearby Oakland, inspired by Jean-François Millet’s painting “L’homme à la houe.”

The painting showed leaning on his mud-caked hoe a weary French peasant who seemed, in that painful pause captured by Millet, to carry the burden of the world’s exploited masses:

Bowed by the weight of centuries he leans

  • Upon his hoe and gazes on the ground,
  • The emptiness of ages in his face,
  • And on his back the burden of the world.

Markham’s poem titled “Man with the Hoe” is as relevant to our present situation as it was in feudal society a century ago. It foreshadows the explosive condition of the poor and the dispossessed in Philippine society today.

We reread the poem mainly because of its message and its dire warning that needs repeating and repeating as the nation careens mindlessly toward the cliff on May 10.

* * *

MASSES HITTING BACK: Seeing ourselves entering what looks like a self-destruct mode, we hasten to echo Markham’s call for the ruling elite to heed the cry of the down-trodden protesting their systematic exploitation.

Through this dread shape the suffering ages look;

  • Time’s tragedy is in that aching stoop;
  • Through this dread shape humanity betrayed,
  • Plundered, profaned and disinherited,
  • Cries protest to the judges of the World,
  • A protest that is also prophecy.

In this election season, the trapo (literally “rag,” also “traditional politician”) has become the embodiment of that exploitation by corrupt officials, judges-for-sale, kotong cops, political dynasties, pork-addicted lawmakers, insatiable landlords and usurers… you know the rest.

The oppressed masses have found in the coming national elections a chance to hit back at their tormentors, the contrabida in their lives.

Unfortunately for the traditional politician running for office in this politics-driven milieu, the trapo has become that contrabida in the bitter life of Juan Pasang Krus.

* * *

PROTEST VOTE: This is the basis of our theory that the support that actor Fernando Poe Jr. is getting from the faceless masses is a manifestation of protest, not of box office popularity.

To assume an impending victory on the basis of sheer popularity, Poe must raise his vote potential to the 1998 level of his bosom buddy former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada. He must clinch at least 10 million votes.

But however one massages the box office figures, there cannot be 10 million registered voters who have seen any of Poe’s movies.

His fans, assuming they would eventually vote, are simply not enough in number to cancel out the machine and the money of, say, the administration candidate.

We refuse to believe that those who have voiced preference for him in pre-poll surveys chose him on the basis of his movie(s). In fact, many of those who picked Poe admitted that they had not seen any of his films.

What buoys Poe in the surveys, we think, is the protest vote of those who have given up on traditional politicians, or even the Establishment itself.

* * *

CRY FOR VENGEANCE: The continued neglect, not to mention the exploitation, of the masses cries to heaven for vengeance. The public official and the candidate who fail to heed the message are doomed.

For indeed, how do we answer to God — He who so lovingly made man to His own image?

Markham’s powerful poetry comes back to us with a reproach:

Is this the Thing the Lord God made and gave

  • To have dominion over sea and land;
  • To trace the stars and search the heavens for power;
  • To feel the passion of Eternity?
  • Is this the Dream He dreamed who shaped the suns
  • And pillared the blue firmament with light?
  • Down all the stretch of Hell to its last gulf
  • There is no shape more terrible than this–
  • More tongued with censure of the world’s blind greed–
  • More filled with signs and portents for the soul–
  • More fraught with menace to the universe.

* * *

CHANGE FOR THE WORSE: Against the backdrop of the May 10 elections, we see abuilding a massive protest vote from a people that had long suffered in the hands of traditional politicians and their collaborators in civil society.

The problem is that while the protest appears valid, the inadequately educated electorate might end up with a cure that would only worsen the cancer festering in society.

How then do we handle the “whirlwind of rebellion” that Markham warned about?:

O masters, lords and rulers in all lands,

  • Is this the handiwork you give to God,
  • This monstrous thing distorted and soul-quenched?
  • x x x
  • How will the Future reckon with this Man?
  • How answer his brute question in that hour
  • When whirlwinds of rebellion shake the world?
  • How will it be with kingdoms and with kings–
  • With those who shaped him to the thing he is–
  • When this dumb Terror shall reply to God,
  • After the silence of the centuries?

Do we wait for May 10 to reap the whirlwind?

* * *

BOMB IN OUR TEXT: We got a bunch of email asking what we meant when we supposedly said in the print version of last Sunday’s Postscript:

“Actually, the problem of Poe is not the writing of his program (no candidate ever writes his own platform), but his explaining and defending it. Water authorities used a variety of treatment methods to make water safe to drink; most use multistep processes that progressively remove finer and finer contaminants.

Kami mismo, we were astonished by that paragraph as printed. But if you don’t mind solving puzzles, delete that part from “Water authorities…” to “contaminants.” and something sensible will start to appear.

Btw, we checked the Online edition of PhilSTAR last Sunday and discovered to our horror that the same strange text was also forwarded to the website managers and got uploaded.

We still don’t know whose hand it was that dropped that bomb into our text, so we don’t know whom to thank for making our column more, huh, interesting.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 17, 2004)

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