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Travails along the campaign trail… And beyond
by Ramon Dacawi

A big, shiny black dog quite true to its nature and master softened up my feelings for politicians on the campaign trail. The soft spot in one’s heart is inclusive, covering all candidates of all colors, persuasions, and chances, be they addicted incumbents, come-backing, repeat, and nth time also-rans, or newcomers who claim the constituents need their fresh faces, ideas, and innovative, fail, and fool-proof modes of governance.

The image of that nasty dog faithfully protecting its master’s turf at Quirino Hill easily overshadows others in my memory of that campaign trail I took in 1996. I was knocking on a house owner’s door up in that barangay when the pet, with nary a warning bark, swiftly sank its teeth into my left leg. As speedily, the canine unclipped and let me be, somehow assuring me he or she wasn’t a pitbull, rottweiler, or a doberman.

The master was not in. Eyes fixed on the predator I could have sworn then was dispatched by my rival, I slowly stepped backwards, out of the compound, to examine my initial hurt in my bid for a director’s seat in the Benguet Electric Cooperative. The wound clamp was superficial, with a little blood, cushioned by my thick denim pants. The attacker silently watched from a distance, quite at peace, as if it did nothing wrong. I moved on to distribute my leaflet around the neighborhood, to houses without pets of any size, and then returned to the scene of the bite.

“Saludsudek man no na-indyeksyonan ‘toy aso yo, apo?” I told the owner. “Kinagat dak gamin tattay.”

“Wen met, na-injeksyonan dayta,” he replied, almost as a matter of fact. “Ania kadi gamin rason nga immay kayo ditoy ta kinagat dakayo toy asok?”

I explained and handed him my leaflet. He studied my face on the flyer and nodded sympathetically. He then studied my face and announced: “Tatta ta kinagat dakan daytoy asok, ket botosan kan a, saan aya?”

Election campaigning can be the most ego-bashing experience. For some, it’s capped by loss in the final count that takes time for some also-rans to swallow.

The late Steve Hamada, my editor here at the Courier in the ‘80s, once ran for the city council on a shoestring budget. Aware of his financial constraint, a self-proclaimed community leader advised Steve to come speak before his group, and to bring along a goat they’d prepare for finger food.

The meat was cooking when the meeting organizer glanced at his watch and then repeatedly suggested, kindly at first, for Steve to leave so he could cover more ground. Steve countered he liked the company and would rather linger, but was prevailed upon to leave.

“Later, I learned another candidate he had scheduled was coming to speak before the same group,” Steve recalled. “Being well-heeled, the bet was asked to donate a pig.”

Even winning can be humbling. Former city councilor Edilberto Tenefrancia, one of the most insightful and vision-driven councilors Baguio ever had, found this out while he was out there thanking voters at the city market for the mandate.

“Yes, sir, you were number one in my list,” a vendor proudly told him in Filipino. “If only I can show you my ballot where I wrote ‘Floresca’ first,” the eager-beaver stressed.

The fellow had mistaken Tene for councilor G. Bert Floresca, Tene’s partymate and fellow winner. Tene narrated that experience in his eulogy speech for Floresca, one of the few Baguio journalists who ran and won a seat in the city council.

That’s why this sounds like a homily, an anecdotal column piece rather than a feature. It’s a call for civility and courtesy among fellow consti-tuents, even if the hand shaking theirs or the face smiling on the leaflet being handed them nowadays does not belong to their bets. Let them not ball their fists on the polyetos especially so on this, the final stretch of the campaign, when the funds and chips are down for some of the wannabes. I shrank, almost to oblivion, when mine was reduced to a paper ball and then smashed on the ground in my immediate presence along the Beneco campaign trail.

Just cheer them on as they face the humbling reality of loss looming at the final bend of the race track. They need you to cushion the ego-bursting impact of being an also-ran who, with your pat on the back, will recover to run another race three years from now.

Run again. That’s what a former schoolmate did after he lost his first try as mayor of a town somewhere in the Cordillera. In the wake of his initial setback, we repaired to a shanty store to let gin loosen the tongue and sharpen the brain – or the other way around.

“Do you remember the three-year old girl with a hole in her heart that we supported?” he began. Of course, I do, I said, recalling how he even harvested his flower garden to help raise the sum for the kid’s surgery needed to mend her heart.

Helping, he said, is usual. What was unusual, he observed, was that after the kid went under the knife and healed, her father served as watcher for his rival, who won as mayor. That’s truly unusual, I repeated, to give me time to compose what to say. Finding the words, I offered, and he agreed, it was the girl he helped, not the dad.

Eventually, my drinking buddy made it on his second try. He served as mayor for three consecutive terms before successfully gunning for governor. As the lottery come-on reminds us: A quitter never wins, a winner never quits.

Well, I quit after a one-win, one-loss card at the Beneco polls. At the start of this poll season, some friends insisted to know why I didn’t file my candidacy for the city council. They were swearing to high heavens I had better chances than some of the 50 or so wannabes for the 12-seat local legislature.

I haven’t lost my head, that’s why. You mean some of those who filed lost theirs? they ask. I’m not saying that, I countered, adding those who persevere are truly admirable, for they haven’t lost their hearts. Still, I told them I wondered whatever wrong I did for them to push me to a costly and stressful campaign for a position, the salary of which, if you win, isn’t enough to recover your expense. Or to restore your ego and financial stability after you miss the cut.

It’s a real sacrifice to run and win, more so to run and lose. So don’t be rude even if the hand shaking or the face smiling on the leaflet being handed you does not belong to your choice of candidates. Rib politicians, if you can, but gently. Don’t begrudge them for their attendance to wakes and funerals. Be civil to them even after the polls, when some of the winners won’t know you from Adam by then. Their responsibility is to govern, not to remember you from the thousands they shook hands with, sometimes repeatedly, along the campaign trail. They have better things to think about and accomplish along the corridors of power and responsibility.

If you have to commiserate with those who will lose, don’t be a Jacob’s comforter. Don’t tell them they could have won, if only they had campaigned harder and earlier, if only they were as rich as the winners, if only they were not cheated. It would be indiscreet if, at the height of their political mourning, you wish them “better luck next time.” Those words of comfort might sound bitter and insincere.

Keep those flyers, especially if they contain the track record, qualifications, platform, and promises of a candidate or of his or her party slate. Read and study them as your guide, then keep them. Their list of promises will be your criteria for electing or rejecting them next time, based on their having pursued such programs or not, whether they win this May or not. After all, one need not be elected congressman, mayor, or councilor to advance causes, be they for the environment, the youth, sports, or governance.

The truth is so obvious that we gloss over it, in the same token that we forget political promises as fast as those who make and pronounce them. The truth is that credibility is not earned overnight. One or even a hundred trees just planted do not make an environmentalist. Neither do several balls donated make a candidate a sports and youth development advocate.

If you have kept a candidate’s previous leaflet, compare it with the current print. Has the candidate stayed on track or has been faithful to the previous platform? Were those promises fleshed out and validated with actual accomplishments? Did they ever get off the ground, or were they derailed and forgotten, then retrieved or just revived, en toto or reworded and updated, in keeping with the current issues of governance in aid of election or re-election?

And before you lose track of it, feel blessed for the brand of politics we have up here. Despite the temporary exchange of unpalatables, it’s as cool as our climate that we also take for granted, until we’re down there in the lowlands. He who campaigns up here with an armed bodyguard will never win. He who wins and establishes a cordon sanitaire will never win again in a region, which was the first to frown on powers-that-be who announce their arrival and departure with sirens.

It’s been the other way around perhaps anywhere else in this tropical archipelago, where grudges forever occupy the brains of politicians and their followers, often for life and stretching to the next generations.

Up here, you see candidates shaking hands each time they meet on the campaign trail. The morning after the polls, some even share tables in coffee shops along Session Road, the city’s main street.
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