Principles vs. Politics

So a lot of people may not be familiar with Philippine politics; Lord knows I’m not either, in spite of my being a born Filipino. But one hot topic right now is “who is going to run for president next year?”

If I’m right (I get my news mainly from passive diffusion, from hearing televisions and radios blaring in the background, or seeing comments on my Facebook feed and clicking on the occasional shared article), there are already three candidates: VP Jejomar Binay, Sen. Grace Poe, and DILG Secretary Mar Roxas. I list them in no particular order of merit, though from what I gather, VP Binay is getting the most flak at the moment, mainly because of charges of corruption that have been levied against him that continue to blacken his reputation.

And there is one political figure, very controversial, whom many wish were also running: Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte. He has already won the hearts of many, on social media and off, because of his iron-fist style of law enforcement. He does not compromise when levying punishment against violators, the most recent example (of which I am aware) being his forcing a man to swallow a cigarette at gunpoint after said man refused to comply with his city’s ordinance against smoking in public places. It seems he doesn’t care about rattling cages or puncturing stuffed shirts; he acts like a man who has no time or energy to spare for politicking, a man who puts the task of “pleasing everybody” in the “not urgent, not important” quadrant of his personal Eisenhower matrix. Perhaps it’s this same “no time for this shit” thinking that led him to decide not to go after the presidency… at least, not next year.

Of course, many balked at the suggestion that he run for the highest office in the land. A hard-line style of rule comes at a price, and that price is a dubious reputation for disregarding human rights issues. Even international journalists have called him out, dubbing him the “Death Squad Mayor”. The Martial Law years during the Marcos regime are almost thirty years past, and yet they linger in our collective consciousness, bringing haunting images of extrajudicial killings authorized, covered up, and/or ignored by a decidedly anti-people administration. Like scar tissue, it still shows and draws out ugly thoughts whenever we as a nation have to look at ourselves naked in the political mirror.

Still, some of us rub our chins, seriously considering the merits of a leader who leans towards the law. The PNoy administration was ushered in on a platform of “Tuwid na Daan”, one that promised action against corruption. For many, I suppose, the next logical step is an administration that enforces the law without prejudice (whether that can be done in a country where wealth, and therefore access to competent criminal defense, is lacking is the red-hot, I’m-not-gonna-touch-that question).

Why is it easy to get behind a platform of anti-corruption, but not so easy to get behind one of law enforcement? To the cynical, it’s because the former is about the government being accountable, while the latter is about everybody being accountable. To the practical, it’s because the you can’t have effective law enforcement unless you can trust those who enforce the law (anyone who’s been on the wrong side of a traffic violation several times knows that what goes on after you’re pulled over isn’t always by the book. It’s like talking over a tapped phone line; both parties are careful about what is said in case it turns out to be what is heard).

*****

I just watched the film Heneral Luna, a contemporary masterpiece that, in bold, fearless strokes, shows how politics and principle often collide. Set around the turn of the 20th century, the movie depicts how the titular character, Antonio Luna, crusaded against the American troops’ incursion into our country.

In one of the very first scenes, he loudly decries the Philippine government’s action, or lack thereof, when the Americans enter the nation’s capital. Some leaders rationalize and justify the decision behind arguments for economic progress and other political considerations; other minor characters just exhibit ignorance and apathy, acting in their smaller interests such as family, ego, or (in one case) sex. Throughout the film, General Luna’s behavior shows that he will not hesitate to eviscerate (either verbally or literally) those who stand in his way and, by extension, in the way of his ideal of a free and united nation.

Though built on a framework of historical fact, it takes creative liberties in depicting the fight for liberty (as freely admitted in the opening credits), and it’s for the best. It’s a refreshing escape for many of us to see such a character in action. How does one speak his mind so openly? How can one so relentlessly defend his principles by attacking those whose actions and words go against them, without fear of giving offense?

It takes heart.

It takes guts.

It takes balls.

We commend those who can think matter-of-factly, those who can call it as they see it. It’s easy to do that when it’s just a matter of one principle versus another, your ideals against others’. Much harder is the exercise of calling a snake a snake, calling a weakling a weakling, and calling a hypocrite a hypocrite, for that potentially opens you up to attack as well. To be credible in that approach, all you do, all you are, must be in consonance with what you profess to be about, all the time.

Simple to say. But really, in a world of people, pride, and power, not easy to do.

Score Points with Your Future Self

We all have a problem with immediate gratification, I think. No matter who you are or what your situation in life is, there’s always one indulgence that, despite your rational mind instructing you otherwise, you cannot resist. It could be video games. It could be watching movies. It could be sports, or drinking, or eating, and you just can’t get enough… or at least, you just can’t get it soon enough.

The thing is, when you make a choice to indulge yourself, you have to give up time and effort that could be spent some other way. There may be other productive things you could do. Maybe you have homework to do. Maybe there’s a project you have to get to, a deadline you have to beat, or a test you have to prepare for. And maybe, just in that moment, you decide to blow it off in favor of indulging yourself, because your future self can take care of it.

"Y'know who I think we should let deal with this problem?" "Who?" "Future Ted & Future Marshall."
“Y’know who I think we should let deal with this problem?”
“Who?”
“Future Ted & Future Marshall.”

Don’t Deny Your Gratification…

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with decompressing. We’re human beings, and we all need to decompress from whatever pressures we deal with in our day-to-day existence. It’s all part of us being multidimensional and being something beyond our work or obligations.

Imagine what life would be like if we did nothing but fulfill our obligations every day. We’d eat not for the pleasure of it, but for the energy that it gives us to do our job; we’d have no awareness of anything that doesn’t concern protocols, procedures, and productivity. We’d be no fun. And probably a bit weird or sociopathic.

Just Delay It

However, what I do suggest is that when we do something to gratify ourselves immediately, let’s consider whether there would be any repercussions to our future selves. If there’s an immediate choice I have to make between binge-watching a series or working on a project I absolutely must finish, I should think about what will happen if I go for option A. Will my future self still be able to beat the deadline?

Whenever we make these kinds of decisions, we have to look back and see how much we’ve done to curry favor with our future selves. Did I work on the project enough over the past few weeks that I can afford to take a break? Have I crossed enough milestones that I can afford to walk or jog a little and still finish the race within the time I set for myself? If the answer is “yes”, then by all means, go for it.

So, whenever we feel like doing something that has an immediate payoff, let’s consider the future costs that we must pay when you do it. We should think about our future selves; hold ourselves accountable to them if necessary. It can take some getting used to, but if we let our future selves have a say in our present decisions, then I think we’ll all be better off.

Pretty trumps Powerful?

So a couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how I stumbled upon The Voice UK, and how I wanted to follow it as much as I can. Went on YouTube, clicked onto my favorite account for The Voice UK clips, and saw this:

Vince Freeman is a powerhouse, a very strong singer. He has an awesome moustache (had to point that out), and a voice that sounds as solid as an oak tree and as powerful as the hurricane that will be necessary to bring it down. Bo Bruce is on the complete opposite end of the spectrum; to me, she sings as if she’s in tears, and every time I hear her, I feel a tug of something that’s somewhere between sympathy and heartache. Her voice sounds beautiful and hurt, and she has used that to great effect in her performances.

Why Danny set up this match, I’m not sure; it’s always a messy business, comparing apples and oranges. But he did, and what we got was a great duet. Beautiful counterpoint, complementation of totally different flavors, lending different tones to the same lyrics. Vince sounds like indignant, fiery bitterness, but delivers a beautifully tempered performance. Bo sounds like a cracked gem that, in spite of the damage, casts the most beautiful light.

The clip concludes with Danny saying this (I could be wrong, what with Danny’s slight accent):

“I can only put one person through… the harsh reality is, great voices… I think one’s gonna sell more records than the other, and… I’m tonight with Bo.”

A lot of people were angry about that, and said that Vince Freeman was robbed. It sounds certainly like Bo was chosen because she would be an easier sell.

But based on what I saw in the clip, and what I understood, Danny didn’t say that he chose the one that would sell more records; he said he based his decision on that.

With that, I’m choosing to understand it as Danny seeing how awesome Vince is, and how he doesn’t need backing from a talent-show record label to get a following and, hopefully soon, get signed. Vince Freeman can still win, in my opinion. With a voice like his, he doesn’t need a singing contest to win.

Right or Wrong, Just Make a Call

Shit happens, and more often than not, they force us to weigh risks and make decisions. At the beginning of our lives, we have our parents, older siblings, and a bunch of other authorities to rely on to make calls for us. At some point, though, we have to get out of the baby seat.

Case in point: last week, I was driving alone in a suburban neighborhood when the car suddenly to shake violently. Something had come loose. Every few feet I drove, the car would protest with a fit of automotive epilepsy. Every time I pressed on the brake, the pedal seemed to push back a little bit, then fall as if whatever was holding it up suddenly fell apart.

So there I was, faced with a choice: do I call for a tow truck, or drive back?

I know from experience that calling a tow truck would take a long time; a half hour if I’m really lucky. I was also not sure whether a tow truck would be allowed in that neighborhood since public utility vehicles and trucks were not allowed in. Finally, getting towed is really expensive. On the other hand, driving back could be dangerous. Who knew what was wrong with the car? Would it get worse if I tried to drive it any further? I didn’t know, and not knowing made me feel a little nervous.

I had gotten the car serviced a few months back; I had the bushings for the front tires replaced, as well as the tie rod ends. I reasoned that if there were something seriously wrong with the suspension of the car, it would have been detected during that time. But there had been no mention of serious trouble with the suspension or risk of the car falling apart.

That’s when I made a decision, took a calculated risk: drive back, but do it slowly to minimize the chances of further damage.

The car seemed to appreciate the slowdown; the quakes turned to shudders for a while. After a while, they got a little stronger again, and a persistent knocking started at one of the back tires. The feedback from the road started to get more intense. Thankfully, though, the way back wasn’t so long, steep, or rough, and I got home, though not without suffering a few stares and getting “helpful” advice from some policemen on patrol (“Just get home carefully”).

It wasn’t much of an ordeal, I know. But it really felt like the scariest hour I’d experienced in a long time, and I was glad it was over. It also felt strangely good to have made a decision that felt risky at the time, but have it work out well in the end. When we get the courage to just decide, it feels really good.

I seriously wish I had a better story to go with this song (sung by I Fight Dragons; thanks to manchegokun for the clip), but I lead a boring life. Does anyone have a better one? I’d love to hear it!