CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines – Nicolas Aca stood outside the great doors of the Saint Augustine church, carrying a yellow ballot box and a large burnt pot that are both chained to a bamboo yoke he was balancing on his shoulder. His hand gripped a Philippine flag.
On the eve of elections, a crying Aca approached churchgoers and begged: “Boto dili baligya (Do not sell your vote).” His T-shirt was drenched in pork blood, his sweat ran through his shawl-covered head, and tears streamed down his eyes.
Aca, a performance artist, is a resident artist and curator of the Capitol University’s Museum of Three Cultures. It is art for the people, turning public spaces into a grand stage where he performs his social commentaries.
His performance on May 8 is the 4th staging of his Aca’s Boto: Goto, a social commentary on vote buying, hunger, and the sanctity of the ballot. He performed it first during the 2004 presidential elections and repeated it in 2010 and 2013.
Vote-buying is a well-documented scourge of Philippine elections, aided by the high incidence of poverty and hunger problems. Aca’s performance symbolized how poor Filipino voters find themselves making the difficult decision of choosing between two options: protecting the sanctity of their vote and filling their empty stomach. (READ: Time to change your hypocritical approach to vote-buying)
But the symbolism of his performance was lost on the voters in Cagayan de Oro. Aca faced the big crowd leaving the church after the Sunday Mass, but they only stared blankly at him. Others noticeably took long steps to immediately leave his stage.
Aca spoke loudly in a monotonous tone, at times looking almost defeated, unsure that his performance was going to make a difference on the churchgoers who were unwilling to engage on the very same issue that the priest in the Mass spoke about.
“Ngano inyo mana picturan? Mo gara lang na samot (Why do you take pictures of him? It will only encourage him),” one woman told this writer. She walked away when asked if she understands Aca’s advocacy.
“Saba diha (Shut up),” another woman said in a snide tone.
Incidents of vote buying have been reported in the City of Golden Friendship. In Barangay Gusa, photos of vote-buying activities outside the Sacred Heart High School surfaced on Facebook.
In Barangay Tablon and Agusan, there is talk of campaign workers milling silently along the alleyways to wait for politicians to come and buy their votes, the votes of their families, the votes of their neighbors, and the votes of everyone else they can commit to influence.
Vote buying is no longer discreet and done in the dead of night. One just has to follow the flow of the people or see evidence posted on social media. Titus Velez, a civil servant here, posted on his Facebook page the alleged money that voters received in the first district.
Aca is discouraged, but he said he cannot just keep quiet.
But his performance was not entirely ignored. The vendors outside the Cathedral said they understood Aca’s advocacy, but they doubted it was going to work. “It is difficult to go against the throngs of people, wanting a piece of that corrupted money,” a vendor said.
They also doubt that the elections on May 9 will usher in change. “Do not hope anymore, you are already paid in full before you cast your vote,” the same vendor said.
Aca has also done performances to call attention to the impact of destructive tropical cyclone Sendong that hit Mindanao in 2011, the carnage of 58 people in what is dubbed the Ampatuan massacre, and the recent multi-billion pork barrel scam.
He seeks to challenge the conventional perception that art must be confined to museums. He said art must stir the senses, challenge the status quo, and raise awareness.
“Even if people don’t understand, the act is the final play of the whole sum of the art,” he said. – Rappler.com
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