The last vote

Paolo Villaluna, Patricia Evangelista

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The last vote
The oldest voters of the biggest village in the Philippines have seen this all before, and they will see it again, as long as they can

CALOOCAN, Philippines – The oldest voters of the biggest village in the Philippines have seen this all before.

Barangay Bagong Silang lies north of Manila, the road wide and empty on voting day. The village spreads over more than 500 hectares, growing from the hamlet that began when First Lady Imelda Marcos first began hauling in urban settlers from all over Metro Manila.

The village, vote-rich with 87,778 registered voters, is a necessary stop for presidential sorties. Past the skinny townhouses with their unpainted cement walls, past the posters campaigning for the reelection of Mayor Oca Malapitan, past the shuttered law offices and locked pharmacies, the crowds gather outside the Silanganan Elementary School.

Outside its gates, small boys hand out photocopied sample ballots marked with numbers for city council members. Vendors hawk plastic cups of juice and fried chicken balls on sticks. The lines of voters move slowly, but there is little complaint. Strangers share bottles of water and discuss the state of the nation. They will do this, they say, for the country.

Inside the courtyard, 80-year-old Gaudencio Oledan is waiting to vote. He is a big man with a big grin, “Eo’s Fine Food and Wine” embroidered on his red baseball cap.

He is a pensioner who once worked as a certified public mechanic. His vote is for Mar Roxas, because Mar Roxas is Visayan, and so is Gaudencio Oledan.

Rosario Aldaby is 70 years old. She moved from Bicol to Caloocan because there were no jobs where she lived, and ended up in Bagong Silang with her husband and 11 children.

She will vote for Grace Poe, because Grace Poe is the daughter of cinema king Fernando Poe Jr. She giggles when she says his name. His daughter is kind, she says. It is enough.

Beside her is Adelaida Mira, widow and mother of 4 and a grandmother many times over. She was a street cleaner during martial law, and an overseas worker in the years after the dictatorship.

Adelaida will vote for Jejomar Binay. Binay has proven so much, has done so much. She hopes the accusations of corruption will end – her president is a man who does not steal.

She hopes the people in power will do their duty to the poor, because the people in power are rich enough anyway and can afford to help.

She will not vote for front runner Rodrigo Duterte, she says. He is too harsh, he is too violent, he wants criminals to die without trying them in court. I don’t like him, she says, I don’t want him.

There are many here who will vote for Duterte. Here Rodolfo Lee is proud. He is 69 years old and a father of 10. He hails from Davao City, and he is proud of what his mayor has done.

If Rodrigo Duterte wins, there will be no drug pushers, there will be no corrupt, and there will be no traffic. Duterte is loyal, and Duterte can get things done.

‘It could be my last’

The cane comes first, then the shuffling steps, then the cane again. The oldest of them is a small woman, a little less than five feet. Her hair is a shock of white. She wears a blue dress, loose and collared, printed with a scattering of pink flowers. Her son supports her on one side, her daughter-in-law on the other.

Her name is Concepcion Cruz. She is 88, turning 89 on the 18th of September. She remembers being a child when Manuel L. Quezon was president. She has voted in every election since Elpidio Quirino ran in 1948. She voted for Ramon Magsaysay, she voted for Corazon Aquino, she voted for Gloria Macapagal Arroyo – the best president she has known. She believes this will be her last election, and she will vote even if she has to drag herself to her ballot.

She has lived in Bagong Diwa from 1986. Before that it was Manila, then Makati, and a dozen other places she cannot rememeber. Bagong Diwa was a dream realized – the savings of a lifetime for 100 square meters of her own in Phase 7, where her extended family now lives crowded in a warren of rooms. 

Her vote is her gift to the son who walks beside her. Edwardo lost his job as a company driver in 2014. He has not found another since, and has been forced to contract out to whoever will have him. 

Ask Concepcion who her candidate is, and she will tell you it’s a secret. Ask her again, and she will tell you she is afraid. They might go after her. They might hurt her. Finally she says she is afraid the strong man will win. She does not say his name. The strong man, the big man, the one who kills people and kills them fast. She does not want him as the president for her children. She hopes the son of Ferdinand Marcos will win the vice presidency. In his father’s time, the world was safe and clean. 

She will take her stand now, today, even if it is the last stand she takes. She hopes to make it up the stairs.

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