Pumili ka: The Philippines beyond the 2016 elections

“Ganito ba talaga ang tadhana natin? Kalaban ang kalaban? Kalaban ang kakampi? Nakakapagod.” (Is this really our fate? Our enemy is our enemy? Our enemy is our friend? It is tiring.)

When I started thinking of writing this piece, I hesitated a hundred times. Come to think of it, I share Heneral Luna’s sentiment in the movie: Nakakapagod. It is exhausting to have to try and understand the political circus that we have had no choice but to be unwitting witnesses to, if not suffer from. And it is even more exhausting to stand up and fight for our communities and the environment when it is quite manifest that very few politicians care.

Almost overnight (well, 90 days to be more precise), we turned into a nation of political analysts, and Facebook became a battleground for both civil and brutish altercations, the profoundly intelligent and the most stupid arguments, a smorgasbord of political memes that can last us a whole century. This season had seen the best, the worst, and the more than worst in the Filipino.

Already, many people, regular citizens and pundits alike, are drawing images of the post-election scenario, and much of the picture that we see leaves very little room for imagination. It seems that no matter the eventual outcome, this has been one of the most bitterly fought elections in our history. And perhaps because we live in the age dominated by social media, or maybe because we have somehow degenerated into an unthinking and wrathful society, the nation has never been so divided than it is now.

At the very least, this may very well be the most ‘hateful’ page in our country’s contemporary history.  Perhaps in the course of this spectacle, social media had seen the most number of clicks of the “unfriend” button.  Unfortunately, the manner by which wars are fought matters more than how they end. Because in the end, nobody really wins.

Many people have ventured to analyze every candidate – trying to make sense of their strengths and weaknesses, their mass appeal or lack of it, why they are glorious or why they are pathetic, why they will win and others won’t.

And amid the din and ruckus of the election period, when so much had already been said and we have all had an overdose of promises, what breaks my heart is that my notion that the environment is not a priority for our leaders has been reaffirmed.

My fervent hope was, somewhere along the way, we would hear the presidentiables offer compelling platforms that would safeguard the country’s ecology and thereby truly serve the long-term interests of our people. Not in the presidential debates, not in their speeches in the plazas, not in their pricey advertisements, not in their choice of political allies, not in their track records, and not by the names of their financial contributors.

Instead of discussing issues with depth, they were utterly shallow in substance and superficial in form. Instead of presenting a clear vision of how this nation can become a leader in protecting the environment and promoting ecological justice, they resorted to muddling the issue. Instead of showing knowledge, wisdom, and competence, we saw them bungling and grappling for words. Instead of empathizing and identifying with the suffering of the people because of the ecological crisis, they have managed to turn this whole thing into a ridiculous spectacle.

The ecological crisis that we are in has to be seen and appreciated for what it really is – a crisis. It requires no elaboration, and words cannot justly describe what farmers, fisherfolk, women, children, and millions of Filipinos have to endure as our natural life support systems continue to collapse.

Climate change is turning for the worse, and all the political wrangling and cornucopia of promises will not make it better.

The tragedy of our politics is that it ignores what matters most. As we are engrossed in the heat of the moment and participate in the hysteria of which assh**le should sit in Malacañang, we are blinded from the serious perilous change that is already upon us.  

The current El Niño is just a preview (a deadly one nonetheless). We forget that we have no option but to stand united. We forget that solidarity is not a choice but a necessity. We forget that in order to weather the storm, the Filipino people must embrace one another, dimples or warts and all.

Let us not wait until another “Kidapawan” becomes a household term. We cannot afford to stand idly by as our leaders coopt values and virtues such as malasakit, pagbabago, matuwid, ginhawa, and puso (compassion, change, upright, comfort, and heart) into mere political rhetoric.  We cannot lie helpless as our would-be leaders do not even know the difference between weather and climate, or embrace false solutions such as ‘responsible mining’ or ‘clean coal’, or allow other countries to dump their trash in our land.

It is heartrending to know that our indigenous peoples, who have been stewards of nature for ages, are ever more marginalized. It is distressing to see that the country is moving towards a fossil-fuel dependent energy sector despite the whole world moving in the other direction.

Because no person, even serving as President, can uplift this nation and rescue its people from the environmental crisis single-handedly, we ought to remember that the biggest danger to the Philippines is the belief that it is someone else’s job to save it.

As such, on May 9th, your vote is not an exercise of delegating authority to anyone. It is an exercise of solidarity and firm belief in our nationhood and common destiny.

The journey does not end on Monday. The future of this nation is neither in the hands of one man nor in the hands of 54.4 million voters. It is in the hands of 100 million Filipinos.

All of this may lead us to ask: Is the future worth fighting for?

Bayan o sarili? Pumili ka.” (Country or self? You must choose.) Heneral Luna could not be so pointedly correct in laying down the choices. - Rappler.com

Naderev ‘Yeb’ Saño is the Executive Director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia.