Photo courtesy of Time.com
I couldn’t help but smirk when I found out that Team P-Noy’s election rally was a dud here in Baguio last Sunday (17 March 2013). Melvin Jones field, with a capacity of 5,000 people, managed to gather less than 1,500 attendees, even under fair weather. Though their pet media outlets would say otherwise, the United Nationalist Alliance’s mirror campaign at the Baguio Convention Center was also said to be a dud. What irked me despite all this, however, was AP Cayetano’s stupid patronizing remark about the marked absence of Baguioites themselves; he claimed that we natives were “busy buying raisin bread at Camp John Hay or at ukay-ukay stores.” It just shows how national politicians, regardless of political affiliation, are so far out of touch with the Philippine voting public.
Both the painful and blinding amarillo of BS Aquino’s super-squad and the patchwork Frankenstein that is UNA fail to recognize that most of Baguio’s voting residents (well, most of us who were born here, anyway) are a discerning lot. Baguioites have been known to be highly resistant to the aura of celebrity, which by sad necessity is what Philippine elections are all about; we would rather vote for people who can positively affect our City at a local level.
So it came as a big surprise that last Saturday (16 March 2013) I was invited to attend a Liberal Party fundraising dinner. The event was priced at PhP1000 per invitation; not expensive by Baguio standards, mind you, but enough for a Baguio native like me to discern that this wasn’t just your typical election rally, where crowds from far away would be hoarded to cheer. Moreover, maybe because I’ve never been invited to one, before that night I didn’t even know that Philippine elections involved fundraising dinners. Thankfully I wasn’t required to wear yellow; my RSVP ticket was labeled “semi-formal.”
Imagine my relief when I found out that the dinner was for the support of local Liberal Party candidates, not the Team P-Noy bets. Grace Bandoy was there, along with many other independent-minded thinkers native to the City. This year’s Liberal slate for Baguio’s balance of power includes Mark Go (running for congressman), a business-savvy entrepreneur, and Jose “Joemol” Molintas (running for mayor), a human rights attorney. If this were an American sortie it would be like having a Tea Party member and an Occupy Wall Street activist joining forces. Interestingly both men ran against each other for mayor in 2010, thereby splitting the Baguio vote and enabling the eventual return of the incumbent Mauricio Domogan to power.
There were around two hundred of us in the dining hall, a motley cross-section of Baguio’s social strata. The majority of us who were there were from the middle class, those who for various reasons feel that much has been unfairly taken away from us by both the rich and the poor. Everybody and everything was classy (it was a fundraiser, after all), and all that I expected from conventional Philippine election campaigns was absent. ThereÂ were no “hakot” crowds to wildly and blindly cheer for candidates as they took the stage, no placards or pamphlets to divert our view, no tacky handouts to discard once the elections were over.
Also, the prominent and vocal leaders of the so-called environmental group “Save 182” were nowhere to be found.
After a tasty multi-course dinner of soups, shrimp noodles, kung pao chicken and fancy fish fillet, each of the Liberal candidates for Baguio councilor took the stage and gave a three-minute speech on how and why Baguio must vote for them. NOT ONCE did any of them mention President BS Aquino by name, and his “Daang Matuwid” slogan was rarely invoked, and even then only for name recognition purposes. Almost everything that was said was local in scope, from the City’s perennial garbage problems, to the controversial decade-old Jadewell impasse, to the SM controversy and even the Baguio Athletic Bowl controversy.
When both Mr. Go and Mr. Molintas spoke, I actually asked myself if I was actually in a Liberal Party campaign. In fact, the familiar rhythmic trot of a mobile phone ringing interfered with the hall’s sound system; apparently it was Sen. Franklin Drilon contacting Mr. Go telling him to get to the national Liberal Party rally preparations asap. Mr. Go simply refused the order and stuck with the current crowd instead.
Team P-Noy (the national senatorial team) was primarily picked not because of their integrity (case in point: Sen. Antonio Trillanes), but because they look conveniently good in surveys. Things now seem to work differently for the local Liberal Party in Baguio: to show that they’re really serious in winning the City seats, they actually sacrificed one of their own (one considered a “trapo”, or traditional politician). I personally understand the wisdom of Go and Molintas to set aside their differences for a while and join forces to beat the much-maligned Vergara-Domogan incumbencies. Contrary to the national Liberal Party’s “Daang Matuwid” solution to nearly every problem they perceive, the local Liberal Party that night proposed a systematic, well-thought-of and precise way to deal with Baguio’s ills. Take the SM Baguio issue, for example: why do people focus so much on the mall’s expansion plans while they turn a blind eye to the tree cutting in their own backyard and the increasing demand for private vehicles in such a small city (yes, Go and Molintas actually said those)? The simple solution to SM’s expansion is to just deny them a building permit (which the incumbent Domogan won’t act upon–and as an additional note, there was no mention of Domogan or Vergara in the entire course of the evening). One caveat I had that night though was during the all-too-familiar Q&A discussion, as a fiscal conservative and a social liberal, I asked them what it truly meant to be a “Liberal;” my question was left unanswered. Oh well.
After the fundraiser I nevertheless realized that the main essence the local Liberal Party has is that they don’t suck up to voters. Sure this was a campaign, and their goal was to get votes, but the local Liberal Party focused more on discussing the issues that mattered the most to Baguioites. There were no personalities to input into the blame game, no grandstanding promises and quick slogans, no campaign antics to endear themselves to those gathered. What mattered only were the issues.
Of course, one night at a fundraiser won’t encapsulate the totality of what the party’s campaign is all about. Everything would reveal themselves in its own time, and the hot Philippine summer would undeniably set the stage for what promises to be an ideological showdown within Baguio’s circles of Benguet Coffee gossip. But I learned that night that the Liberal Party of Baguio City has principles that their national counterparts quite frankly don’t have.
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