A Prophetic Four-Perspective Short Story on The Events Before A Most Bizarre Occurrence, Based on Experience
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This story’s plot and characters are fictitious. Certain long-standing institutions, agencies, and public offices are mentioned, but the characters involved are wholly imaginary.
A Thursday in the University of the Philippines Diliman. The sun is out, the wind is blowing softly, thousands of cotton clouds are dropping, and it definitely feels like summertime — on a national election year.
There are still campaign grepa posters scattered everywhere, but the people at the UP Diliman Campus Maintenance Office are starting to tear them down, like the street cleaners on houses and electrical posts and public-facing walls, tirelessly trashing tarps of trapos. But for a “small city” like UPD, the sheer density of the printed matter these names are printed in — maybe branded with the party logo, maybe illustrated quite cornily with something that is vaguely homologous to the nom de guerre, always clearly printed in pallid versions of the party colors — is staggering.
“Tangina ang dugyot nito,” (“God this is a mess.”) says Rodrigo, who is 15 years in the biz of tearing down school council election posters.
“Ganito ba talaga taon-taon, bosing?” (“Is it always like this at this time of the year, boss?”) A squeaky voice to his left asks. New to the job, Larry has just been hired three months ago. Having already been sent to jobs from identifying broken street lamps to taking a tractor to work tearing down some trees at the lagoon, he thought he’d done it all. Not until today.
“Oo, pero ‘di gan’to kalala,” (“Yeah, but not quite this bad.”) Rodrigo replies.
They’re both at the Ikot stop at Vinzons Hall — prime campaign real estate. He tears down more posters, revealing more from another party underneath.
“Jusko, ‘di ba sila pwedeng maghatian na lang ng paglalagyan? ‘Di ba sila pwedeng mag-usap ng maayos?” (Jesus, can’t they just decide who gets which bulletin board? Can’t they just talk?) Rodrigo wonders.
After hearing weeks after week of mudslinging on debates, fora, and social media discussions, thousands of thoroughly exposed undecided students ask the same question. Accusations of incompetence, dishonesty, and bashing echo throughout, engaging candidates, campaign teams, and supporters in a furiously heated battle. The undecideds, spectators from a distance, can only watch as the discourse descends from a “what’s right or wrong” debate on University identity and its purpose as a part of the Philippine political and sociocultural landscape, to a mere battle of “who’s right or wrong” for the most coveted power positions in the studentry.
Mang Larry dwells upon this for a minute — well, not too deeply. He doesn’t always think about UP that much.
He turns to Rodrigo; “Wala naman siguro ‘tong kaibahan sa nangyari dati sa’min,” (Well it isn’t that different from what happened back then at my place.) he says.
Larry lives in Balara. In May last year, houses around him were strewn with campaign tarps for the likes of Duterte, Mar Roxas, Leni Robredo, and even Ivy Lagmay. He didn’t have one on his door, however. He didn’t think that much of government. Why don’t you have a poster by your door, Larry?, his neighbors would ask. Lacking any sort of way to elucidate why he distrusts politicians, he could only sigh deeply and shrug.
Rodrigo sighs. “‘Di naman siguro ganon kalala.” (I guess it’s not as bad as that.)
Fresh off his Art Studies elective, Jeremiah walks under the noontime sun on the rocky path across the lagoon, a path he knew all too well. Traversing this path almost everyday, he’s at the stage where he wouldn’t flinch at the smell of the stench coming off the dried leaves of the water stream under the small bridge, or cringe at the broken English of the high school students practicing their Readers’ Theater performance. “End tha majeek ferry gev Prinses Anabela ah BEEEEEG hoars,” a boy announces proudly. “WOW! THAT’S A REELY BEEEEG HOARS!”, the ensemble chants in sing-song inflection.
Already in his fourth year of studying Film, Jeremiah is currently deeply focused on finishing his thesis production, about android helpers unhinging the connections of a middle-class Filipino home in the future. But being unbearably single, out of the house all the time, and on a steady diet of ramen noodles and softdrinks, he’s at the point of his college life where he doesn’t give a shit anymore.
Except for grades, though. As well as the quality of his productions. Black berets don’t happen overnight.
He arrives at Plaridel Hall, five minutes late for his next subject — not a production class, you see, but an intro subject to broadcasting — when he sees a stack of copies of the Collegian on the floor beside the security guard’s table. Emblazoned in red, blue, and yellow are the words “Go Out And Vote”. Beside the headline are cut out pictures of the three chairperson candidates — Antonio Rojo of UP Students for Mass Advancement (MASA, the reds), Dwarven Oliveros of UP Student Unity (the yellow SUN), and Tiffany David from UP Social Progressives (SOPRO blues).
Oh, Jeremiah thinks to himself. It’s election day.
He picks up a copy and heads to the broadcast wing. At the door of the classroom, the windows lack the fluorescent glow that breaks through the garishly orange lighting of the hall — no one’s inside.
Like destiny, or an execution of God’s master plan, or whatever you fucking call it, Jeremiah’s best friend, Cheska, arrives. Tight like the rosebuds just outside a power bottom’s asshole, the two can be seen everywhere together, giggling like idiots while munching on ramen noodles. One could mistake them for a perfect heterosexual couple but alas, each want one like themselves.
“Jem! Wala tayong class! May sakit si Sir! ‘Di mo ba nabasa text ko?” (We don’t have class! Sir is sick! Didn’t you get my text?), Cheska screams.
“Ah, I didn’t get it,” Jeremiah replies, disappointed by the news, but worried about the professor. (Not.)
“Sayang. ‘Eto tinext niya o.” (Shame. Here, look at what he texted.)
She shows him the professor’s message on her phone.
“Ang gago mo talaga, ‘lam mo ba ‘yun?” (You’re such an asshole, you know?) Jeremiah heartily reacts.
“Uy grabe ‘di ko naman sinend.” (Hey I didn’t even send it.)
“Hindi pa ba nasend? Akin na nga!” (Not sent yet? Give it to me!)
Jeremiah pretends to be really intent in grabbing Cheska’s phone and pressing Send on the draft joke message. Cheska tries to pull it back from him, screaming cries for help as well as cackles of joy. Jeremiah gives it up.
Even though they were best friends, (‘breast friends,’ as Cheska puts it) they wouldn’t do the same things unlike ordinary best-friendships. Being wealthier and more attuned to the world, Cheska always wore better dresses, was well accessorized, and had perfect skin. Her eyebrows were always on fleek and her nails looked like they were constantly fresh off the nail salon. A worn-out, getting-by dormer like Jeremiah, however, was constantly smelled like beef broth and fermentation, and was always in the kind of sweatpants-sweatshirt-boat shoes combos that streetwear brands would be jealous of.
Today was different though. Cheska oddly decided to wear a black polo shirt, with the letters CSEB embroidered on the upper right side, and a blue skirt not unlike the ones off public high schools. Her ID was hanging off a College of Mass Communication lanyard.
“Nakaboto ka na ba?” (Have you voted yet?)
She was part of the electoral board.
“Uh, no,” he replies meekly.
“Uy, timing! Tara, sabay na tayo sa Audi!” (“Just in time! Come on, let’s go to the auditorium together.”)
He knows how this goes by now.
The line is short, and the auditorium inside is cold and calm, not that full of people. The matronly old woman at the front greets her with joy, albeith halfhearted.
“Good afternoon, ID or Form 5?” she asks in an upward inflection.
He starts fishing around his person for his ID — inside his pockets, his backpack, the pouches inside it. He finally finds it alongside coins and crumpled up receipts. He gives it to the woman.
“Line up,” she sings upwardly, pointing Jeremiah inside to the queue of seated ready-to-be voters.
He sits down on the first row next to a large man his age, with glasses, pale skin, and unkempt hair. He sees him everywhere in college for so long now, but he doesn’t know him in person. He wonders who he’s voting for.
He’s also wondering who he is voting for himself. He doesn’t know any of the candidates running for these positions, what these positions are even for, or what parties correspond to what ideology.
What even do student councils do? They do events and stuff. They collect our student fees during enrollment. They make important announcements on whether we can pre-advise or pre-enlist or not.
But what else? There’s not much to be done for someone who does this kind of thing, isn’t there? I mean you can at least try to have principles or stances or opinions on things but, in the end, do they really matter?
Do student councils really matter? Do the voices of students matter? Do the lives of students really matter? He starts to doubt himself because, really, students can only do so much to affect how the world works around them.
“Kuya, kayo na po,” (Hey, you’re up.) a small timid girl who lined up beside Jeremiah told him quietly.
He gets up from his seat and to the stage, where the rows of computers are. He gets behind one and engages himself to vote. He logs in using his student credentials, and is taken to the next screen where he is now given the choices on who to vote for.
If you were a friend of Jeremiah’s for a long time just like Cheska, you would know that being the Mass Communication student that he is, and most especially being the Film student that he is, he would definitely be part of a radical left-leaning party like UP MASA. For a time, he was a very active member of their propaganda and strategy division, and was an essential part of their campaigns. Then he just…fell out. Not with the party, nor its principles. It was more his disillusionment with the whole student politics system inside the campus — the clientilistic nature of it, most especially, in that it only serves particular groups of people, specifically die-hard supporters of these parties.
But this time, he’s letting his principles get the best of him.
Three in the afternoon, and UP MASA’s chairperson candidate Antonio Rojo is picking out the best cut of fried chicken for his late lunch. No more campaigning today, but he’s on an excursion away from the rest of his party and team, who are either in classes or locked up in their campaign house.
Looking forward to continue his party’s dominance in the university student council after a successful, optimistic, mass-oriented campaign last year, he becomes the dark horse of the race after allegations of incompetence by their elected party members surface. Late in the campaign, however, he’s slowly regaining trust from voters, but now he wonders whether or not he’s done enough.
For now though, he’s having a hard time choosing between a lovely large cut of breast, and a slightly smaller but juicy-looking hot piece of thigh. After furrowing his almost non-existent monobrows and squinting at the pieces of fried chicken with his piercing brown eyes, he decides on the thigh cut.
The canteen lady picks it out for him and lays it down on his plate. He moves on to order a bottle of water, then pays for everything. He goes on to look for a seat.
Often times, the hall that the University Food Service is in is most likely empty. No matter how good the food, its distance away from most colleges tends to dissuade students from going there to satiate their hunger pangs. The fact that it’s election day wouldn’t necessarily help things. But today — this afternoon — the tables are almost full, and the hall is filled with activity, not unlike what one would then find in the old CASAA food hall, before it was burned down. He couldn’t seem to find anyone remotely connected or acquainted to him to be able up to sully up to them and sit with them.
That is, if you don’t count Dwarven Oliveros sitting in a four-seater all by himself.
A stalwart of UP Student Unity, Dwarven became a member of the party since his first year. He is known for his pragmatism and his clear preference towards consensus-building principled unity, no matter the prevailing ideology that unity is grounded upon. His loyalty and diligence in his time at the party led him to his steep rise through the ranks, and now he is fielded as their bet for the top seat in student government in the campus. But, his association with the Greek formation, Kappa Omega Kappa, has put him in a dark light because of the organization’s association with fraternity-related violence as well as their elitist control and manipulation of student governments through their members.
This is not the first meeting for both candidates. Antonio and Dwarven have not only battled it out in multiple election-related events leading up to today, but have also been classmates in several social science classes. And while they often shared the same views in those classes, as well as bonded well as groupmates and classmates, the elections changed everything.
But for Antonio, he believed that if Dwarven really believed in building student unity, then he shouldn’t be missing out on small opportunities to do so.
He takes steps towards his table.
Dwarven catches sight of his former classmate and political rival coming close to his table. He tenses up. His party is slowly losing grip of the discourse lately but this may tip it over for him. He doesn’t want another debate. He doesn’t want another radical progressive sermon from a former classmate.
Antonio catches his breath as he comes near, the sweat soaking his crimson long-sleeve shirt. “Can I sit here?”, he asks his rival.
Dwarven’s jaw is agape. He looks at Antonio with eyes that denote a sense of disgust, fear, anger, and confusion. He isn’t catching Antonio’s words.
“Um, pwede makiupo?”, Antonio asks again.
Dwarven’s head jolts at the understanding of the question. He looks around. There are lots of people, and all the tables are full. He gets it now.
“Sh-sh-sure,” he stutters.
Antonio smiles and sits down as he places his tray on Dwarven’s table. He notices the food he’s having — pork liempo and chicken tinola, with a can of Coke beside it. They both get to eating, but he keeps his gaze towards his rival. He is good looking, lankily structured but athletic, with good body proportions. Topped off with lush, wavy hair, big and glassy bloodshot eyes, full lips, and a jawline that can slice through both bread and butter, Dwarven was Adonis as a university student leader.
Antonio’s gaze on Dwarven is interrupted by a rumbling from his stomach. He begins to get back to his food.
Dwarven looks at Antonio eating. He wants to break the ice.
“So, um, kamusta yung mudslinging?” (How’s the mudslinging?)
Antonio’s attention is piqued.
“Okay lang, I guess. ‘Bat wala kayo ‘nun?” (It’s okay, I guess. Why weren’t you all there?)
Dwarven feels the need to become defensive, but all he could muster to reply at this moment was a meek shrug.
“We’ve said enough na raw. I didn’t think so, but oh well.”
Antonio nods, then turns back to his food. Failing to make any sort of sensible conversation, Dwarven goes back to eating as well.
The tables are still filled up to the brim, the halls of the University Food Service almost bursting at the seams. Tiffany David, carrying her tub of yogurt, her tuna melt, and a bottle of vitamin-infused lemonade. Slender and tall, Tiffany is a model-like engineering student with the assertive and persuasive powers of an effective salesperson, leading her to great heights within her political party, the Social Progressives. She is eloquent, well-read, and a great believer in multi-perspective politics.
And seeing as there are seats in Antonio and Dwarven’s table, nothing could get more multi-perspective than this.
“Hey, sorry you guys, all the tables are taken. Can I sit with you?”
The men are left with no recourse. “Sure,” both of them replied.
“Thanks guys!” Tiffany lays herself down on one of the remaining chairs, like a hen coming home to roost. As quickly as she sat down, she immediately unsheaths the foil on top of the yogurt tub and slurps down on it.
“So, um, how are you guys today?”
The boys, still stuck in their awkwardness, could only murmur words of okayness.
“Do you guys have any classes left to attend?”, Tiff interrogates.
“May Socio 10 pa ako ng alas kwatro,” (I still have Socio 10 at 4.) Antonio answers. “Ikaw?” (You?) he turns to Dwarven.
“Uh, wala na,” (No more) Dwarven replies. “Diretso na ako ng campaign house ‘tas balik dito.” (Have to go straight to the campaign house and then back here.)
Here, to the three of them, was Vinzons Hall, where the announcement of the election results will be revealed later tonight. The screens are already set up outside, the audio people are patching up the wires between the speakers, and the engineers from DZUP are setting up their live mobile broadcast unit for their live coverage.
“Ah okay Dwarven. Ano yung Socio 10, Antonio?” (What’s Socio 10?) asks Tiff.
“Sociology,” Antonio replies.
“Oh, who’s your prof?”
“Si Jennifer Mendoza.”
“Oh, her. Psh,” Tiff states matter-of-factly with an eyeroll.
“Under ka niya?” asks Antonio.
“Yeah. She was so hell-bent on,” Tiff says, switching to a mock voice of an old woman and gesturing through air-quotes, “‘understanding society through the lens of the class struggle nyah nyah.’”
They all laugh. “May mali ba ‘nun?” (Is there anything wrong with that?) Antonio queries.
“Wala naman. She does say it a lot though,” Tiff replies, to a nod of approval from Antonio.
The three candidates’ laughter caught the attention of the other diners in the slowly loosening cafeteria, who have immediately whipped out their camera phones to snap the unusual situation. The scene was newsworthy: the three candidates for chairperson, from three drastically different (not really) political parties, sharing a table at the University Food Service, laughing.
Dwarven starts to notice the lenses around him and giggles slightly, making Tiff and Antonio to begin to notice them as well.
“I’ll never get used to this,” Dwarven states.
“Same,” Antonio replies. “As much as I’m not doing this for the fame or whatever, grabe ansarap sa feeling na sinusundan ka ng mga tao.” (The feeling of being followed by lots of people is so good.)
Tiff notices an opportunity to prod Antonio. “Wait, I thought you guys were against that kind of celebrity politics?”
Antonio laughs it off. “Grabe. Sa akin lang ‘yun.” (Oh no, I’m just speaking for myself.)
Tiff takes it back. “But it’s true though. It’s so energizing to see people support you and cheer for you and you know they trust in you.”
“Yeah,” Dwarven adds, “at sobrang nakaka-good vibes yung nagbigay talaga sila ng oras at effort sa mga pagsuporta nila.”
“Oo nga eh, pero,” (Yeah, but,) Antonio begins, “naaalala mo agad-agad yung laki ng responsibility mo in case you win dahil sa suporta nila.” (you then remember the huge responsibility you have when you win because of their support.) The other two nod in realized agreement.
It’s true, but for most people who go into positions such as in student government during their stay in university, most would be there for the snacks, the air-conditioned facilities, and other perks. The USC in UPD, however, through the years has prided itself in not only serving students through their support of pro-student initiatives against tuition increases and other such impediments, but also in taking stances against social injustice that happen beyond the school walls. But having said that, most student “leaders” would only be there for the snacks.
For Antonio, being at this table right now, with what should be his political rivals, has opened up an opportunity for him to discover that really, all they want to do is serve — they just have different ways of doing it.
The calm has returned to the UFS dining hall now. The students are gone, and the staff are slowly shutting down the food warmers. But what has returned is the awkwardness between the candidates as they chow down on what’s left of their meals with Tiff on her tuna melt, Antonio on his fried chicken, and Dwarven on his liempo. Attached to that tension, however, is the sense of oblivion, that none of them know what’s going to happen.
They do know one thing, and that is that tonight, one of them will lead the student body into the next chapter of the university’s history.
9 PM. Catherine Salvador is still waiting among the press pack at Vinzons Hall for her colleagues to finish up in Palma Hall after the just-announced results of the College of Social Sciences and Philosophy SC elections — a red majority, led, however, by an independent candidate who had deserted them during the campaign: a really unusual situation.
Catherine is editor-in-chief of the Philippine Collegian. Already in her second year, she is no stranger to leading the prestigious student publication in covering the SC elections. But the publication has come under fire for several mistaken tweets, as well as accusation of bias towards UP MASA. (Coming from supporters of the other two parties, of course.) All she could think of right now, however, is how badly her team — writers Laura Yapcengco, Carlos Dumagat and Fiona San Juan, as well as photographer John Luis Espora — are making her knees feel. She lunges her short, lithe body upward and walks around to loosen up her vessels.
She is in front of a horde of student writers and photographers wielding entry-level DSLRs behind her. She’s not only editor-in-chief of the leading student pub in campus, but she also heads the consortium of all student publications in the UP System, UP Solidaridad. This is the time where all of them are busy, publishing results and covering election events, to make sense of it all.
As it is late at night and there are hordes of people packed inside the small lobby of Vinzons Hall, the Special Services Brigade and the UP Police are parked just outside in case anything bad happens. Leaning against the flashing police van are Mang Rodrigo and Mang Larry, blowing off some steam from their busy day of ripping off election materials, but curious to see what happens.
“Sana naman may mapapala sila sa mga pinaggagawa nila. Sinasayang lang ‘yung kanilang mga pinagpapaskil,” (I hope they get something off of what they’re doing. Or everything they’ve posted in this place will be nothing.) Rodrigo says.
Larry could only sigh. This was a long day.
“Ganito ba lagi dito sa Vinzons ‘pag eleksyon?” (Is it always like this in Vinzons every election?) Larry asks.
Rodrigo was about to say yes, but the vista he’s observing stopped him on his train of thought — hundreds of students carrying placards and wearing color-coded shirts are packed like sardines in a tin can, chanting various choruses in unison, creating noise not unlike the Coldplay concert days ago.
“Iba ‘to.” (This is different.)
Walking to the stop for the jeeps to SM North Edsa, Jeremiah is also brought to his waking senses with the loud noise coming off of Vinzons. He becomes torn — it’s late, and he’s pretty sure it’s only just a few more jeeps to SM before they’re gone for the night.
But the noise. It’s loud. And it’s familiar.
He used to join rallies a lot. To him, it felt good to just decide to walk out of your classes and fight for what you feel in your heart is true and right. He led marches not only inside campus, but in places like Mendiola and Luneta. He wanted to take what he feels, and what he writes online on his social media, to the streets.
But his parents were not pleased. They took him off of studying for a year after they found out that his grades were failing because of his many absences. That’s what desensitized him from being part of the rebellion.
But the large sound is bringing everything back to him now. He trundles towards it. He finds his crowd. His friends back then embrace him, and greet him, saying they miss him. But, he misses this more.
A chant ends.
“MAKATAO, MAKABAYAN, AT MAKABANSA!” (Mass-oriented, patriotic, and nationalistic!)
The crowd reacts.
This is the time. Antonio readies himself behind the screens. With his slate-mates behind him, the nerves bugging him all day have turned into anxious excitement. He’s been hearing nothing but cheers of support all day.
But the awkward lunch with his rivals earlier in the afternoon changed him the most. Suddenly he didn’t feel the need to win. Corny as it may sound, he now just felt the need to serve.
He turns to his right to look at both of them — two really talented student leaders who deserve victory just as much as he does.
“Tiff! Dwarven!” he shouts. Both his rivals turn to him. He walks over to them.
“Whatever happens tonight, just know that it’s been a real honor to have been your rival,” he says to both of them.
“Me too. Thank you guys,” Tiff replies as he stretches her hand out. They all shake hands. The nerves are gone, and the political image too — this was the real deal. What started as a rivalry has become the beginning of a lifelong friendship.
“Tangina, antagal niyo! Mag-live na kayo!” Catherine shouts to her colleagues who have just arrived.
Carlos whips out his smartphone and starts the Collegian live Facebook stream just in time as the chair of the University Student Electoral Board arrives to give out the results.
“Good evening, I am Professor Matthew Caguioa and I’m the chair of the USEB. I have an announcement to make about the results of the election, especially in the race for USC chairperson.”
People shush down the chanters. Everyone is listening intently. Rodrigo, Larry, Jeremiah, Antonio, Dwarven, Tiffany, Catherine, Laura, Carlos, and Fiona lend their ears, with John’s eyes on the viewfinder focused on Professor Caguioa.
“We will be triggering a special election for the university-wide elections.”
This draws exasperations of confusion from everyone in the room. This has never happened before.
Catherine is most confused. She silences everyone and asks, “Sir Caguioa, bakit po?” (Sir Caguioa, why?)
The silence returns again.
NOTE: The author is a member of Tinig ng Plaridel, the UP College of Mass Communication’s official student publication. He is not part of their Election Coverage team, Botong Isko 2017. He is also a member of STAND UP, with which he has filed a leave of absence from in this student council election.
Gene Paolo Gumagay is a BA Broadcast Communication Student in the UP Diliman College of Mass Communication. He is making the truth look good with words, images, video, sounds, and code. He is a digitally-native raconteur acquainted with the wisdom and ways of the past. Follow him on Twitter, and check out his Instagram.