I Am Masa, and I Voted… Belat!

Gerry Bucton

Gerry Bucton

After voting, intellectuals called Gerry Bucton “bobo” for his choices. So he wrote The Manila Review to address “the smarties.”

I am a member of the masa, of the poor and the “lower middle class.” After the May 11 elections, a new adjective has been appended to us: bobo.

The tag has become a favorite of the so-called smarties, middle class and elite Filipinos who expressed shock at our supposedly poor (pun intended) electoral choices. They are disgusted by what we have done to this precious democratic ritual called elections. Their grouching is all over the cyberworld, and their newspaper pundit-buddies have picked it up along with the nattering nabobs on television.

The winning Senators are evidence of our kabobohan. The list consists of (a) the scions of political families (Escudero, Cayetano, Binay, Angara, Aquino, Pimentel, Ejercito and Villar); (b) movie stars and media personalities (Poe, Legarda, Aquino, Escudero via Heart Evangelista and Ejercito via Daddy Erap and half-sibling Jinggoy); (c) controversial headline makers (Trillanes, Honasan); and (d) individuals rolling in the dough politico (Angara; Villar).

The smarties are right: Some of us did vote because we remembered their names. Money did change hands during the elections, from candidates’ local campaign managers to the big man (or woman) in our district or street, as well as to some teachers supervising the voting process. Guilty as charged.

But no one among the smarties really asked if there was another reason other than cold cash that led us to vote this way. Is it possible that our preferences also had something to do with the failure of the smarties to enlighten us about the shadowy histories of these personalities?

Consider this: No one among the smarties who refer to us as bobo has ever thought of educating us about these politicians in our own terms and at our level. There is not a single public elementary or high school textbook written by the smarties’ top intellectuals with us masa as the audience. Worse, none of these smarties has ever thought of writing readable pieces in our languages and dialects (save perhaps Ambeth Ocampo, but he really is comfortable talking about the distant past, not the fraught and dangerous present).

I myself have never seen a smarty go out of her way to explain Marcos, Enrile, and the history of trapo politics in Ilonggo or Maguindanao. These nabobs write in English.

So where do we get our news? We get it mainly from talk radio (where there are no smarties from UP or Ateneo) and the tabloids. We listen and learn from the Tulfo brothers, who consistently stand against domestic abuse and defend Filipino workers exploited by Korean companies in our export processing zones. We learn very little from the pundits in the English newspapers simply because we have no money to regularly buy these rags.

Then there is the frequency of contact. Politicos actually spend more time with us compared to those who call us bobo. In a lot of cases, this is only for show; they glad-hand because they want our votes. But that is exactly the point: Trapos reach out to the masa; they join us in our tagayan and show they can be one of the boys and the girls. Their staffs list down our gripes and attend to our requests for assistance when we visit their offices. If our slum district consistently gives them the highest number of votes during elections, they show their gratitude by building a basketball court, constructing a feeder road, or repairing our dilapidated public elementary school. And, of course, they offer us good money for our votes.

Smarties have never given us this kind of attention. The rich and middle class—whose gardens we tend, children we feed, houses we clean, and cars we chauffer—ensure that social and racial divides are never breached (Racial you say? Ahem, check out their derision towards the father and daughter Binay?). Smarties use Filipino when talking down at us (“Hoy, Lorena, anong sinabi ko sa iyo, gamitin mo yong organic laundry soap na binili ko sa San Francisco para sa mga Victoria’s Secret panties ko! Ang boba mo talaga!”). And they make it a point to impress on everyone their superior intelligence by speaking in English or Taglish (“kasi hanggang Pilipino ka lang”).

Or let me put this in simpler terms: How many times in a week do you spend hobnobbing with us? I bet my daily wage I can count the hours, nay the minutes, by one hand.

Hey, but what of the leftist candidates and their supporters you say? Don’t Teddy Casiño or Risa Hontiveros have our interests in mind? I agree, and some of us listened to them. Teddy’s and Risa’s total votes reached 12.3 million, a hefty number indicating some of us bobos do get attracted to leftwing messages.

But our smarty critics also seem to forget those moments in our history when their militant comrades betrayed the masa.

In 1986, when the masa stood up for Cory Aquino, the militant smarties told us to boycott the elections. Again, in May 1998 when we overwhelmingly voted for our candidate, Erap, the militants joined forces with the burgis and the military, to overthrow him. And when we protested that this was a clear violation of the very rules of the electoral game the smarties wanted us to play, the militants approved Gloria Arroyo’s order to stop “EDSA 3” protestors with truncheons and bullets. They even shared the burgis’ description of us as drug addicts and “bayaran ni Erap.” Finally, in the 2010 elections, the reddest of the militants sided with the real estate magnate Manny Villar, while the purple ones placed all their eggs in PNoy’s baskets.

If militant smarties are for the masses, why is it that their people’s army prefers ambushing and kidnapping lowly soldiers and policemen? Are these folks also not masa, who joined the military and the police because these occupations can guarantee them wages, health and life insurance for their families? Our neighbor Rosa was just grieving over the death of her son Tikboy whose unit was ambushed in northern Mindanao. Tikboy was the only breadwinner in the family. Now Rosa, who is in her 80s, has to go back to her work as a labandera…of the smarty families at UP Village.

Why doesn’t the NPA target the warlords, the jueteng operators, or heck, Imelda Marcos? The political officers are smart people and they know how such actions would score big propaganda points for the revolution while slowly eroding the control of the trapos in the provinces. Is it because these sinister characters have the money to pay the revolutionary kotong?

Now, how do we differentiate the reds from the politicos?

And were our choices really stupid? I pray you take a second look at our winners. Four out of the twelve are women (that is 33%) and have college degrees. And the top two are women! So we were sensitive to gender balance and now there are six women in the upper chamber. This shift is something unprecedented in our history as a people.

We are likewise aware of the importance of youth and stamina in politics: Only Villar, Legarda and Honasan are in their fifties; the rest are in their late 30s or 40s.

Yes the majority of the winners are trapos, but we also elected reform-minded politicos. Sonny has consistently fought for the lowly soldier and against corruption, while Alan Peter and Pia moved heavens to give reproductive rights a big boost. We are sure Koko will have the same reformist fire as his father Nene, and we think he can drag Bam and Grace along for the ride.

And look what we did in some provinces and cities: Our bobo votes have ended or weakened the domination of political clans in Aurora, Cebu, Camarines Sur, Mindoro Occidental, Negros Oriental, Northern Samar, Nueva Ecija, Quezon, Rizal, South Cotabato, Zamboanga and Siquijor. True, true, this may be just temporary, but the fact that we were able to do it shows that we take our voting seriously too, doesn’t it?

And you know what our bobo Muslim brothers and sisters did at the ARMM? They voted in the reformist Mujiv Sabbhi Hataman as governor. The last person who held that post was one Andal Ampatuan, Jr., a good friend and ally of the supposedly smartiest of all smarties: Gloria Arroyo, Ph.D. Now where did that lead us?

Will we expect profound changes once the elected (re)assume their seats? Not really. When you live for so long in this sordid state, with no chance of raising yourself and your family unless you go abroad, you learn not to anticipate anything good from those in power. Their foremost goal, after all, is to enrich themselves (further) first before turning their attention to fundamentally altering the way resources are distributed in our society.

And the same applies to you smarty-pants; your recent harangue against our alleged kabobohan merely reconfirms our suspicion that deep, deep down you share the elite’s odium towards us, the poor. So to your accusation that we are bobo, our comeback is a downright: putang ina nyo.