Another political season

LODESTAR - Danton Remoto (The Philippine Star) - July 28, 2018 - 12:00am

My column on politics a fortnight ago generated a storm of email that roosted in my account for weeks. They wanted more stories about my political adventures since I founded Ladlad Party List on the 1st of September 2003. 

I wrote about one meeting a fortnight ago, but my column was too long such that we had to edit what happened to our shallow senator later.

One of my Ladlad staff used to be part of this presidential campaign. One of their senatorial candidates was the unforgettable Miriam Defensor Santiago, whom I miss on days like this when the politics is filled mostly by intellectual midgets.

My informant said that they were in an SUV with Lady Miriam, their staff, and this shallow senator. As they were about to round a bend, Lady Miriam said: “Oh my, this setting is perfect for an ambush.”

And just as they were rounding the bend, from the hilltop a rain of bullets began to fall – right onto their SUV. Quick as Lindsay Wagner in Bionic Woman, Lady Miriam dropped to the floor of the car and told everybody to do the same. Our shallow senator – seemingly so brave and full of himself – began to shiver and said he doesn’t want to die.

Lady Miriam just looked at him, fished for her rosary from her small handbag, and calmly said:  “Let us pray.” And so she led the praying of the holy rosary while a hail of bullets tried to blast them to kingdom come. The skillful driver was able to maneuver away from the site. Lady Miriam then rose from the floor and said, in her trademark Ilongga-Michigan accent, “Whew, we survived that one. All that adrenalin gone. Well, at least we will have a good appetite later for lunch.”

I again met Senator Defensor Santiago two times before she finally passed away. I was then working for the United Nations Development Programme and was visiting the Senate to meet with a senator famous for her environmental concerns. We wanted to link up with her projects for the replanting of mangrove swamps in the south.

On the way to the Senate I met Lady Miriam again, wearing her fiery red dress, and she smiled at me. She invited me for a snack and I said I had to hurry up because my boss wanted a report ASAP about the mangrove project. “Very hardworking,” she teased me, and then she added: “I really hope you would run for the Senate one day, Danton. I know your political enemies would not like that. As I have said before, we are the same: we both came from humble origins but succeeded by dint of hard work and our multitudinous brain cells. And your mouth is just like mine—”

Which I interrupted with laughter. And before she left, she added as a parting shot: “If one day you make it, I hope you will get my office in the Senate. It has a grand view of the Manila Bay, of the country we both love.”

The last time I saw her she was gravely ill. I was already working at TV5 and I had a daily radio show called “Remoto Control” at Radyo 5. People would often wonder how I could come up with the latest and freshest political news. The secret, I said, is to be friends with people who matter: the security guards, the drivers, and the secretaries of politicians.

And so I went to the Senate to gather fresh news when I met Lady Miriam for the last time. She was no longer wearing her Ferragamo shoes. Instead, her feet were shod in elegant, leather sandals. And when we spoke, her voice was fainter than before. She said, “You know, Danton, sometimes, blood would just flow from my hands and my feet. This illness is such a mess to deal with,” she said, smiling through her pain.

I could not help it so I answered, “At least, Ma’am, you now have stigmata like Somebody Up There.” And her laughter, like before, filled the cavernous hallways of the Senate.

When she died I was at Kyoto University to deliver a paper on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) politics in the Philippines. After I read about her death in the online news, I felt a heaviness in my heart so I stood up. I went to the windows framed with white wood and looked outside, at the trees of Kyoto beginning to shed their red and yellow leaves, and I breathed a prayer to the woman who made me laugh so many times and who – whatever you say against her – loved our country with such passion.

* * *

The Supreme Court allowed Ladlad to run for party-list elections only a month before the May 2010 elections. Which meant our sources of funds had dried up and Time – that great arbiter of lives – was no longer on our side. We waged a campaign that relied on smarts and sheer adrenaline, and when the dust had settled, we lost by 5,000 votes.

The day after the elections I was so tired, yet relieved. I got my copy of Elizabeth Jennings’s book of poems, Extending the Territory (Carcanet Press, 1985) and I began to read. For many months, the book had languished on my bedside table. I felt sad during the campaign season for one simple reason: I could not read any more. Every day I would go home, tired beyond belief, my feet aching from the day-long sortie, my hands sore from all that shaking, my face painful from all that smiling.

The moment my back rested on my bed it was nirvana: I would wake up the next morning, only to campaign once more. The journalist Erwin Oliva once asked me what I missed most during the campaign and I told him, “The time to read.” He said he would do a survey of the books the politicians read before the campaign, and I told him, “Good luck, my friend.”

And so I was relieved because I could read again, and return to my old life as an absent-minded professor. I began my post-election life by reading Jennings’s book, which Douglas Dunn, writing for the Glasgow Herald, called “poems outstanding . . . [for their] wisdom, hard-earned from grief and religious faith.”

It seems strange to end a column on politics with the words “grief and religious faith.” But at this point let us now end, for this ending is yet another beginning to a new page in the book of life.

Comments can be sent to danton.lodestar@gmail.com

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