Of basketball and election fevers

AS A MATTER OF FACT - Sara Soliven De Guzman - The Philippine Star

After 36 years, the premier State University finally won the UAAP Basketball championship. Congratulations! UP Maroons and the UP community. That one last perfect shot from Joel Cagulangan, a product of the La Salle Greenhills basketball program, will surely be immortalized in this basketball-loving part of the world. That last-second heave stopped Ateneo’s championship streak since the 2017-2018 season, and it culminated the almost desperate quest of UP for another crown in the premier league.

I could only imagine the contrasting euphoria and anguish of players and followers of the contending teams, all afflicted with the UAAP basketball fever. I remember years ago how UP celebrated with a bonfire a lone win in a season. Will the bonfire this year signal the beginning of a UP basketball dynasty? Ateneo and the other UAAP teams will certainly disagree. Win some, lose some, it is all part of the game, but the preparation for the next crown must continue.

The same is true in elections. Others win, some lose, yet life must go on. Our candidates had grand plans and promises, others with signs and premonitions, all aspiring to be leaders with visions for a better country. We have witnessed how the arduous campaign brought out the “best” and the “worst” in us. People from all walks of life filled with hope, sharing dreams and casting lots with their favored candidates. We have seen the biggest political rallies captured by drone shots and posted on social media. We had volunteers contributing time and material resources to stage campaign sorties as if pursuing the worthiest of all advocacies. And stories of happy and contented rallyists braving the heat and the threat of COVID-19 to be part of a strong “message” of hope and optimism.

Unfortunately, we also experienced the most divisive, acrimonious and conflict-ridden political exercise in Philippine history. We heard children detesting their parents, siblings cursing at each other, students bullying schoolmates, Facebook users unfriending blood relatives, trolls peddling false information, “cancel” culture and best friends erasing sweet memories. All because of differences in political preferences. Even the religious faithful were not spared from the battle of the colors, with the hot debate on whether priests and bishops could publicly endorse candidates, as traditionally practiced by another religious group. The election fever, with symptoms of lack of sleep and appetite, elevated blood pressure, difficulty in breathing, irritability, anxiety attacks, headache and occasional vomiting, almost ruined families, friendships and our solidarity as a nation. Thank God, it is finally over. Or is it really over?

Based on the unofficial tally, the “uniteam” of the North and South emerged with the highest majority votes in recent history for the top posts in government. The machine count was so swift, and the victory parties began even before official tabulations began. Unlike a basketball game, however, it seems so difficult for the unlucky candidates and their supporters to just let go and move on. While some are magnanimous in victory, others rub salt on fresh wounds. Thus, the pain, sleepless nights and even the scars may have to linger a bit longer. But there is something bigger than all of us in this democratic exercise, and that is the call of greater national interest.

While it may be difficult and extremely challenging to get going after an emotionally draining debacle, we should all wish our country well. Even with the heaviest of hearts, we must congratulate the winners and support them because whatever good they will do shall benefit us, as every mistake they will commit shall also hurt us. Therefore, the fight is not yet over, it is only beginning! But unlike elections where people are temporarily divided by colors, we now fight as one people for the common good. We should all be vigilant in ensuring that our elected leaders will really push for the attainment of their campaign promises, starting from the substantially lowered price of rice. We should remain firm in our call for good governance.

The constitutional processes must be respected, and the rule of law shall prevail at all times. For the next six years, it is no longer the blues, greens, pinks or reds. We shall all be winners or losers, depending on how we support our leaders to succeed by doing good, or tolerate them to fail by doing the opposite. The Constitution provides: “The Philippines is a democratic and republican State. Sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them.” This mandate is not only true during elections, but all throughout. Therefore, our destiny as a people is not defined simply by the choices we make during elections, but by what we do as responsible citizens thereafter, like obeying laws, paying taxes and not allowing abuses in government to happen.

As always, there are allegations of vote buying and other election offenses, and the President has called on the Commission on Elections to investigate alleged electoral fraud to disabuse people’s minds. There were voters deprived of the right to vote, and some had to endure the discomfort in election precincts up to late evening of election day because of faulty vote counting machines. Although Smartmatic was quick to stress that only 0.86 percent of VCMs and SD cards had to be replaced compared to the 2.64 percent replaced in 2019, the reported 1,800 VCM technical support calls indicate the need to further evaluate and improve the equipment and processes for the next automated elections.

The government should also seriously prosecute violators in the reported 245 incidents of vote buying and make the proceedings public to deter others. At this point, however, we cannot afford to be impulsive. Hasty actions based on mere speculations will do us more harm than good.

Let the legal process confirm compliance with election laws or lack of it. Until then, we should keep our peace and go back to our daily routines and be productive.

There are many lessons we must learn moving forward in the manner of campaigning, selection of candidates, actual voting, counting and safeguarding of votes. More than anything, elections should not be reduced to a clash of personalities, celebrity endorsers or religious affiliations. It must remain to be a choice among alternative visions and platforms of governance. Respect, understanding, patience, a strong sense of patriotism and nationalism, are of primordial importance. So, for those who still feel the symptoms of the 2022 election fever, it is time to search for that inner peace and reconcile with your friends, neighbors, family members and even those from the opposite political fence. It may be easier said than done, but we need to start somewhere. After all, we are in the same boat, and we either float or sink together!

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