On being busy, money and bargains, and dining with total strangers

Doing quite a number of things. So many things I need to write these days. I am doing an album and am getting focused on writing songs, and discussing them with my arranger. Also, before going to the studio, you sort of have to run the song in your mind many times to make sure your approach is spot on and you maximize the way you want your song to impact. Once you put down the music, you can’t change it so it needs to be right when you go to the studio. It’s a challenge and a lot of fun. But it is also a lot of work.

There’s also my column which I write weekly on Philippine Star, and some assignments I need done. That’s why I am wondering why I am even spending time writing on my blog right now. LOL Maybe my father-in-law was right. He always used to say, ‘if you want things done, get a busy person to do them.’

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Had a talk with a young man and he asked me how I got into doing my work and career. Was I sure it was what I wanted? Did I have a plan? The answer to the first question is at best a tentative ‘yes’. I was too spooked to really believe I was talented enough to do anything good. But yes, I wanted to write songs and sing them. On the second question, the answer is ‘not really’ and yes. I say ‘not really because I wasn’t disciplined enough to make any plan. I basically just grabbed opportunities as they came. My plan if you could call it that was based more on what I did not want to do. I knew I did not want to work in an office, or do other people’s songs, and so yes, I planned on writing my own songs and hoped people liked them.

When I got older, wiser and I guess, as a certain maturity set in, I began to pay attention to things. Before I bought a house I studied interest rates, and what it’s like to have a mortgage. I planned my finances, expenses, investments and all things considered, I’d say I did pretty decently in that department. I never had a taste for signature stuff. Status, I always felt was not bought but earned.

To this day, I compare prices every time I purchase something. I even study and choose plans for my cellphone use and try to get the best plan ever. Now, I am seriously looking into http://www.globe.com.ph/help/postpaid/best-ever-my-super-plan-faqs
to see if I can get more value from Globe while saving money because you can customize even the the plan itself to 6, 12, 18, 24, 30 months. Will get to it very soon. Am not ashamed to say that I am always happy to get bargains. Besides, I also have a ‘fear of commitment’ when it comes to gadgets I get through telcos. While I go gaga over them, I want to make sure I am not tied up to a plan that locks me in for a long time with the same gadget. After all, who knows what new phone they will be coming out next in just a few months. That’s why I am considering this.

But my general plan or approach in life took me a long time to articulate. It is this: Don’t primarily aim for riches. Aim for happiness. If what you are doing is fulfilling, the money will follow. If you are going mainly for the money, it is an empty quest. It has worked for me in more ways than I can possibly describe. To paraphrase Joseph Campbell, doors opened for me where there were none and led me to where I needed to go to follow my bliss. This intuitive approach tempered with some business savvy has helped me plan my career or ‘happiness’, so to speak.

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Lastly, Everything is almost all set for an evening I am looking forward to. I have invited total strangers to a dinner in Puerto Princessa on June 15 at Ditchay Roxas’ resto in the city. This is the 4th time I do this but it is the first time it is held out of town. Zest Air will fly us to Puerto and back! Aquari Travelers Suites will host our lodging. The dinner will be at Puerto Princesa’ s best resto, La Terrasse and the menu prepared is really scrumptious. We have Ditchay Roxas to thank for that. This whole thing is called Passion Night 4.

Why have dinner with total strangers, you may ask? Why not! There is so much to learn from the unexpected. And I have noticed that great soulful conversations happen when people do not know each other and therefore have no pre-judgement.

This was the cast of Passion Night1. The group continues to meet from time to time.

I raise a toast to the unknown and the mysterious. They make life wonderful.

An artist by profession

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated May 26, 2013 – 12:00am


That’s what’s written inside my passport as my occupation. That’s what I put down on every application form or questionnaire I need to fill out to describe what I do.

I have been doing this for some 40 plus years now. The word “artist” describes me quite aptly, I think, even if I do not know exactly how I do it.

An artist creates something out of nothing. That’s what I do when I write a song. I make things up by picking things out of thin air — beats, words, melodic lines, feelings, moods, memories — and try to create something with them. Many times, I don’t know how it happens but I just suddenly find myself in the middle of creating. I am holding a guitar, or sitting on a piano and then it just starts to happen. Sometimes it happens even if I am not even holding a musical instrument. I am in the car or doing something entirely outside of music, and there it goes! A lyrical or musical phrase, or both of them suddenly materialize asking me to make them fly. All I can do is oblige. I just go where it wants to take me. I don’t argue with it. I don’t try to correct it.

Instead, I try to get cozy and intimate with it. I cajole it, entice it, seduce it like a woman so that she tells me all her secrets and shows me her entire being down to raw nakedness. When it gets down to this, I know the artist in me means business and wants to do bold magical things with her.

To make these bold magical things, one must abandon the thinking mind and take creative half-court shots of pure fancy. Just go with the whim, the feeling, the urge, the emotion and just unravel. It is an out-of-mind experience. Logic has no place here.

And yet, despite the creative process being unexplainable and maybe even illogical, you get the feeling that many if not all great creations were/are probably done this way. It’s like sorcery. It is inspired and created by magic. The mind and all its rules are only allowed into the room when the potion is already mixed, brewed to potency and ready. All the mind can do is tweak a few things.

I started writing this column with nothing in mind. When I saw the blank page on my laptop, I saw the potential for creation. There is nothing like a blank nothing to make you want to do something with it. The urge to fill up space, to sprinkle missing musical notes amidst silence, to type absent words to make an essay, or to add colors and lines in a painting, or give way to a shape that wants to be animated in sculpture. All this is irresistible. These urges must be listened to and obeyed.

But I know from experience that these urges are not always there. When they come, they are like very special visitors that must be entertained. They must be recognized, treated properly and lavishly like royalty, for if they are not, they may throw a tantrum and stop calling or visiting. They may even disappear for a long time. It depends on them. And when they disappear, I lose the gift of magic that makes meaning out of my own plain existence.

I am an artist.

I make songs. I write articles and books. I conceptualize performances. I spin images of dark and light from a camera. I make sense of things differently. And while doing all that, I allow myself to be pulled by the magnet of truth and inspiration. And these two things can be quite beautiful but dangerous at the same time. They can make you feel euphoric. But they can also take you to edgy, dark places that can challenge what you know to be true and replace it with a much bigger truth you did not think existed.

I notice that I cannot write songs one moment and immediately write a column the next. Both are different domains that want and need to be separate. The musical works are mostly written in an informal castle where the guards are lax and pretty much allow me to wander about. The Queen Muse that rules there allows me to do what I want. She’s a cool Queen. And whatever I come up with is pleasing to her. Long ago, she and I learned how to get along. She learned that I can actually create good songs when I have no one to answer to — not even to her. It’s a silent, unspoken agreement we have and it works well.

In the other domain, where I do my writing, sometimes it is also easy and non-stressful. But there are times when it is scary and intimidating. The Queen Muse can throw a temper tantrum. Almost on a whim, I am condemned, cursed, and forced to write in the dungeon. And I must come up with something or else. Like Rumpelstiltskin, I must spin gold overnight and have it ready by morning, or be punished.

In the first domain, I have learned not to think too much but to intuit what I wish to express. In this second domain, I must think first, and then learn to stop thinking before I get things done. I think to gather topical material and when I have it, I then intuit and bring something to existence.

I still have not figured out how to understand this Queen Muse completely, much less get along with her. She has too many rules and can show no mercy at times. I am learning to imbibe her many rules thoroughly so that I am no longer stuck in them and can do the work an artist must do. Hopefully, I am getting there.

When I write songs or columns, or take photos, I have a continuing dialogue going on with myself. I am engaged with a deep part of me that is quite peaceful and beautiful. It knows the truth about myself and is calm with it. But while that deep part of me seems serene and pure, it is not content just simply staying there. It asks that it be let out and confess the truth it knows to the world. It wants me to be its spokesman. It is scary because I have seen a few times that truth, when introduced to the mundane world, can shake its foundations. It is often anything but calm and peaceful. But that is what it demands — to see itself play out in the real world.

I am an artist. And often, that sounds glamorous, hip and exciting. But at other times, it is hard, scary work. It is hard because the truth inside often asks me to do crazy things that can subvert everything that makes being an artist easy.

I am an artist. And no matter how long I have been one, bringing out what’s inside me into the outside world is still a mystery. Sometimes it’s a breeze, sometimes a struggle. It’s still a struggle to fight the fear of being vulnerable even if it makes me feel alive doing so. But I would rather struggle and feel alive and glimpse at beauty once in a while than be safe but turn away from creating. I want to feel the life I am living.

Emotional connections

Emotional connections

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated May 19, 2013 – 12:00am 

I’ve been learning a thing or two about human interaction lately. The past two weeks, I had dinner with a few friends. I did three concerts the week before elections and also traveled to Kota Kinabalu with people I did not know. I met and spoke and engaged a lot of people in conversation throughout under different circumstances.

It’s hard not to notice that people want to interact. It is part of being human. We all want to reach out and touch and be touched as well. Some are just shyer than others

.As a performer, I know people watch shows because they want to experience some sort of altered state while watching a performance. It’s a way of getting some respite from the ordinariness of life. They want surprise and delight, involvement, feedback. They want a performer to make them feel at home and welcomed. They sing along, clap, wave and shout because they want to be noticed and be part of the big thing going on. In short, they want to experience being one with everyone else. That is exhilarating. They want to feel good, and at the same time be mesmerized. And a good performer can get all of that going.

.All human communication is basically giving and receiving. It’s always a give and take. People offer something to get back something in return. That is simple enough to understand.

In Kota Kinabalu, we had a guide who proudly showed us around his city and its sites. I noticed that each time any of us showed any interest in the history of the place or in something he said, he seemed to light up and want to engage us some more. He also stressed the commonality of Malaysian and Filipino words. It was his way of making everyone feel we were all connected and accepted.

A person who is sensitive enough can detect what another person needs. Deep down, every person wants and needs to be validated.

Two weeks ago, Lydia and I had dinner with a friend who lost a husband to cancer last year. It was going to be a simple dinner with no real agenda. My wife simply wanted to invite her to dinner because they have been lifelong friends and also because they both enjoy each other’s company.Over pizzas and wine, we talked about a lot of things. When she casually mentioned her deceased husband’s name, I asked her how she was coping with the loss. She answered that she missed him a lot but I noticed a hesitation on her part to discuss the topic further. Lydia asked a few more questions about him and she answered them.

But even when she did, she confessed she feared that she might be burdening us with her pain and loneliness during this dinner by talking a lot about her feelings. In her own words, she did not want to bemabigat or a damper on an otherwise happy get-together. We said we completely understood what she was going through and assured her that we had no problem or discomfort at all if she felt like talking about it. We reassured her by telling her to feel free to just be candid about her feelings. It was only then that she opened up.

Moments like these are tiny epiphanies for me.  Pain, loss, suffering are real burdens in our lives, but often we imagine other people may not be open to discuss these with us. People suffering pain do not want to be in an awkward situation where they feel the other person may not be comfortable seeing their suffering.A lot of people feel like this, including myself. Maybe we all have a fear that if we reveal our pain we may not get  the response we so badly want. If we exposed ourselves, would the other be sympathetic and offer a shoulder to cry on, offer an unconditional ear to lend, a compassionate heart to understand?  

Pain can be too private and personal. Sometimes we feel that no one can possibly understand what we are going through and so we clam up and bleed in isolation. Lucky are people who are sure they have sibs, parents and friends they can run to unconditionally.

My wife is a cancer survivor and understands what it’s like to suffer in that way. We have a friend in Sydney who is currently undergoing chemo. When another friend of ours also in Sydney informed Lydia she was going to ask our common friend with cancer if she could accompany her to chemo, Lydia advised her not to “ask,” but to say she would pick her up and be there for her. To ask or offer help can sometimes make a proud but needing person uncomfortable and refuse because of the idea of being a burden. To just go, show up and support them might be better at times.

My sister-in-law in the US who was taking care of her sick husband 24/7 a few months ago was so touched when her friends informed her they were going to clean her house, her toilet, fix and arrange stuff in her cabinets and cook her some food. This was their way of showing their compassion without putting anyone in a needy position.

.It is great to be on the giving end especially when you do it voluntarily because you feel good about sharing. But to be on the receiving end can sometimes feel awkward. One may have feelings of being vulnerable and undeserving and so may become defensive especially when asking for help.The art of giving is to make it as easy as possible for the recipient to receive the gift. The art of receiving is to accept graciously and with gratitude the gift offered.

I was able to see some candidates up close during some sorties I participated in and I could see the dynamic give and take between them and the public. Clearly both candidates and voters were there to ask each other something. The candidates wanted their votes and openly asked for it. Most voters listened to the speeches, had a wait-and-see stance. But many were there primarily to watch a show even if there were also some who seemed genuinely interested in what the candidates had to say.

For people who got physically close, candidates strangely were greeted no differently from the stars on stage.  And the people lined up to have pictures taken with both candidates and stars hoping perhaps that some magic would rub off on them. Maybe they thought that if they were lucky, something more tangible like a campaign T-shirt, or even cash, could materialize.

 I notice though that when a candidate looks at a voter straight in the eye and listens to them sincerely and compassionately,  a barrier is broken, a real connection is made and the voter becomes an enthusiastic disciple.

Learning these skills is valuable when dealing with all kinds of people whether they are strangers or close friends. Emotional intelligence cannot be underrated. Treat everyone the way you want to be treated, and you will most likely win them over. That’s what it means to emotionally connect.

Changes we can immediately do

People want change.

And some changes are already happening surely. And while I am thankful for that, my appetite for more changes has been whetted further. I have tasted some and want more and If I could have my way, I would want them delivered much, much faster. The problem with finally getting to the historical point where we overcome the inertia and the wheel of change finally begins to crank up is that you not only want more and more of it, you want it at a rate much faster than you can have it.

Now that we are getting new people in the Senate and House, new governors, mayors and councilors, I would like to work with them to do the following changes for the better. Some of them are too simple they can even be instituted on the barangay level.

1) I would like every winning candidate to think of modernization and make it a goal and a mindset. Modernization implies simplicity, speed and beneficial change in the way government serves the people.

It would be good if we could computerize all transactions in all government offices. It is convenient, and the paper trail is easy to follow. I remember applying for a business license in Australia. The man behind the desk said it would take awhile. I asked when I should come back, he said ‘awhile’ meant around 15 minutes. Meanwhile in QC where I live, it is taking me months just to get a building permit, and I still do not have it as of today.

2) Our justice system should be 10 times more swift in handling cases than how it is done now. The Ampatuan case should have been decided by now. Courts should be run by judges, not by lawyers who file delaying motions all the time. By delivering swift justice, people have greater faith in the government. That’s not even rocket science at all.

3) People Power should be further institutionalized and utilized. People Power is another word for volunteerism but in a massive way. The simplest way to keep it alive and make it an ally of change is to engage People Power about 3 times a year. We can have one call for People Power before the rainy season for everyone to pick up garbage and to clean the drainage in their streets to lessen the effects of flooding. That’s one example.

We can also engage People Power in specialized ways. One way is this: we can to ask doctors to volunteer a day in a year at any government center and do free service. They can even deduct their fees for less taxes if they wish. The idea is to make sure every Filipino is able to see a doctor at least once a year. Right now, 70 percent do not ever see a doctor.

4) I propose this simple safety solution which will be helpful during floods. Let’s paint street posts with measuring markers so that people, vehicles can easily know how deep the flooding is by simply looking at the posts and seeing where the water stops. This way, there will be less people who will get stuck in flood waters.

5) Everyone should be encouraged to do the habit of planting trees or giving away saplings as gifts during births, birthdays, graduations, etc. or at the start of any new venture. Aside from being symbolic, we can multiply the number of greenery everywhere in just a few years if we make this a common practice. In a few years, if this takes hold it could be a game changer in controlling floods and abetting some problems of climate change.

6) Every elected official must have a website where he/she reports all his expenditures involving public funds. It must be updated every week.

7) The move for further secularization must be encouraged. We, as citizens and/or members of the laity should discourage church leaders from coming up with voting lists, and urge them to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, so to speak.

8) The teaching of science and math should be intensified in school. The world will be more and more a competitive place and we need to make the younger generation more skilled to compete. Some of that is already addressed by K12. As a society, we must promote a scientific mindset and approach to a lot of our problem solving.

These are just 8 simple to speed up positive changes in our country. By doing them, we can create a fantastic synergy where government and people can engage each other in a robust, vital way that can open the gates to more necessary changes we need to really prosper and progress.

Voting as a heroic act

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated May 12, 2013 – 12:00am

Illustration by REY RIVERA

By tomorrow, a great number of people in this country will be casting their votes for the people who will be ruling over our lives. This is momentous. I am quite happy that people take the act of voting quite seriously. Compared to many countries, we have a pretty high percentage of people who exercise their right to vote.

I have a somewhat interesting attitude towards my right to vote. On one hand, I look at it as a sacred right not only enshrined in our constitution, but also something which we all won back when we fought for our right to have our votes counted in 1986. I feel it as an act of heroism and love for country. That election led to the collapse of a dictatorial era. We won our democratic rights back, even if we seemed to be adrift for quite a while. But since the last presidential election, we now seem to be moving forward slowly and surely in many ways.

My other view of my vote is similar to my view of lotto. It is quite simple. If you don’t participate, you don’t get any chance to win at all. And like people who buy lotto tickets, I always consider the possibility that my individual vote could be the one that will make a difference, the one that can make the candidate I have chosen actually win!

I do not really care if my view can be considered a rational one or not in terms of significantly affecting the outcome of an election. I am a hopeless believer in individual initiative and action. All I know is that individual action is quite important and without it, nothing really gets done. That’s why I do it.

A seemingly small act like voting can cause a ripple that contributes to a tsunami that changes everything. I remember the early days of martial law when so few would show up to express their indignation over military rule during rallies. You could hardly call them “mass actions” then since there was just a tiny sprinkling of people who would show up. But those few people eventually became multitudes and they shook things up. Those heroic few who defied the government planted the seeds of what became People Power. What would People Power be if everyone waited for everyone to show up first? Or what would it be if no one came?

It takes courage to show up. Many times it is an act of conscience. And sometimes it is important not just to show up, but to show up fiercely believing in what you believe in. Especially when it comes to voting, I want to freely choose my candidates without any pressure from anyone. It is a free individual act I am exercising as a free citizen.

That is why I find quite repulsive and distasteful the way religious groups encourage bloc voting. I look at this practice as no different from what warlords and their ward leaders do when they practically command their followers to set aside individual choices and vote how they want them to vote. It is disrespectful of a person’s conscience and ability to discern for himself what he deems good or bad for the country.

Furthermore, I feel religious leaders do damage to their church and faithful since they are obviously using their influence and reputations to become power-brokers playing for political concessions and advantage in a very temporal world. How can I not be distrustful of them when they choose some people perceived to be corrupt, murdering thieves over those who are conscientious and principled?

Iam a supporter of the President. But as much as I support P-Noy, I am not even responding to his call to vote straight Liberal. I will only choose a few from the Liberal Party. I will not fill up the whole ballot. I will not vote for anyone from UNA.

One may look at the world in a mathematical kind of way and measure chances statistically, predict outcomes and be proven right in the end. The surveys done before past elections have been quite accurate. The final outcome of this election may very well mirror the surveys.

But I still believe that the world can only be predictable to a certain degree. When people gaze at 2016 and look at Binay as the sure “next president,” I remember not too long ago that practically everyone was so sure Villar had sealed the deal with his early running ads which he started two years before elections. He had good people who did their homework and set the groundwork for his presidential run. Villar had billions in his war chest, too. And yet just nine months before elections, everything changed when P-Noy decided to go for the top post.

I write this while I am in Cebu to do my share in a Rock The Vote concert. It is both a musical and political event that encourages young people to show up at the polls and vote. It is also part of Bam Aquino’s campaign to reach out to the youth. This is the third concert I will do for Rock The Vote in three days. It is exhausting but exhilarating.

Every time I stand on a stage and look at the crowd I am performing for, I feel that more than just entertaining them with my songs, I am also mirroring to them a politics of involvement and initiative. They must somehow be inspired and exercise the power they possess not just as the largest segment of the population, but also as individuals who care for the future. Quite literally, they should already be thinking of tomorrow now.

There’s a lot of talk also that vote buying is happening in a lot of places as I write this. This is something I cannot fathom much less tolerate. Some people believe that for economic reasons, the poor are forgiven if they exchange their votes for money. I hold the contrary view that many times, the challenging economic situation has been an overused excuse for simply behaving badly. While it is true that I have never been poor enough to consider selling my vote, I think one has to take a moral stand and stop condoning this practice. When we tolerate the use of poverty as entitlement or license for this, we will forever be stuck in the politics that perpetuates this. This simply will not do if we really want changes to happen.

Throughout my adult life, I have seen mostly the politics of gloom and pessimism playing out. I sense that now it is already a different time. While many problems still plague us, there is a sense of real optimism. Pessimism is so yesterday.

Tomorrow, when we all go to the polls, let us vote as if the future of the country depended solely on each one of us. Look at it as a sacred, well-thought-out, deliberate act of patriotism. It has to be no less. Much depends on it. This only means we vote for candidates who will uphold the interest of the whole country.

Who do we choose?

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated May 5, 2013 – 12:00am

A lot more people seem to be taking the current elections more seriously compared to the last senatorial race. They read a lot more about the candidates and listen to what they are saying. They look at track records. They follow the debates and diligently analyze survey results. They look at the political parties as well. They react to political ads, not just in terms of the messaging but also the amount of money they perceive the candidates are spending to win voters over.

Election fever is here. The voters are speaking out about their preferences through social media. Many netizens are volunteering personal information on the candidates themselves based on their personal encounters with them. And they share them online.

Allow me to share the little that I know of politicians. I have encountered quite a few. I find it easy to get into their psyche, perhaps because I have experienced being some sort of a public figure myself. There are indeed many similarities we share.

Like showbiz folks, politicians come in all shades and sizes. Politicians and entertainers, or any public figure for the matter, know they have to be “on,” especially if they are within hearing or seeing distance of the media and the public. You can’t get cranky or haughty in public. Word gets around. By “on,” I mean they have to be actively projecting their good sides, their appealing personas, virtues, good looks (when applicable), reputations and opinions to the public.

Politicians, generally speaking, have massive egos, and wish nothing more than to play this out on the national scene. In the process, our lives as citizens are affected for better or worse. A lot of them will do mostly anything for self-aggrandizement.

As public persons, they want to make sure they look good in the eyes of their constituents all the time, if they can help it. Especially during elections, they like to put their best foot forward. Politicians work hard to appear squeaky clean to the public. No scandals, please. Only positivity, or at least cuteness. They craft their messages to make themselves lovable to the electorate. They like to stand out among the herd. They want to appear attractive, endearing, or at least credible, often in a glossy kind of way. They like to be associated with big stars in the entertainment field hoping that some of the magic will pass on to them. They also like making promises that sound good even if, more often than not, these promises are not realistically possible to achieve within the term they seek.

And what do they get out of it? If they play it well, they get fame, popularity, admiration, name recall and become appealing to the electorate. They can get installed into positions of power and can retain their positions for years.

So far I have been painting a cynical picture of politicians in the way that we already perceive them to be. But to be fair, I also want to talk about the politicians and candidates out there who, even if they appear to do all of the above, actually belong to a higher level above the usual crooks, murderers, land grabbers, cheats and liars that inhabit the world of Philippine politics.

We can agree that not all politicians are low-life cretins. After all, we had Jesse Robredo, Pepe Diokno, to name two. It does not serve us to be hopelessly cynical. We just have to look beyond the circus that is politics to find the good ones.

There are the few good politicians who have served us, and continue to do so. And there are new ones waiting in the wings who also aspire to do real public service.

These are public servants who walk and wade through the mud but are able to traverse the muck-filled landscape without dirtying themselves. They don’t fall into the temptation of corruption, even when so many others easily do. (And among those who fall, it is fair to say that many entered into politics to have a chance to actually dive into the mire of corruption.) These exemplary people serve their terms without any unexplained increase in their material assets or any upscale movement in their living conditions afterward.

These are also the politicians who have always shone concern for the plight of the poor and the country even before they got into power, and more so after being elected. They have been consistent in their beliefs, which were formed from direct experience while doing NGO work. I have met a few of them who have never exchanged their North Stars for the crass glitter of power and money for its own sake.

But do they also have egos? And if they do, what is the difference between them and their cretin-like colleagues?

The answer is, yes, they do have big egos like every public person has. The difference is that their egos seem to operate differently. Theirs are in consonance with the true interests of the greater number of people. They are not just in it for themselves.

They get a great kick when they are able to institute reform and can change their constituents’ lives for the better. They feel validated when they are able to change the way government is run which results in more efficiency and transparency. They also take it to heart when the country is suffering. I have seen some of them get affected personally when tragedies strike. They go out voluntarily to help the needy. I have also seen them risk their careers by taking principled stands when it would have been so much more convenient to just play it safe.

I guess a way to describe their egos would be this: it is an ego so big the whole country and all its collective concerns and dreams fit inside it.

If you have not chosen your candidates, ask around and see how much richer your re-electionists have become since the time they started up to the present. If they can’t explain their wealth in great detail backed up with a yearly SALN report, then chances are they fail the honesty test. I personally draw a strict line on this issue. I will not vote any thief into office.

Also, if you are voting an incumbent, you may want to look at their records and see which issues they supported. Take the RH and the Sin Tax bills as examples. Did they ever explain their votes satisfactorily whether for or against? Or did they succumb to pressure because they feared reprisal from the Church and big business?

Lastly, do you sense a compassionate side in your candidates? Ask yourself whom these candidates are there for. Whose interest are they beholden to? Which interests do they serve? Let us remind ourselves that we are not duty bound to give them jobs and careers.

A lot of voters, I feel, tend to look at their leaders in shallow one-dimensional terms. To them, politicians are either good or bad. The truth is they are just like you and me except that their lives are played out in the open. There are the generally good, decent ones, many more less than decent, and those who are downright scoundrels. Some of them really care and then there are those who just pretend to care.

Many can seduce you easily with their charisma. I found myself participating in a benign and friendly conversation with one such politician. I should have been less friendly since I knew him to be a thief, murderer and a despicable person. But up close, I must admit he had charm enough to temporarily soften me up.

This May 13, many politicians will be asking us to put them into positions of power, and to entrust the future of this nation to them. I’ve looked at each candidate and have asked who I can trust to honestly and conscientiously dispense billions of pesos in pork to those in great need. I have asked which ones have personal dignity to conduct themselves in ways that are respectful of their position and the nation. Who among them are intellectually and morally capable of crafting laws that will serve and improve the lives of the majority of Filipinos? In turn, we must ask who will largely be invisible, absent and will be useless in discussions and debates? Lastly, who among them will largely be the cause of gridlock?

We all need a lot of discernment to vote wisely. I wish us all good luck. May we be deserving enough to vote the best among them.