Teddy Casiño was trapped in an airport in Kalibo hassled by the lovely service of an airline known for piso fare promos, the same airline Jesa and I, we and our friends turned to for short Visayan excursions this year; the first one, in what turned out to be an eye-to-eye intercourse with soil ravaged by Yolanda, previously only reported to us two years ago by Karen Davila and Noli de Castro and their feigned disinterest; the second one, with families and provincial dreams. Both prostituted parades of water and beaches and clear blue. Both also featured delayed flights, delayed flights from beloved Air Asia.
What could then be the possible significance of Teddy Casiño, former Bayan Muna Representative, enduring hours after hours as a result of his delayed flight back to Manila? I was looking at the photo he posted in his blog, accompanying his retelling of what sounds like a nightmarish experience – and with the smaller, happier template picture of him on the side, one can feel the lurking hilarity as well as a telling insight ( I happily maintain this blog to house and critique not-so-happy life events) there — and I was wondering how different was Casino’s look with the look of the people, my look, Jesa’s look while we were waiting for the flight that will take us from Tacloban to Manila last July. His picture is not that of the adorned congressman that he was in the past, especially during State of the Nation Addresses when he wore themed barongs. His face was crumpled, there’s fatigue imaginable in even what the photo cannot capture. Teddy Casino, former Bayan Muna representative was trapped in the best of airline services, looming just like us, sweaty, penniless, rugged people on the ground. But with this experience, to what extent was Teddy really “like us” and what does it matter? And who is the “us” here? Who are the “us” here abused in ways forthright or discreet – left waiting millions of minutes after scheduled flights, with neither token dinners nor humble apologies?
I Slept in the Airport with a Former Congressman and
But this is not the old tune of identification eklat, a gross simplification, even an idealization of actual relations. So inspiring naman, the congressman is just like his people, getting on economy plane rides. He dispenses with the life of luxury. Clap Clap Clap! The problem with such retorts is that it is underpinned by actual inequalities which then make such display of oneness seemingly so special. This also explains why the ridiculous blunders of current Presidential candidates Roxas and Binay whose images online intend to show their ‘oneness’ with the poor are ineffective. Aside from the sheer unreliability of such postures, they only, perhaps unwittingly, work to reveal the real gaps between them, aspiring presidents and their would-be constituents – a gap that spreading such images intends to cover up, but to no avail.
The case of Teddy is, I believe, different. Unlike most politicians, he does not use his position in the government as an exercise in financial milking. In his three terms as the Bayan Muna Partylist Representative in the Congress, Teddy, along with the rest of the Makabayan bloc, has consistently been part of the legislators with the lowest net income. I can share a first-hand experience which can attest to this, although this involved ex-Congressman Mong Palatino of Kabataan Partylist. When I was still volunteering for the College Editor’s Guild of the Philippines, we had to accompany and schedule activities for Mong while he was in Baguio. Once, he arrived in Baguio much earlier than he informed us so he had to spend time waiting in the bus terminal – for yes, he took the bus. When we arrived to fetch him, he was lying on one the benches, snatching some sleep, bags on his stomach. Mong was there in a common bus terminal, evading the taunts of the morning’s wee hours, clutching his bag while sleeping, among other people just like us. Ah, this “just like us” phrase again! What do these anecdotes about Teddy and Mong – former Representatives from the Makabayan bloc – signify in relation to that?
The sly “just like us” phrase tempts us to see Mong and Teddy in an obscuring humanist lens and then invite us to identify with them. Yet the point here for me is that we cannot automatically identify with Teddy, or more convolutedly, that Teddy seeks us to identify with him; but merely, that his (and Mong’s) experiences are not far from us – with the “us” here not as encompassing as it sounds, for it refers more exactly to middle class people who have traveled by plane at least once, or have the capacity to do so and hardly includes everyone. Teddy and More were out there in the streets too, likely collecting grime and dust in their arms too, waiting and forbearing delayed flights, putting up with chilly bus terminals in a chilly city, like some of us who have been enthralled by taking a selfie in Boracay, who have been selected to join a workshop in Dumaguete, who have been part of a delegation to a conference in Davao or in Baguio.
Yet it bears reiteration and elaboration: this is different from the identification I have in mind, a political identification. You and me can discover that we both read Louis Aragon or Lualhati Bautista and that won’t mean that we will identify with each other, that we will feel in each other a vague, even mystic connection, which can only made concrete by acting on things almost singularly, acting on things with a singular vision. Doing the same thing does not suffice to enable us to identify with each other. Sometimes even, it goads us to want to outdo the other. If we both play poker, the likelihood is that we want to see who is better, we want to lay open our egotistical need to prove our attributes at the expense of others. Simply, we do not identify with the other; we see the other as competitor, other-than-us, someone, something to subjugate, something to base on, validate the ‘bestness,’ the ‘smartness,’ the ‘greatness’ we desperately seek to attach to ourselves.
Political identification, I guess means that, hey, here we are, we have shared circumstances and we have more or less agreed on how to deal with it and in doing whatever it is we have decided to do, we are not going to kill each other, we are going to hold hands and feel each other’s back. In short, it is not easy to identify with someone, or even to make people identify with your or your cause. It takes more than appellation – partly explains the lure of singularizing terms such as “ang masa” in building identification – it entails thorough immersion and continuing learning and engagement in one’s societal locations.
Seeing Teddy caught in delayed flights like some of us might have experienced as well does not constitute identification right away. There is quite a leap from seeing these shared predicaments to sharing an understanding of what makes them come about and even further, working on a shared program together in order to deal with the causes and bring about something prettier. But still, even at this level, this scenario of having shared experiences with a former Bayan Muna Congressman, is special for other reasons. We are traversing more and more ground, and from Teddy’s particular experience – which can also be ours – we shift to more general events and conditions. How lovely things work sometimes: failed exams during the finals can lead to us to ask where we went wrong; hastily given yeses can lead to ugly relationships; grueling instances in the airport can lead us to reflect on the implications of political systems; rhetorical digressions suddenly lead to a new section.
A Former Congressman is Trapped in the Airport and a Democratic Ideal is Tested
This delayed flight incident can prompt various exchanges on the workings of representative democracy. This is always needed given the typically positive valuation of this political system, a valuation that is not unrelated to the gruesome experiences under totalitarian or dictatorial systems in the past and is further bolstered by the simplistic, unintelligent dichotomization between the two – “democracy” and “totalitarianism” or dictatorship.” The notion I have is that Teddy Casino suffering what some of us suffer as well – delayed flights – indirectly, if not eerily, points at the pretensions of ‘representative’ democracy.’
The cherished justification of democratic processes is that they are being effected by ‘representatives’ of the people – which applies not only to the Congressmen who compose the House of Representatives but all government officials. The underlying idea is that every government policy, legislation, program and the like represent the interests of the people. The notion of representativeness is backed up by mentioning the democratic processes –foremost of which is the election — which legitimate such supposition. Elections are hailed as the supreme, if not the only platform where the people can exercise their political rights. And the exercise of those rights is crucial for in doing so, they choose who will represent them in the government; they choose who will represent their interests.
Here, we can see how potent the rhetoric of “representativeness” is. It assumes a neat, almost commensurate relation between the ones representing and the ones being represented. But we know too well that such relations are nebulous and indirect at best, negative and exploitative at worst.
Also requiring scrutiny is how the larger platforms where such rhetoric of “representativeness” is acted out and is valorized are usually left unscathed. The seemingly unanimous celebration of democracy as a political system silently states as if all meaningful political action are only the ones sanctioned by “democratic” processes. The discourse of democracy has set the frames and there seems to be no escaping these. It is in here that we can appreciate Badiou’s lament that “Today, the enemy is not called Empire or Capital. It’s called Democracy,” which Zizek expounded in The Year of Dreaming Dangerously as the workings of the “democratic illusion…which blocks any radical transformation of capitalist relations.”
The point is that there is more to the enactment of political agency other than those dictated by the democratic institutions – registering as a voter, voting itself, freely campaigning for candidates we support, or relatives who happen to run for office. It is in this light that we can see the immense role played by mass movements in the ways societal formations continue to take shape.
The representations at work in democracy – with those in the government having the upper hand while the constituents maneuver in limited possibilities for involvement — are premised on actual inequalities which cannot be bridged solely by means of legislations. It can even be argued that the legislative proper work to widen the gap between those with political power and those who don’t, those who rely on being ‘represented,’ between those with economic and social capital and those who have nothing but muscular or inventive labor or testable diskarte, which can verge on the risky or the illegal. Closer to the turns of the everyday, there is the experiential gap which expresses enduring inequalities that are transcribed in this country’s history. While we savor faked intimacies in the MRT most days, the best and fattest of the chosen bureaucrats have trouble choosing what private plane to use. While we secretly, sometimes openly grumble about day-to-day 9-to-5 contracts just to anticipate holiday, the best and fattest of bureaucrats make a living out of stealing our taxes or protecting their corporations or pieces of land. While we put our mouths in delayed flights, the fattest of the chosen bureaucrats are flying to their palaces abroad with their chosen comforts.
To conclude, while expectations have been prepared, intrigue is still welcome on how our political picture will continue to play. Mar Roxas is directing traffic and he looks like Garry Kasparov or Serena Williams guarding Michael Jordan in the basketball court. Or more aptly: Michael Olowakandi shooting free throws. Jejomar Binay is eating with his hands in Jollibee and it is as if Tito, Vic and Joey are trying not to be green in their jokes. We can put this comicality side by side our daily tragedies and we can consider that – aha, finally, we’ve taken one from them! Better to endure low wages and contractualization rather than be a public fool. But bigger victories are yet to be earned: more victories are to be won for plane services to significantly improve, for political representation to be more dialogic and genuine, and for distribution of power, resources and platforms for voicing out to be close to equal.