The magic pill

Never in my history I have I worn medium-sized shirts. I wore one last Tuesday, a grey Terra Nova polo shirt. I gave up more than 70 pounds of my body weight to lifestyle change. They all ask me what secret pill it was. There is no pill, I would always say; only hard work and determination to sustain what took me a year to solve my weight problem. Hard work meant constant 1000-metre swimming laps at the pool every other day, 20-minute run every single day, and conscious resistance to high-calorie food. When the same questions are thrown again and again, I get irritated.

But I get where the magic pill question comes from. Filipinos like to think that way. Sometimes magic pills come in form of politicians who vow to people what their benefits are if they are thrust into power — even if they have no clear platform for the people. Just like herbal capsules. No therapeutic claims. Yet there are testimonies that claim they are effective. They’re so popular that an ordinary Filipino would tell you that these are the kinds of pills you would need for every health problem. Politics is not far from that. Campaign jingles carry an underlying message that we would need a charismatic politico to solve our problems.

We treat the Philippines like we’re writing a fable. I can remember one my cousins telling an anecdote of their helper why can’t Judy Ann Santos not look poor and gullible in Mara Clara when she can look rich in entertainment news. But it’s not like the amos do better than the katabangs. Many Filipinos can’t tell truth from fiction – and are not aware that they’re suffering from a sustained suspension of disbelief. Actors simply portray a fictional character; the roles that they portray have nothing to do with their real self. Apparently, we’ve expanded our appreciation of fiction. Our actors and actresses also portray real roles – in government. The thing with democracy is when people aren’t well informed — they make bad decisions. Ideally, education should solve that problem. First, I thought journalism would. After three years of doing journalism, I only learned one thing: few people read nowadays. So I moved to the academe to see what’s going on with the youth, whom according to one of our national heroes is the future of our nation.

An hour after my final class of the day began, a student nudged her nose on the window of the door, knocking. She was with a group who identified themselves as members of a political party. They came to campaign their candidates before my students. I acquiesced. The student introduced herself as the party’s campaign manager. She’s the right person for the job. She has got a modulated voice and handles it well. When you’ve been teaching for more than six hours, you would wish she’d tell you her secret how she hasn’t lost her voice yet – after hopping from one classroom to another to advertise their candidates.

Of course it was advertising. I’ve seen these student candidates package themselves in campaign materials: catchy acronyms that apparently contain their platform. Their delivery, like VJs introducing the next music video, entertains me – and disturbs me at the same time. While the stoic campaign manager began to introduce another candidate, a good-looking chinito man, the classroom was filled with euphoria. My students were shrieking while calling the guy’s name, it’s the same noise I hear in my English 13 class when I ask them why they keep on writing about Lee Min Ho.

“Sing!” yelled one of my students.

I had a knee-jerk reaction. I raised my hoarse voice, attempting to stop the circus. It sure sounded like one that night.

“Candidates are supposed to lay down their political platform – not sing,” I exclaimed.

I’m not sure what I said exactly. But it sounded like that. I apologised to the campaign manager. I tend to be paradoxically apologetic when I’m irate.

After that moment, I called for a 10-minute recess and went to my office to gasp a different air.

To avoid unnecessary tensions in various workplaces, I’ve chosen not to give a damn. But when problems repeat over and over again, I confront. My apathy doesn’t jive well with my nonconventional ideas, one of my students told me.

I’ve always thought school is where idealism is best practised. In one of their exams, I threw a question: is democracy a suitable development model in the Philippines? “Only when the Filipinos become well-educated,” was the recurring crux of their answers.

Ten minutes later, I delivered an unprepared sermon. Something was out of tune that night. My students perform well in almost any output a teacher could ask of them. Except in practice. And that, for me, is disappointing.

Ideally, democracy should work because people are given liberty to choose who they want in power. The problem is we don’t know what’s best for us because we’re misinformed. I thought it shouldn’t be the case among my students – because unlike them, they have all the potential to become educated.

Most of the time, we condemn the Philippines like it doesn’t belong to us. My students disparage it like its colonisers solely wrote it. They condemn the student government like that they not the ones who control its course.

“I’m sorry I had to say this.” My voice echoed the room. It was the longest silence I’ve heard from a class of  extroverts.

I became a teacher not because I was destined to. I became a journalist not because I had a natural affinity with writing. I embraced both professions because I’ve risen to the call of service. Many people my age, the brilliant ones, chose high-paying jobs over what they once wrote in their highschool yearbooks. I’m not a perfect teacher, nor a perfect journalist. The need to become a journalist and educator prompted me to be one. Some of the problems haunting the Philippines are caused by — us.

For the second time, I apologised.

“Don’t be,” said one of them.


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