Friday, April 16, 2004

God Bless the Mini-Stop

I'm writing this as I breakfast (at 3pm) on fried chicken and rice at the newly opened Mini-Stop a short hop away from where I currently live. Marco's mentioned this chain of convenience stores, and its presence has also been acknowledged by my good friend Tobie. That I'm singing its praises probably speaks of how entrenched Mini-Stop (and convenience store culture) is in these parts.

I can recall many years ago, a time when 7-11 was only known in the 'States. Marcos was still king and Imelda was still hobnobbing with Brooke Shields, the Reagans, George Hamilton and Van Cliburn. We had supermarkets back then, notably Queens in Cubao and Cherry Foodarama, whose radio ads were given extensive airtime. But long before we had any of those, we were already ahead of the convenience game with the local sari-sari store. (By the by, I'm not talking about the clothes store. Sari-sari in the local lingo means "variety/varied": think of a primitive 7-11.)

The sari-sari store was, and still is, a fixture of local neighborhoods, villages and towns. It was a center for commerce, gossip, and er, social drinking: big, burly, intimidating tattooed slobs could be found trading stories of valor and sexual prowess, if not the merits of different philosophies and religious affiliations over beer or a warm bottle of marca demonyo. Occasionally, it was a venue for romance as well.

tin-da-han ni Aa-ling Ne-ena... /
...mura na at sari-sari pa ang itinitinda/
pero ang tanging nais ko ay/
'di nabibili ng pera

lyrics from "Tindahan ni Aling Nena" by the Eraserheads

The trouble with these places was that, at that time, they shut down hours before midnight, even over the objections of the aforementioned tattooed burly philosopher-drunks. 'Course, it was smack dab towards the end of Martial Law: you can't really object to even burlier men threatening to haul your bum to the hoosegow for vagrancy.

While I still frequent the local sari-sari store, for its charm and easy access to gossip, romance and overpriced goods, I'm glad for the 7-11's and the Mini-Stops that have graced my life. For an insomniac zombie like myself, they're a boon: a stopover from where you can purchase what you need and get back to whatever it was you were doing in the dead of the night or in the full light of day.

The Filipino and the Wasted Vote

I'd be lying if I said that nothing galls me more than the logic behind voting on the basis of "winability." If you are passionate, principled or at least opinionated, a lot of stuff will be high on the list of things that gall you. But regardless of how high it is on my list of annoyances, the logic does gall nevertheless.

Simply stated, it's this: "in the end, my vote cancels out your vote." A statistical truism regardless of why the voter cast his ballot, or whether he voted with his conscience. In this line of reasoning, it is not profitable to vote for someone who represents the actual interests of the people if the public mood, public perception and "the surveys" say he will trail far behind his nearest rival. Your vote will likely be part of a minority of dissenting voices and will "inevitably" be crushed; you will be left with the rotten feeling that you did not back a winner. (Do people who vote like this really expect largesse to trickle down to them from the great god Patronage?)

This smacks of an unhealthy cynicism, misplaced priorities, and of all things, collective laziness and a willingness to be led by "Wag the Dog" scenarios. It doesn't speak well of us as a nation.

I've always maintained that the democracy we live in can be described as "young" or "false" (take your pick); that the Filipino is still an agrarian and a feudal animal, always preoccupied with jockeying for social, sexual and physical power and backing the people who dangle those prospects in front of him, costs to society be damned. The logic of "the wasted vote" only reinforces that view. It bespeaks of a people who are preoccupied with power for its own sake, being more concerned with backing winners than with standing up for their convictions (we do make a big deal of our posturing as if we were ready to die for such big words as "freedom" or "democracy" and "human rights" every time we gather in large numbers along EDSA).

This is not behavior you'd expect from a people steeped in modern civics.

Right now, I'm prepared to respect someone who votes for Poe if he truly believes that Poe is The Solution to our country's woes-- though that's a little hard to do, as I just saw a recent picture of him and Loren Legarda arm in arm with Imelda, Bong Bong and Imee from an Ilocos sortie-- than a man who backs Poe just because he'll be backing a winner.

There was a time when I didn't get it, but I understand now. This is a truth that transcends "wasted vote" statistics: a man who votes because of his convictions in the face of overwhelming odds stacked against his candidate is a man who can act on those convictions, in large ways and small, whether his candidate wins or loses. If I must make concessions to statistics, it is in that we need more of these men, now more than ever.

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