As the last few months of 2016 withered away, the thirst was real. As in six months without kind of real. From February to May I worked on a certain…uh… jaundiced… presidential campaign, and after that I visited my mother abroad, a sure guarantee that I was not going to get some. There was simply no time. By October 2016, six months since the presidential election, I was a b*tch in heat. A lonely b*tch in heat.
The political turmoil our country was embroiled in only aggravated my sense of loneliness and the need for physical touch. At the time, our Dear President was bidding goodbye to America in favor of China, and the rollicking fun that was the US presidential elections was only a month away. I turned to the eternal thumb wrestling exercise that is Tinder.
It is common millennial knowledge that Tinder is a wasteland. Not that it ever stopped anyone. It was at this time that I met M, a gentlemanly and adventurous twenty-something Aquarian. He was a chef-traveler who was rough around the edges, with a soft core and a squishy stomach. Chatting me up immediately, we bonded over South America (which we had both just been to), and our “Tito Tony” Anthony Bourdain. The very next day, first thing in the morning, he asked “Quieres cerveza?” (Do you want beer?) Sparked by our mutual wanderlust, I said “Si, indeedy, I do want thervetha,” digitally mustering a Spanish lisp.
Keeping in theme, we had dinner in a sh*tty Latin American restaurant owned by his friend. We talked and talked, as first dates go, and we tried to avoid the verbal steel cage match that strangers (and even family and friends) enter when discussing politics. But like a true Aquarian, he loved to debate and spar mentally.
He was on his fourth bottle of beer when he popped the question. “So who did you support?” he asked. “During the elections, I mean.” I should have joked Bernie Sanders and kept it at that, but instead I told him to go first. “Well, I didn’t get to vote because I was abroad,” M said. “But I campaigned for Rodrigo Duterte,” finishing his pledge of allegiance with the smug smile of the victor. After I admitted that I was a literal bayarang dilawan, having been on the payroll of a certain political party, he cracked an even wider smile. “I haven’t drank enough for this yet, teka.” I forgot most of what ensued between his fourth and sixth bottles of beer. I, a loser, nursed one bottle.
He offered to bring me home. We got in the car, but I didn’t quite make it to my home. Thusly, the six months of El Niño in La Victoria‘s southern regions ended.
We agreed to remain friends (with certain and very specific benefits). We agreed on certain principles — mutual satisfaction, respect, protection, and fun — and challenged each other not to fall in love. “Ma-in love, talo,” he said.
This went on for a couple of months. As always, M brought up the topic first, usually when we were in bed. Lighting up a cigarette and taking a drag, the script would go, “O, si Duterte, [insert crazy thing he did here],” or “Oh, did you hear about what Duterte said the other day?” then he’d narrate admiringly as I lit up my own stick and listened.
M was jaded about the Philippines until Duterte. He’s been traveling since he was a kid, which meant that he couldn’t help but compare our country to others. He’s had a fair share of betrayal by his Filipino comrades (which once cost him his job). But Duterte made him feel, Duterte made him care, Duterte made him come home. He wasn’t a baller-wearing, sticker-sporting fanatic, but he was a believer. A member of the converted.
For M, discipline meant protecting the oppressed against those who abused their power. He told me of a time when he was stalked in Dubai by a rapist. “Don’t you believe those people deserve to be punished?” he asked. “You really want someone’s hand to be cut off by a system you can’t trust?” I replied. “Better than nothing,” M said. We’d smoke through sticks, arguing just like this, going in circles. Always, before we knew it, our three hours in some room somewhere were up and we had to leave. “Next time we don’t talk politics until after we’re done,” I said.
My boy kept it real. Too real. He believed that killing drug addicts was a way of solving overpopulation. I chalked his skewed logic to the efficacy of the propaganda machine that took advantage of his rightful jadedness of the neoliberal domination in Philippine politics for the past few decades. Which is to say, nothing really has changed post-EDSA, which is, in some senses, true.
Second-wave feminists once said, “the personal is political.” And if I was fooling around with a death penalty supporter who believed in the Arab model of governance and retributive justice, what did that mean? Did I even have the right to a set of principles to call “My Political Beliefs?” This is a question that hung heavily over me during the three months that M and I were hanging out. My friends assured me that no, not necessarily. “Honey, you just thirsty,” a friend who worked for a certain senator said. “And he’s a decent person.” Subtext: “Fooling around lang naman, right?”
On our second date, we watched Rogue One. Right after, we processed the movie at the parking lot at the mall roof deck. I sat on the hood of his car, he leaned beside me. I was curious to see how someone who managed to justify extrajudicial killings processed the Star Wars saga. He pointed out the geeky trivia details. Then, he said, triumphantly, “You remember the quote? Rebellions are built on hope.” Huh. “Rebellions are built on hope,” he repeated, smiling that smug smile. What fresh hell? I may not be a Star Wars geek, but is he confusing the real Empire for the Rebel Alliance?
Is it divisive, banal, and spoilt (not to mention elitist), to not consider someone who differs from me politically as a serious romantic partner? If he voted for a different candidate instead, a certain lady in a white polo rolling-up-the-sleeves type, what would have changed? If it were a different time, say, 2010, and our counterparts voted for PNoy and Erap, would it have seemed so scandalous?
2016 became the year that sowing divisiveness turned chumps to chief executives. Enemies were made out of rivals, and more important, of their rivals’ supporters as well. Naturally the winner and his disciples follow suit. Never has the atmosphere been so fragile, you can cut the tension with a whisper. My heart still beats a little faster when I see a person wearing that signature red-and-blue baller. When the Supreme Court approved the Marcos burial, I attended dinner with nine other strangers, and for the first time felt the sense of unease when we were exchanging Facebook names. Are any of these people apologists? Will I have to fight them on my feed? My loins were girded almost automatically, always.
Aren’t the differences in our political beliefs so abstract? What is the real cost of being in a relationship, romantic or not, with someone who sees the value of the lives of human beings so differently from yours? You can still go to the movies, you can still brush your teeth beside each other, even lay in bed together. What changes?
Just because our political beliefs are abstract does not mean they are any less real. What we believe in matters especially when it elects people that enables violence, injustice, and corruption. The difference with M and I was that he saw our opposing views as just opinions— as if believing La La Land deserved all its awards is the same as believing in the death penalty. “To each his own,” was his common refrain then. Whenever I ventured in the territory of Possibly Dating M Seriously, I remember that he thinks the Marcos burial is irrelevant. Even if his ninang was celebrating the 30th year of her son’s death anniversary. He was brutally tortured, then “salvaged” during the Martial Law.
One’s political choices are never a given. They are always something arrived at, a unique combination of histories, nature, nurture, ticks in boxes, and Hogwarts House Assignments. One almost needs a map and a detailed chronicling of why and how people choose a certain way. Political differences are more than just inconveniences. One’s politics determines who gets elected in this country, and they will determine where we will go, how we will get there, and fundamentally, why. Is it for their own good, or for the good of those who need their kindness, compassion, and power, the most?
The voters may not all be cursing, rape-joking, macho men and women in motorcycles, but they elected a guy sincere about his violence. Supporters might not be completely 100% behind a candidate they elect, but they are responsible, too. “When do you draw the line?” I asked M one time. “When do you stop supporting him?” “Maybe…” he said, scratching his head. “When he doesn’t keep his promises like PNoy. Ako pa unang mag-rebelde!” Maybe what M meant was, if inequality, corruption, inefficiency, inutility still continue. I never quite convinced him that it might be too late too soon. “Give him a chance muna!” he said.
Never in the history of Philippine politics did we have a president so sincere. He has been doing what he’s said he’d do since the elections — kill drug addicts. All else was subsumed under his promise of brutality. He promised change, and change has come, cloaking us in fear, anxiety, dread and hatred. The line between people who believe like M and people who believe like me has been emboldened. I don’t think M and I will ever be on the same side. At least, not anytime soon.
M and I never quite managed to cross to the island called Blissful Romance. But he was beckoning to take the boat. Watching the trailer for Beauty and the Beast in the big screen, he said, “There’s a joke I always tell my girlfriends. I say, ‘You know, Beauty and the Beast, it’s just like us… but I’m Beauty.'” That second date turned out to be our last, and not because of the lame joke. At the darkness of the cinema, I couldn’t prevent furthering the gulf that existed between us, despite our physical closeness to each other. I blurted, a bit too loudly, “Good thing I’m not your girlfriend!”