A tale of vote-buying: ‘Badil’

There are movies that slowly unfurl right before your eyes.

Badil starts slow, shot in a distant place from the metro, focusing on the people who are seldom in the spotlight of nightly news. There are no dramatic dialogues, only normal exchanges among people. In this case, conversations that happen 24 hours before election day in a little province in Samar. Politicians are shown only through posters, but it doesn’t diminish their presence as their men distribute money for the people. Here’s for your grocery items, for your hospital bills, for your relative’s funeral, for your daughter’s scholarship – galing yan kay mayor. People from the grassroots are given more focus – the poor who have grown dependent from bigays, the poor who have grown accustomed to ‘mannas from heaven.’

But that is not all. Because of extreme penury, these people sell their votes for 1,000 pesos come election time, enough to buy kilos of rice. If your family is huge, enough to pay for debts and fishing implements. Due to intense competition for more money and more power, some who has already been paid to vote for Candidate A will flip for Candidate B, of course for a higher price.  Why settle for fishing implements if you can get enough money to buy your boat’s motor engine? All these are happening in the most casual sense, as Lando, portrayed by Jhong Hilario, takes his father Ponso (Dick Israel) to a stroll in their small island with stacks of money in hand.

Ponso is one of the mayor’s most trusted people who does the dirty job. But he falls ill later that day after suffering stroke a year before, and Lando is expected to take the responsibility of his father, which is to make sure that enough votes will come through for their candidate. The plot grows more intense as a suspected “dinamita” is said to have been looming in nearby barrios, which means political rivals are paying voters in exchange of their blotted pointing finger to refrain them from voting.

Here lies Lando’s moral dilemma, the heart of the story, whether he should put his dignity first and start a new life free from all linkages that bind him from any politico, or help the mayor who has taken care of their family, his sister’s education, his father’s hospital bills, and even paid for his own motorcycle. Lando asks himself, bayan o sarili? Penury or dignity?

Chito Roño has made a masterpiece that shows how politics has been deeply intertwined with Filipino family and culture that it has become a business, a way of living, for some. It shows how this democracy, this electorate system we’ve strongly fought for and protected, has been twisted to a definition we can somehow make-believe won’t hurt our conscience and our own interests. When your own father hands you a gun and commands you to protect your mayor, how can you refuse? Lando represents the plight of each Filipino caught in the game of election. A game that doesn’t really stop when plastered faces on the walls have been taken down, or when political jingles have died down.

It is important to note that poverty can make a person do a lot of things, and judgment comes easy when we have not been submerged in the same orientation as they have. The cycle of giving and receiving can only do so much for the people who are not taught to stand on their own, who are taught to depend on a persona rather than an efficient administration.

As the tension builds up from plans of shootouts and million-worth of bribes, Lando puts one of his foot out the door for his girlfriend Jen (Nikki Gil) and their future child. But being wary cannot do anything for Lando who has promised his father his own allegiance to the world of politics. In this game, everybody has a gun. Everybody runs.

The movie ends with Lando nursing a cup of cappucinno in his hands, as he directly sits in front of the public school where he should also cast his vote. There stands his father with a cane, greeted by neighbors and friends who have benefitted from the shower of money hours earlier. Like a true politician, Ponso shakes hands with everyone, reminding them where the money came from. The stream of cash will only continue if you vote for the ‘right’ person, he implies.

Lando washes his guilt with his cappuccino, slowly, intently, until things become normal for him again. Maybe he just needs to stomach the system. Maybe he just needs to drink down the misery of death. Besides, all these vote buying, all this politics, is nothing but normal.

Watch the movie here.

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