Well. What do you know. This was not anything even remotely close to what I planned for May, or any day for that matter. Farewell, plans. Hello, surprises.
How long has it been since I last wrote for my Sunday column? And where do I even start to tell you where I’ve been, what I’ve been through and how I’ve felt, where I am right now? The past month has gone by in a blur.
Last March 26, I went to Tacloban where, straight from the plane, I wore our official yellow campaign jersey, and proceeded to Palompon to join a huge caravan for my husband who was running as a congressional candidate for the fourth district of Leyte. From Palompon the caravan inched through all the other towns before finally going to Ormoc. It was my first day away from my TV commitments. I had asked permission and made prior arrangements to go on leave until a few days after the elections, and the one thing I knew for sure was that I was going to throw all of me a hundred percent behind my man for 45 days, and beyond, if God willed it for us. Then, I was just a wife devotedly campaigning for her husband. I was going to give it my all, however long the days ahead would prove to be, however hard it got.
I say that not to be dramatic, but simply because I had no delusions about who and what we were up against. We were boldly taking on the proverbial Goliath, make no mistake about that. As fate would have it my husband had decided to heed an almost palpable call for change, taking by the horns a political dynasty deeply rooted in influence and power. It was something they were not about to give up either easily or graciously.
Factually, and at the risk of sounding over-confident, very early in the game we already knew that what we lacked in finances we more than made up for in platform and trust rating. My husband, from the time he started going around the district a year and a half ago, has always enjoyed the confidence of the people, something that steadily grew as time went by. From an initial lead, survey-wise, of 4 percent overall, that figure ballooned to a comfortable double-digit lead of 27 percent overall (36 percent in Ormoc alone) two weeks to go before election day. And there lay the problem.
Just when I thought it would be a fairly easy ride, the very thing that we had going for us was to become core of our political woes. The opponent knew that the only way to beat my husband would be to disqualify him (on the issue of residency). They acknowledged that fact to the point that they worked on little else. While we went to every nook and cranny of the district relaying our platform, the opponent also went to every nook and cranny announcing that Richard was already disqualified and that if the people insisted on voting for him their vote would not be counted and would just go to waste.
But first, a little back story. I have experienced two elections, the first one my husband won overwhelmingly with his party mates (although they were not proclaimed despite the mandate they got) and the second he lost graciously. I would like to say that I am battle-scarred enough to know that in the greater scheme of things there is really very little we can control. You do what you can, with all you’ve got, hope for the best, but true wisdom will dictate that you must leave all else at God’s feet to do as He pleases.
The sum of those two experiences, along with bits and pieces from my life outside of that, has taught me to pray the hardest but most beautiful prayer, one that can be said in five little words “Lord, Your will be done.”
Through all the uncertainty, the highs and lows, the physical, emotional and mental exhaustion, the personal attacks, all the punches they threw our way, that was the only prayer that gave me a great measure of peace. When you want to do little else but pull your hair out and throw your hands up in the air, there was always Heaven to look up to, God to call on. The relentless onslaught of legal battles, all rooted on disqualifying Richard, numbed us to the point that nothing they did had the power to shock us anymore. It became obvious that, despite our greatest hopes, no matter how strong we believed the merits of our case were, the opponent was going to stop at nothing to achieve that end. At a certain point, I must admit that I honestly did not know anymore what to pray for, nor did I even know what I wanted for sure.
When you join a contest, a race, anything of that sort, underlying that is always the hope of winning, whatever the odds are. Of course it is nice to win. It would be hypocritical to say otherwise. But when you are just too embattled, and when the playing field becomes far from just or fair (who ever said it was, anyway), in the same way that it can make you stronger and even more determined than you already are, I have thus far learned that it can also push you to surrender. To stop wriggling and running like a headless chicken. To just be still and know that, hey, there IS God. No matter what the Earth does, God will have the final say. There is only so much mere mortals like us can do. What will be, will be.
So as the battle deepened and the election heat heightened it became easier and easier to just…… surrender. It kept us sane, it kept the vision clear, it kept the hope alive. It simplified everything. We stopped relying fully on our own human efforts and started trusting even more and more in God’s hand, on things both great and small. That was when things started really falling into place. Without having to go into details, the timing of how a series of little events came together to suddenly shift the landscape in our favor was just too impeccable to be considered coincidental.
Someone up there was looking out for us. If anyone chooses to believe otherwise at the very least I can say that it sure felt that way. Wonderful friends and prayerful family came through for us, keeping us together when all else seemed to be crumbling apart. Even in the eye of the storm when all seemed pitch dark, there was always that feeling that it would only be a matter of time until the light shone on us again. It is a knowing you get in the gut even if you see no neon signs. I think it is this great thing simply called faith.
The question I am asked most often now after why I decided to substitute is how I feel about the whole thing. And how I intend to go about it knowing that not only am I a greenhorn in this field, this was obviously not even on any of my wish lists, from the time I was old enough to dream dreams and make them come true until now. I am an accidental candidate, yes, I am that. I officially substituted for my disqualified husband five days before election day. How crazy is that? It reads like the plot of a movie.
So why did I run in my husband’s place? It was a decision that did not come without tears. How I wept, for my husband and all the injustice he had to deal with, for myself staring like I was at an important crossroad I could not run away from in conscience. I remember thinking how very happy I already was in my life before all this. At 35, I had already discovered my passions, I was blessed with multiple chances to do the very things that make me feel alive. I enjoyed the gift of family and friends, I had all that mattered to make life beautiful. Why complicate it with politics?
It was easy to say no, or so it seemed. But the harder I thought about it and the deeper I prayed I knew the right thing to do was say yes, fearful and nervous as I was of all that that one word could bring. The deciding point was when I thought back to why my husband ran in the first place. We thought we were done with politics after the last elections, we had closed our doors. But one day, from seemingly out of nowhere, a call came that changed everything. That person seriously pursued him from that day on to answer the clamor in our district. More calls from other people, other big families, followed after that.
That the people placed their support overwhelmingly behind him almost immediately was testament to the fact that a great majority was hungry for something and someone new. The way the people of Ormoc and the 4th district of Leyte have embraced Richard as their own is humbling and heartwarming, something I will always be grateful and thankful for.
Difficult a decision as it was to make, saying yes was what gave me the most peace. It felt right for the heart. Over and above that, I could not stomach the fact that, with my husband’s disqualification, the people would not have a choice. We live in a democracy, and the people hold the right to choose who they want their leader to be through an election and not because someone was subjected to disqualification.
Besides, I remember thinking that I did not want to be 85 years old one day, look back to this time in my life and regret that I did not do something when I had the chance to. So with a steady heart and trembling flesh I ran in my husband’s place. All of a sudden I was the candidate.
With only five days to go, I could not realistically campaign extensively. I knew my greatest advantage was that Richard enjoyed such a wide lead and all that needed to be done, if God so willed it, was for that trust and confidence to be transferred to me. I took a leap of faith, and awaited my fate with peace in my heart. Whatever happened, I knew God was holding us in the palm of His hand. Win or lose, His will shall prevail. I was okay with however the cookie would crumble.
So. Here I am. This is where I am now. I have officially been elected to serve. The gargantuan task that has fallen on my shoulders is something I take seriously and I owe it to the people to give it my all, to do my best, so please, please help me God. I am fully committed to serve honestly, faithfully, sincerely. I know there is a great learning curve ahead, but I guess I just have to trust in something and Someone greater than myself. I’m sure the One who put me here has plans of seeing me through this.
Everyone says that politics is the game of the devil. Maybe. But I also believe that one does not have to be a demon to get the job done well. I ask that you keep me in your prayers, and that you wish me well.
Life. It really is like a box of chocolates. Forrest Gump was right all along.
View on PhilStar.com