Friday, April 10, 2009

Simulating Governance

The House of Representatives could not be more aptly named. It is peopled with experts of re-presentation – of smoke and mirrors and manipulation of perception.

As one enters the North gate, one is subjected to the ceremonial car inspection, where outsourced security guards, armed with that huge dentist-like stick with the mirror at the end, make-believe inspect the underside of your vehicle. In their gold-rimmed shades, they give the driver and the inside of the vehicle a cursory, if stern, once-over. Content that they have played their part, they wave you along and you enter, fed with a simulated sense of security.

At the Northwing lobby there stands a serious-looking metal detector, coupled with an x-ray machine. The sleepy-eyed man manning the machine presses a button to move the belt and your cargo forward, as yet more outsourced security wave you through and greet you good morning. Your only consolation is that they do a good job of appearing to mean it every day. Behind the visitor’s ID counter, two, at times three security employees chitchat idly, as they go through the motions of handing out visitor’s passes. In way the machine-like way these people go about their troubles, they give you the appropriate floor for whichever representative you’re paying tribute to.

In the dilapidated halls of a floor, a number of windows are broken. There was money to renovate the visible parts of the House complex, but not enough to fix these. Here one conveniently takes a smoke, as the ‘no smoking’ sign stands for little less than a suggestion. On this floor are a few party lists who are said to represent only their patrons. Not much of an advocate then, this one party for ‘Life.’ But then their three seats count when life-threatening bills are put to vote.

The bills and index section perfectly mirrors all others in the House, lots of tables of lower-rung bureaucrats to whom we pay tribute through our taxes. The inactivity can only be explained by redundancy. If one wants anything done quickly, one must play accordingly. Younger men will be eager to please, younger women not so, older men will leave one feeling soiled and older women must be avoided.

The state of the nation is not only well-represented when the President pays visit to her lackeys. The Session Hall is witness to a lot of simulation. It is never full, as many seats remain vacant. Often though, there is a quorum, 120 being the magic number. Through the spectacle of privilege speeches or the monotone drone of countless titles of bills read, representatives occupy their seats, filling space. Friends chit-chat and socialize. Many females like to parade the latest in fashion, pointy-toed red heels, a bright orange leather bag, an excellent job done on a hair extension.

The stacks of papers, bills waiting to be read, lay on each table, for the most part untouched. At the sidelines clients await a chance to signal to the pages, to call on representative so and so for a short audience. Between the socializing and preening, the parading and client-soothing, it is a wonder whether anyone ever really hears the arguments put forth by those who take to the podium and simulate debate.

Next year the nation will engage in an orgasm of a simulation, as we choose the next people to occupy spaces in the Session Hall, Malacañang, the Senate, our barangay halls. A most elaborate and expensive exercise, a mass hallucination of the citizenry going through the motions of this Pretend-Democracy.

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