As the tropical heat remains high in the Philippines, so too does the fervor of political aspirants itching to secure their spots in the next election. The unmistakable signs of election season are already blooming along streets and highways, where once-empty billboards are now adorned with smiling faces, catchy slogans, and promises that sparkle as brightly as newly polished shoes.

To outshine their rivals, some contenders have taken to distributing goods like they’re the modern-day reincarnations of Santa Claus, sans the reindeer. One can’t stroll through a market without tripping over a free bag of something, or a freshly minted T-shirt bearing the name and face of an aspiring councilor. It’s a heartwarming sight, albeit a slightly cynical one, as these sudden outbursts of generosity coincide suspiciously with their candidacies. But who are we to complain when a freebie is involved?

Social media is becoming the battleground of choice for the ambitious hopefuls. Once dormant profiles now burst into life with carefully curated posts showcasing their tireless dedication to public service. Facebook feeds are flooded with photos of candidates holding babies, planting trees, and attending every conceivable barangay event. Even those who were previously more elusive than a rare bird sighting are now out in full force, eager to share their good deeds with the world. It’s almost enough to make you believe they’ve been doing this all along.

However, not all that glitter is gold. The darker side of election fever often rears its ugly head, where mudslinging becomes the sport of choice. Rather than simply promoting their platforms, some candidates resort to tarnishing their competitors’ reputations with all the finesse of a pig in a mud bath. It’s a dirty game and one that leaves a bad taste in the mouths of voters who yearn for a cleaner, more dignified contest. After all, nothing says “trust me” like a smear campaign against the other guy.

As the election draws nearer, the buzz only intensifies. It’s a colorful spectacle, a mix of genuine efforts to win hearts and underhanded tactics that would make Machiavelli proud. While self-promotion is part and parcel of the democratic process, it’s the recourse to threats and violence that threatens to stain the very fabric of Philippine democracy. Here’s to hoping that the upcoming election can rise above the murk and deliver a contest that’s as vibrant and honest as the aspirations of the people it aims to serve.