Elections come and go every three (3) years in the Philippines. In fact, the mid-term elections have just concluded, where the Filipinos vote for twelve senators and local government officials.
Philippine national elections just happen to be the biggest fiesta nationwide, and this recent one was no exception. As of this writing, with more than half of the total votes counted, it looks like familiar names once again mark the impending winners for key government posts. Fernando Poe Jr.’s daughter, Vice-president Jejomar Binay’s daughter, Joseph “Erap” Estrada re-elected, are just to name a few.
And here I thought Filipinos take elections very seriously. Underneath all that posturing, instead it looks like the usual reflections of the pwede-na-yan, bahala-na, and impunity mindsets. Let’s not forget to mention as well that Filipinos are still stuck on voting using popularity and name recall as the main determinants.
Because Filipinos have ingrained the pwede-na-yan, bahala-na, and the impunity mindsets deep into their psyche, it is no wonder then that some of the prevailing wisdom during elections reflects these traits.
The following are some of the more appalling bits of this election “wisdom” that I have come across in my lifetime:
(1) “If you don’t vote, you have no right to complain.”
I have every right to complain, because these elections are my tax money at work, regardless of whether I voted or not. Filipinos seem to think that voting is a right, and that if you don’t exercise your right, it is your loss. Voting is a privilege that must be used wisely. And the people don’t use it wisely. They also think that using it is their only choice.
If I can rest assured that the government we elect truly represents our best interests, then I can stay mum. If electorate collectively truly knows how to value track record and competence as absolute prerequisites for electing government officials, then I can stay mum. If I can trust that the process of choosing our leaders is sound, then I will keep mum.
It is those who know that the process is flawed and still voted regardless who have no right to complain. Those who voted also implicitly agree that the will (or tyranny) of the majority is to be abided by. So if the majority makes the wrong decision, then the rest have to abide by it. After all, isn’t this how Filipinos define their “democracy”?
Has anybody ever thought of zero voter turn-out for elections? I know this is impossible, but if people participate in a process they lend legitimacy to despite being aware of the flaws, then what does that make them? Obedient drones.
(2) “Vote for the lesser evil.”
I saw this on my Facebook feed on the morning of election day:
Vote for the lesser evil because at the end of the day, whether you like it or not, we will elect 12 new senators. Leaving blanks in your ballot = “any of the others will do”. It increases the chances of candidates you dislike.
Just how in the world did “leaving blanks in your ballot” = “any of the others will do”?
Vote for the lesser evil = compromise = pwede-na-yan.
Leaving blanks in your ballot = no other one measures up to my standards.
What increases the chances of candidates you dislike, is your adding to their votes. What increases the chances of candidates you dislike, is compromising your standards and principles just to fill in the required number of shaded circles. What increases the chances of candidates you dislike, is sacrificing principle just to keep certain candidates from winning.
Principles – such a big word for an electorate who all too easily succumb to the lure of the quick fix, the easy way out, and the instant material reward. An electorate with a condition that resembles attention deficit disorder is a dream come true for a con man/charlatan.
“We need government officials who are competent, honest, pro-people, and…ooh, what is that shiny little thing!!!”
Vote for the lesser evil? I would rather not vote at all.
Obviously, even some enlightened folks can get it wrong.
(3) “I have voted and am proud to have done my part.”
Now, what? Are Filipinos going to stop there and say bahala-na in between election years?
One of the key assumptions present in Filipino society is that elections are the be-all and end-all of “practicing democracy”. In truth, they constitute but one step in the entire practice of it. The hard part, where Filipinos predictably shy away from, is holding their elected leaders accountable between elections.
If your politicians get away with not keeping their promises and platforms presented while campaigning, don’t blame it on them entirely. The other half of the equation is vigilance. They get away with being unscrupulous only because we allow them to.
So pictures of people showing off their index fingers with indelible ink were the trend on Facebook last May 13? If the people think their “civic duty” stops there, then I think they’re better off pasting pictures of themselves picking their nose. The output would be more evident, and at least they would actually have something to show for it.
(4) “The people will make the right choice.”
The people will make the popular choice. Is “popular” necessarily “right”? No, and rarely will the two ever intersect.
In the absence of principles, and standards for electing public officials, what fills in the void is popularity. Quite simply, Filipinos have either been willfully ignoring the issues that have been confronting them, or they’ve been too proud and/or too dense to admit that they actually have a problem.
Filipinos deserve the politicians they elect.
Step back and start to question conventional “wisdom”. Is voting the only legitimate way to show that we are practicing “democracy”? Is voting a right or a privilege? Do people really have no choice but to vote, otherwise they shouldn’t complain? Are principles and standards for selecting public officials really negotiable? Is it really worth it to sacrifice principles and standards for “the lesser evil” and “winnability”? Does the electorate’s duty end once the people have cast their ballot? Is the right choice necessarily the popular choice?
Filipinos need to take their elections more seriously. That starts with a basic understanding of what elections are really all about, and how they fit in into the bigger process of practicing democracy properly. The ethics of self-responsibility and personal accountability must be inculcated at the root of Filipino society. Filipinos need to invest in long-term gains, and not just quick fixes.
Finally, they must learn not to regard their politicians as gods who can do no wrong. They shouldn’t be put on a pedestal to be worshiped; they are there to serve the public, and thus every bit of their platform and track record is to be examined thoroughly. Don’t believe and fall for everything that you hear from them.
To conclude, let me leave you with a bit of election wisdom from the late and great comedian George Carlin:
Everybody complains about politicians. Everybody says they suck. Well where do people think these politicians come from? They don’t fall out of the sky; they don’t pass through a membrane from another reality.
This is the best we can do, folks. This is what we have to offer. It’s what our system produces: garbage in, garbage out.
If you have selfish, ignorant citizens, you’re gonna get selfish ignorant leaders.
So maybe, maybe, maybe it’s not the politicians who suck. Maybe something else sucks around here, like, the public.
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