Is “voting wisely” even an option?

The Philippine General Elections for 2022 had already began when the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) welcomed various political candidates from all walks of life as they applied for certain national or local positions. Some were old, some were young, some were familiar, some were unknown, and some were something in between those lines. However, since the Philippines only gets to choose the country’s chief executive once every six years as mentioned by the Constitution, all eyes were on the presidential hopefuls.

Electing a Philippine president would always have its own cultural and historical value that mirrors the peculiarities of our archipelagic nation. Way before smartphones and telecom groups like Samsung, Apple, and Huawei were raking in financial benefits brought by 3G technology, Philippine politics had already been marred by its own version of 3G: Guns, Goons, and Gold. Assassination, intimidation, and bribery were the names of the game when you play politics and vie for public office in the Philippines. To a certain extent, these three demeaning acts are still being done to political opponents, supporters, and voters, but it has continuously evolved as Internet usage permeated the lives of ordinary Filipinos. These technologies might have mitigated such dangers especially to human life, but it can nevertheless be disheartening and intoxicating.

Even though the Information Age transformed how elections and politics are played, it doesn’t change the notion that the Philippine electoral system is bound to degrade with time, where there is premeditated degeneration brought by the frailties and flaws of the 1987 Constitution. Taking a look at how a presidential candidate takes Malacanang Palace in an electoral process, a presidentiable only needs to have a numerical advantage over his or her fellow presidentiables. Basically, the candidate who gets the biggest number wins, whether he or she won it through a majority vote or as a plurality vote. As such, it can be safely said that the most popular candidate would emerge victorious. Looking at the Philippines that is very attached to popularity and creating impressions, we have romanticized elections where these individuals would entertain their supporters and woo possible voters in numerous creative ways, which would include singing, dancing, and displaying acts of charity where political campaigns are becoming like noon-time, variety, Philippine TV shows.

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A number of individuals would say that the best way to counter this degeneration of Philippine elections is to “vote wisely”, where a voter would meticulously check a candidate’s background, character, and political platform. Others would say that one can counteract this degeneration by “voting according to one’s conscience”, where practicing the right to suffrage entails discerning what is wrong from what is right. However, let’s be practical here since the ideal is far from what is real. If everyone is going to vote wisely and vote accordingly to one’s conscience, we’d end up compelling ourselves to look for saints in the company of sinners. The conclusion is that, we’ll just keep on chasing pavements over and over again.

To learn how elections ought to be, observing the third and the fourth largest economies of the world might provide us with good insights, specially considering that they are holding or have held their general elections this year. Japan would hold their general elections in a few weeks where the current administration of LDP and Komeito are expected to retain a majority of their seats, while Germany has just recently concluded theirs, where the centrist-left party SPD won the largest number of seats in the Bundestag, followed by the centrist-right party CDU-CSU. These two countries are known liberal democracies, where they elect representatives to the parliament, who in turn help in determining who would be the country’s head of government.

It is interesting to notice that when they hold elections for their respective parliaments for the lower house, there are only two parts where Japanese and German voters practice their right in the ballot. First, they choose who their representative would be in their respective congressional district, and then they choose what political party they are going to cast a vote for, where parliamentary seats are awarded to the political parties in accordance to the percentage of votes they have garnered. These are tallied and, later, these political parties would get to know who gets to form the government.

Both cases show a significant degree of simplicity for the voters, which is in contrast to the Philippine electoral system, where we choose a president, a vice president, 12 senators, a party-list, a governor, a vice governor, a congressional representative, a number of board members, a mayor, a vice mayor, and a number of councilors. Depending on one’s domicile, some positions might be written on the ballot, while others would be absent (for example, Metro Manila voters have no need to elect a governor, a vice governor, and board members). Nevertheless, it is evident that choosing candidates during general elections in the Philippines is both a daunting and a stressful task. I am even unsure if every voter is provided with the best resources in applying these “vote wisely” and “vote according to conscience” notions that a number of individuals are perennially calling for. We cannot hold ourselves and fellowmen accountable as voters when the electoral system itself calls for the complicated game to be played blatantly with underhanded tactics.

If we want to embrace voter accountability, adopting parts of the Japanese and German elections might help. A voter-friendly ballot would allow the voter to look for issues that would serve his or her interests the most, instead of just relying on name recall. A clear example is when the German Green Party gained a significant amount of seats in the Bundestag as more Germans are more conscientious regarding climate change issues. A voter-friendly ballot would also better reflect the conditions and the needs of the electorate. In an instance where one citizen dislikes his/her representative’s performance, the voter might as well choose a different candidate as a sign of protest and discontent. If it is the other way around, this citizen can ought to elect the incumbent as a symbol of support and continuity.

It might sound radical, but I am in favor of greatly simplifying elections in the Philippines. Creating an electoral system where voters would only choose one representative in Congress for the national government and another member of the board or councilor in their respective local government unit would sound extreme, but this would remove numerous social diseases associated with our elections. These congressional representatives would convene and choose who will be the head of the government, while these board members or councilors do the same in their own localities. Of course, there are nitty-gritty parts that need to be addressed, but it doesn’t change the fact that such reformation and restructuring of the system is a must if we are to uplift the lives of marginalized Filipinos. After all, everyone becomes only a number come election time. Election in a democracy is an equalizer, and it is meant to be one.

8 Replies to “Is “voting wisely” even an option?”

    1. What the hell are you talking about? Bloc voting is not the “culture” in the Philippines.
      Duterte and Robredo were not running mates. They did not run under the same party.

  1. Elections come and go, however, our lives as ordinary Filipinos remain the same…we elect the: crooks, the incompetents and the fraudsters…

  2. Voting wisely and voting according to one’s conscience will always be the essence, not merely an option, in any democratic election process.

    The election system we have right now is not perfect but doing it away in exchange for some new and unexplored system would only be inviting ruination. Japan and Germany are vastly different from us, politically, economically and militarily. I’ll stop there for fear of elaborating the obvious.

    I would rather approach the problem in having electoral reforms, incremental they may be, to correct and improve the election process in the context of our socio-cultural and historical framework.

    As an example, I think everybody supports the idea of modernizing the election process by adopting new systems and technological devices to safeguard the election procedure as well as maintaining a credible and reliable voter’s list and registration. The rapid development in science and technology would greatly contribute to the improvement of our electoral process.

    As we put emphasis on the mechanisms and instruments that makes the electoral system work, it is also equally important to put priority on the human factor that goes with whole exercise: the voters.

    Poverty-stricken, uneducated, and political ninnies abound the political landscape. They usually matter the most during campaign periods and abandoned after the declaration of winners. It’s one political cycle we have to get rid off.

    The candidates, the political parties, the COMELEC, etc. There’s a lot to do I admit but we can do it slowly, steady and successfully. I hope.

  3. While changing the voting system to vote based on parties instead of individual candidates kind of makes sense, if one party has messed up you vote for the other party…

    There is also plenty of downfalls in party based voting….

    In the USA one essentially has 2 choices (and they are very close in most regards) and both those parties continually make it almost impossible for any type of 3rd party to have a seat at the table.Ron Paul and Bernie Sanders are two recent examples.

    The Philippines needs their political parties to not be ran by idiots. The Liberal Party is a perfect example. How can a political party go from having most of the seats in senate/congress a president in the past 10 years to now essentially having nothing…..

    PDP-Laban might be in the same boat in 10 years. It is amazing how much of a blunder the whole Cusi-Pimentel is. They were in a perfect position to get the presidency and control Senate/house…. yet here they are in a mess.

  4. In other words, we should abolish elections for the president, VP and senators, and just have the House Speaker become the automatic head of state. That’s much simpler actually, but it’s pretty doubtful Filipinos will be willing to part from their once-in-6-years opportunity and right to directly choose the president; that’s like giving up one’s driver’s license in favor of having the bus company choose who will drive for you. Quezon wanted a Philippines run like hell by Filipinos – and that’s what we’ll always get (noon-time show dancing during elections). If anyone is not happy, there will always be those greener pastures of Canada and New Zealand which await you.

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