It was a humid October afternoon when my sister and I went to register at the Commission on Elections. That was the week before the last day of voter registration. The queue was not as lengthy as we expected, but there were already about 300 people there. The size of the crowd grew quickly as more and more aspiring voters entered the hall. We got lost, not knowing where to get this and that form, where to pass this and that requirement.
I also heard complaints about the slow and inefficient registration, and bickering here and there. Some were taking photos, and I could imagine the Instagram captions flying: #registration #voter #comelec #cityhall #instainit #boredalready #whyisthistakingsolong #890123480192 384123yearstogo…
As a first-time voter, I must admit that I am excited. Speaking for myself, this is one of the privileges that an ex-minor waits for. When I was younger I was always amazed by the purple ink on my parents’ fingers every Election Day, and wondered why it wouldn’t come off easily. I looked at the ink like it was magic, and wished that I could also have my finger marked with it. As I grew older I became conscious that it was more than just a fancy mark.
I’ve long wanted to vote because the classroom tells me that it is a form of power, and I want to exercise this power. Yes, I want my voice heard regarding the people that I deem worthy of high positions in the government, those that will really work for the country. And one of the best avenues for voicing my opinion is by being part of the electorate.
Last April and early this month, the heat of the campaign period was reflected in the roads and byways of our city. Streamers and posters with photo-shopped images were hung at every post like banderitas during a fiesta. Every hour or so a mobile loudspeaker shouted a candidate’s name to get the all-important message across: “Ako ang iboto nyo” (Vote for me). The ads of senatorial candidates are run countless times on television to the tune of their campaign jingles. And yes, they pass my Last Song Syndrome standards, so that I find myself singing their songs. I am amused by the desire of these people to win in the elections. How I wish their desire to win is matched by their desire to serve.
In December 2012, I followed the passage of the reproductive health bill closely. I watched the lawmakers say “aye” and “nay,” with a number abstaining. I remember it was getting late, but I stayed up to hear my district congressman’s vote. To my disappointment, I found out we were not on the same page. I wondered what other citizens felt about how their representatives voted. Were they satisfied or aggravated? Did the votes really reflect what their constituents wanted? Or was it simply the politicians talking?
As I nursed my frustration with our congressman, I asked myself: Who allowed these legislators to be in their position, in the first place? Perhaps, as in a machine, the first piece was laid by the voters. One tick and the pieces we choose will start moving in a bid to work together—or not. Some will be effective pieces, some can go rusty, while some may impede the work because they just don’t fit in. In the end, I felt powerless in knowing that I didn’t get to choose the piece that was put in the machine.
The power we see on the tarpaulins reflects the power we can wield through the ballot. You don’t want a corrupt government? Don’t vote for corrupt people. We always blame the machine for not working well when we have played a part in its workings. Unfortunately, many people don’t see the significance of an election. Some look forward to it as a time for doles and free T-shirts, when it should be a time for us to know the candidates and examine their plans and platforms. Some choose to sell their votes as if they are selling their future away. And worse, they do not care at all.
After a few months, I can imagine the blaming and finger-pointing that will occur. When typhoons and other calamities crush our towns or cities, we will not remember the latest jingle our mayors sang to woo us. When our communities do not do well, we will not remember the slogan our councilors shouted. When poverty results in empty stomachs, we will not remember what our senators said during commercial breaks on TV in the campaign season. When we are all in distress, we will remember the names we chose. By then, we will have realized that our fingers are pointing back at us.
Older people slap me with their cynicism whenever I tell them this. They tell me I am young and idealistic. But I would like to stick to my idealism. I would like to believe that Filipinos will choose to vote for the worthy and principled, and not for the personality, the good looks, the promises.
But to know the worthy and principled candidate is a challenging task. Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago once jested in Filipino: Why is the election campaign scheduled during the summer? Because it is when the nature of the politicians is proved. If they melt in the heat, that means they’re plastic. If they burn in the sun, that means they’re “mapapel” (pretenders). And if they like basking in the sun, that means they’re crocodiles.
If it were possible, it would be a lot easier for us to wait and see who are plastic, who are just mapapel, and who are crocodiles. Or, if we can ask for divine intervention, to wait and see if lightning would strike the stones and engrave the names of the best candidates. We’d all be better off!
But no. In the real world, we have to sift through a pile of fabricated intentions and deceptive proposals and, not unlike an exam, thoughtfully choose the best answer. Apathetic guesses are not allowed. We will check our own papers and we will determine whether we pass or not. The purple ink will fade after a few days, but the marks and the consequences of our votes will not wear off.
While some have decided to take the same stricken road, a number of voices are calling out for change. I am with them. This time I will have purple ink on my finger, and I don’t want to point it back at myself.
Anna Mickaella N. Lingat, 19, is an incoming business economics senior at the University of the Philippines Diliman. She is a member of UP Economics Towards Consciousness, a partner-organization of First-Time Voters Network.