Voter-blaming not helpful
As this administration continues to unravel, with failure after failure, vulgarity after vulgarity, abuse after abuse — and as the death toll in the hypocritical “drug war” further rises, many are laying the blame squarely on the “16 million” who voted for Mr. Duterte.
To those who find themselves feeling the same way, I have an appeal to you: Stop voter-blaming. Let go of the anger aimed at voters. Let go of the schadenfreude in seeing someone who supported Mr. Duterte get killed — or suffer the effects of his many misguided policies.
In the first place, voter-blaming takes away the responsibility from President Duterte himself, and, at the same time, gives him too much credit for the evil in this country. Don’t forget that his rule is enabled by the likes of Dick Gordon, whose voters likewise thought they were voting for a leader who represented change. Do we also blame the 16 million who voted for Gordon? Someday, when we look back to this political moment, I hope we never forget the cumulative frustrations that led to it—and everyone who took part.
Another reason why voter-blaming is not helpful is that it makes it even harder for people to say, “I made a mistake.” Instead of being welcomed, they are painted to a corner, thus forcing them to double down on their support—and causing our country further polarization. Alas, this can only work to the advantage of our populist leaders.
Voter-blaming also reifies “the 16 million” when, in fact, they are a very diverse group. Some are Marcos supporters, but many others supported Leni Robredo. Some are poor and lower-middle class, but it is worth repeating that, according to a Social Weather Stations exit poll, 45.9 percent of Class ABC voters actually voted for Mr. Duterte. Regardless of who they are, it’s also important to note that many have since disavowed their support.
Moreover, voter-blaming frames elections as largely a matter of individual choice, obfuscating the structural constraints that lead many to choose certain candidates — and sell their votes. In communities where politics dictates everything, from the availability of jobs to access to health care, refusing to support a local politician is difficult even if they are known to be corrupt. In communities where income opportunities are severely limited, people are already looking forward to the few thousand pesos they receive during elections.
Inasmuch as we want people to have foresight, it is almost cruel to ask people to think in terms of six years when they have nothing to eat tomorrow.
Furthermore, voter-blaming reinforces the idea that elections are the end-all and be-all of democracy—and that the sole role of citizens is to vote. This detracts attention from the everyday work of engaging leaders and supporting particular policies — signs of a vibrant republic that are sadly absent in our country.
Finally — and relevantly as the elections draw near — voter-blaming might discourage people from voting at all, fearing they would be blamed for their choices. We call candidates “bets” for a reason: There is gamble, a risk, as to how they will turn out to be. Regardless of how our decisions have corresponded with outcomes, we should still be allowed to find hope and have faith in our would-be leaders.
Of course, this outlook should not stop us from campaigning against vote-buying and reflecting on our own electoral choices. (Surely, there are many regrets among the 3.86 million who voted for Marcos in 1965, but ended up protesting his dictatorship). But, without taking away accountability from those who knowingly supported a tyrant and profited from his rule, without letting go of our call for people to vote wisely and engage candidates critically, we need to be more evangelical in our politics.
And so I will say it again: Voter-blaming is not helpful. Some may resort to it out of pride (“Hah, I told you so!”) or catharsis (“I really can’t help it because I really feel frustrated about what’s happening”) — and these, too, are feelings we can understand. Even so, let’s not lose sight of the far more productive task of voter education — and the far more important project of nation-building.
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