We can’t give up on the elections
In an ideal world, the coming elections would be a contest of ideas, and those with the best plans to improve our country would be leading the race.
Diversity would score a lot of points, with most voters mindful of the need for an inclusive government. A female Muslim civic leader would be a strong contender for the Senate, and so would a bar topnotcher who grew up in Tondo.
Wealth, on the other hand, would be seen as a liability, with people cognizant of its conflicts of interest, as well as the blinding influence of privilege. Likewise, far from boosting candidates’ chances, “epal” moves would only turn off an electorate looking for substance.
Unrepentant family members of dictators? They wouldn’t even be considered.
Plunderers and human rights violators? In an ideal world, they would be in jail.
Alas, we are very far from this world; we may even have moved further away from it in this election season. Eschewing even the minimum standard of integrity, politicians these days now say that honesty is “not an issue,” refusing to be bothered over someone, say, lying about her academic credentials.
Abandoning any pretense of having a platform, many candidates have refused to debate altogether, likely fearing that their ignorance would be exposed.
Ceasing to pay even just lip service to democratic sensibilities, many are now openly acting as if they own entire cities and towns. Thus, we a have husband and wife aiming for two different congressional districts, and siblings fighting over the same mayoral seat. Only the word “garapalan” comes close to expressing this state of affairs; we may as well remove “delicadeza” from our vocabulary.
All of this is understandably causing a lot of frustration and pessimism among many citizens; it has not helped that some in the opposition slate, by failing to address Mr. Duterte head-on, has failed to arouse enthusiasm.
Even so, we cannot give up on the elections, particularly the Senate race, given what’s at stake for our country.
In the first place, the Senate can block the administration’s retrogressive policies and authoritarian ways. Attempts to change the Constitution, reinstate the death penalty and lower the age of criminal liability have all stalled because enough senators opposed them. But there will be no such opposition or criticality if the Senate were filled with people who proudly admit that they are willing to go to jail with the president.
In the second place, the Senate is empowered by the Constitution to serve as a check and balance to the abuse of executive power. We need more of Leila de Lima, who courageously investigated drug-related killings in fulfillment of this role, and less of Dick Gordon, who infamously concluded that there are no state-sponsored extrajudicial killings.
Lastly, the Senate can initiate meaningful change through lawmaking; the universal health care law and the sin tax law are just two recent examples of measures that have the potential to contribute greatly to public health. We need more senators who will actually make laws, not grandstand in committee hearings or steal pork barrel funds.
“But what’s the use?” some might ask. “Even if my entire university votes for human rights advocates, progressive activists and senators with proven track records, it is the epal and the ‘trapo’ (traditional politician) who will win.”
To those who feel this way, one only needs to look at Leni Robredo’s victory over Bongbong Marcos to see that, survey results notwithstanding, victory is still possible for many candidates. Even one more independent voice can contribute greatly in preventing a rubber-stamp Senate.
Moreover, short of inclusion in the “magic 12,” a strong showing will still count for something, as it will raise the candidates’ nationwide profile and boost their chances the next time around.
Finally, staying engaged in the elections can help elevate public discourse, nudging candidates—even incumbents—to take more nuanced positions and present actual platforms, mindful that there would be enough support for candidates that go beyond song and dance.
Indeed, now is not the time to give up on our electoral process, however corrupt and uninspiring it may be. Given what is at stake for our country, there is every reason to turn up on Monday and let your vote be counted.
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