The heady postelection days are always a festival of finger-pointing. With the names and faces of those who will claim 12 of the highest positions in the land now clear, social networks are going on overdrive, seeking to give an explanation for the fact that our elected officials are usually religious leaders, actors, and the scions or allies of powerful political families. We, the netizens of Facebook and Twitter, pride ourselves in being well-informed and quick to confirm news of vote-buying, past crimes and qualifications—so why is it that we still see the same surnames in the Magic 12?
I can understand why people are disappointed and jaded; I’m equally sickened to see that new faces who advocate change lagged in the polls, while those who ran on nonexistent platforms and a plethora of handouts win again and again. What I don’t understand is the knee-jerk reaction of some of my fellow college graduates. Bobo kasi bumoto ang masa—tanggap nang tanggap ng lagay. Kung yung mga edukado yung bumuboto, hindi ganito yung gobyerno natin. (It’s the ignorant masses who vote, and they keep on selling their votes. If those who vote are educated, we won’t have this kind of government.)
It is disgusting because it automatically asserts that the poor have no principles, and are easily swayed by the promise of cash and patronage, and it is asserted from the smug viewpoint of privilege, from people who would flaunt their higher education and higher socioeconomic standing at people who are less lucky in the circumstance of birth or finance. People don’t choose to be poor—if anything, many would rather scrape and starve just to be able to send their children to a good university and give them a bright future. I agree: If the voters were educated, the government would not be in the shape that it is today. But does everyone have access to this kind of education? Our parents strive to give us the best possible chances in life, and there are too many spoiled brats who don’t know the value of a peso because they’ve never worked a day in their life.
Perhaps if they did, they would consider this paradigm: Poor persons are offered a choice between trading a vote for money to feed their family for a few more days, or upholding their principles even when they don’t know where they’re getting their next meal. There were plenty of people willing to applaud Jean Valjean, the hero of “Les Miserables,” when he stole bread because his sister’s children were starving. Stealing and selling your vote are both crimes—but because Jean Valjean is a literary figure and not a real person, most people fail to see how an unequal society is responsible for creating criminals. Do we really expect people to fight for their rights when they can’t even eat? Before one thinks about human rights, one must consider the state of the human.
In spite of these circumstances, there are poor people who stand by their principles. Many are not willing to vote for candidates whose names are tainted by murder, or the lack of experience. Many would rather vote for someone they feel will help them in the struggle for equal opportunities for education, decent salaries and land reform. Many would rather worry about their next meal rather than have a candidate win them through their wallets. To generalize that all poor people are stupid and unprincipled smacks of elitism.
Say we went with the alternate paradigm: Only the educated are allowed to vote, or people who show proof of gainful employment for the past six months. What about those stuck in limbo because of a job market that doesn’t offer a lot of options, even for college graduates? Should these graduates be forced to take jobs that do not interest them or adequately reward their skill set because we would deny them suffrage if they didn’t? How does one define the “educated” anyway? I would stake my undergraduate degree that there are more than a few fools in some of our finer institutions whose places have been bought through connections and donations to the schools—hardly the well-informed voters one desires. Furthermore, students who are not working part-time should be excluded, because they don’t pay taxes, and they won’t be contributing to society for four or more years. The argument becomes more and more ridiculous, but that’s what happens when you try to impose such a shaky standard.
Votes are supposed to reflect the views of people from all walks of life, and just as there are poor people who vote, bribed or not, for those candidates, there are middle- and upper-class people who vote for these candidates, too. What is disheartening is that these views come not from weary, election-seasoned, middle-aged people who have seen so many political scandals, but from members of my generation—the generation that is enlightened enough to fight for more controversial issues like sex education and gay rights. Money and a college degree do not make anyone smart, as evidenced by the kinds of monsters that our socioeconomic classes and institutions have set loose on Philippine politics. We have corrupt politicians, but before they got to where they are now, they had to have resources that enabled them to go on their merry motorcades of hypocrisy. And I can hardly imagine that people who have trouble buying their one square meal a day have enough wealth to even seek barangay posts. Flyers and tarpaulins with fake grins don’t pay for themselves.
If there is anyone to blame, it is, in fact, us. We dismiss compassion and empathy as “idealism,” the provenance of activists who don’t wash their hair and get shot in the provinces. Our creature comforts have made us content to complain about the poor while we happily take the job that pays the biggest salary, conscience aside. We pay bribes to public servants because we swerve while driving or litter or smoke where we shouldn’t. There are too many posts online from people who are proud of the fact that they didn’t vote, or people who just want to pack up and leave because the country is a mess—future lawyers, doctors, engineers, teachers, writers—all essentially running away from the problem because they feel powerless or lack the will to change the situation. Life is becoming a frightening pattern of “carry on,” a cycle of forgetting why we are in this position and remaining inert in the face of challenges. The poor did not make these corrupt officials, nor did they give them this kind of power. People like us, who have the means and the education to stand up to corrupt officials—we’re the ones responsible, not the weak and vulnerable.
I, for one, am not afraid to assert that maybe I’m part of this problem, and should stop whining about things and start finding a way, however small, to make this country a better place. Are you?
Lesly Bries, 23, is an incoming juris doctor freshman at the University of the Philippines in Diliman.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.