“This is one of the few times it pays to be a senior citizen,” the husband quipped as we exited the village clubhouse after casting our ballots. We had arrived with our son and our niece, but as we were leaving, we found them still in the middle of the queue of voters. We had gone to another line where a few chairs waited for seniors, the disabled and the pregnant (or with a young child) and waited just a brief while before being called to start voting.
But we also had other advantages. The voting for the last three elections, as far as I can remember, had been moved to the village clubhouse which this year had the additional and much welcome convenience of air-conditioning. There was also very little congestion, even if it was already midmorning, and the procedures went smoothly.
When we got home, television reports showed vastly different scenes elsewhere, with throngs crowding the areas outside school buildings and voters queuing up under the searing heat of the sun.
But with air-conditioning or suffocating heat, kilometers-long lines or convenient arrangements, orderly processing or hitches galore—Filipinos came out, to use a cliché, in droves to vote and show our faith in our hard-fought-for democracy. Scenes at the polling places may not have had the dramatic impact of elections past, which had been marked by fear and intimidation, violence and fraud. And though reports of killings and ambushes continue to be received, the 2016 polls, halfway through the day of voting, is proving to be largely peaceful and orderly. Here’s crossing fingers that the situation remains little changed till the close of day.
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BUT it has not been a “peaceful” campaign. Quite apart from the “election-related” killings in the days before the voting, this preelection period has become one of the most hotly-fought in recent memory.
Social media played a large part in the fevered campaigning, projecting on the public mind what I suspect would have remained private, discreet, and personal if technology had not made such widespread dissemination possible.
Anonymity also played a part, with so-called trolls hiding their true identities feeling free to vent the worst and the most foul language against detractors. An online blogger, Renee Karunungan, has filed a complaint with the National Bureau of Investigation regarding the flood of threats of killing, rape and mayhem directed at her and her family in the wake of her posts against a certain presidential candidate.
Also on the receiving end of what some netizens have called “Dutertards” has been Carlos Celdran, an outspoken blogger and social commentator who gives as good as he gets. Alan Robles, one of those managing a website called “Never Again” in reference to the vice-presidential run of Sen. Bongbong Marcos, regularly posts the outrageous (and grammatically atrocious) comments he gets from Marcos trolls, and his highly amusing ripostes.
It would all be amusing and entertaining if we weren’t in the middle of a political exercise that has put the country literally in the crossroads of history. Our choices yesterday will determine whether we will enjoy the continued prosperity that a system of honest government and enlightened policies has made possible; or whether, in the clamor for “change” and a new direction, we dismantle what the last six years have built and take a U-turn that could possibly bring us to the nadir of strongman rule.
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THUS, much is at stake. Much more than putting one over one’s critics, putting down those who dare disagree and challenge us, or make a cutting remark to shame those of contrary opinion.
It isn’t personal, in the end. Because a vote may be private but it has implications for the nation as a whole, and for the future beyond, way beyond, the next six years. Pundits tell us that “you are who you vote,” that your political choice also tells a lot about your own values, beliefs, ideals and desires for this country. But that personal choice is also a choice we make in behalf of others—all those who cannot or refuse to vote, and more important, all the children too young to vote today but who will inherit the future we create.
Still, not everyone will be happy with the outcome. And there will be those who might sulk for a bit or even remain in a black funk for months or years afterward. Others have even vowed to file impeachment charges should their disfavored candidate win and once Congress buckles down to work. Which, to my mind, would mean extending the bitterness of the last campaign and deepening the fissures it created.
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SO maybe our prayer for the future should be the “Serenity Prayer” created by American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr that goes: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,/Courage to change the things I can,/ And wisdom to know the difference.”
In the next few days, we will find out soon enough if it is serenity or courage that we need, or wisdom to discern what will serve our own and the country’s best interests. Elections give us a chance to make over things as they are, to try to shape the future, and to express our deepest longings and beliefs. But they should never stand in the way of our getting together once more, as one people, as we move on from the dissension of the last few months and strive to create the nation we imagine and treasure.
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