01582: The Fundamental Right to Vote

In a liberal constitutional democracy like the Philippines, every adult as the right to vote. This is regardless of economic class, education level or ethnicity. If you are an adult citizen of this country, then you have every right to cast your ballot in favor of those politicians that you believe in. The right of the people to decide such matters for themselves is one of the fundamental aspects of the democratic process.

In these last few day leading up to the 2013 Philippine Elections, there's a lot of political rhetoric being bandied about on social media. The sort of opinions you would only hear should you met up with friends for coffee or drinks are now being broadcast at odd hours of the day across Twitter, Facebook or whatever, and thus we're seeing a lot of crazy stuff being said. It's not pretty.

There's a lot of folks who are stating the usual complaints about how only those who pay income taxes should be allowed to vote. And given my first paragraph in this post, we know that's not exactly in the spirit of democracy. Claiming that being a tax payer alone does not mean that you are somehow better than those who do not pay taxes - whether willfully or because of exemptions. Your right to vote is fundamental to your citizenship, not to your economic power. And if you really want to argue things, the income of the government is not solely derived from income taxes. In fact a large part of it comes from VAT, a tax that is so fundamental and far-reaching that it is built into every single purchase in this country. Everyone buys goods and thus everyone is paying the government's wages to some degree.

Education does not determine whether someone is better equipped to vote or not either. There are some very smart people who simply have no access to education because of the economic realities of our third world country. Just look at the results of the mock vote conducted in the University of the Philippines. Sure you might argue that the likes of Dick Gordon and Risa Hontiveros represent excellent, intelligent choices for senators. But at the same time the vote included our little Oakwood rebel Trillanes and Bro. Villanueva of all people. Intelligent people make stupid decisions all the time.

Majority of the country lives in poverty and has little to no access to the internet and all our our intelligent-sounding arguments and online debates. They probably go online to post images on Facebook and look for a song or two to download to their phones. They rely on the cheapest tabloid papers for news or whenever they catch the local news, which is heavily colored by station politics as well. They will not attend public debates all the time since they need to keep working to earn a living for their food for that very day. And thus there definitely is greater impact to have some politician swing by with a motorcade passing out candies and shirts than any lengthy debate.

This is the reality of this country, and thus the reasons why we will fully deserve a senator like Nancy Binay once she wins her seat. I'm not saying that I like her nor am I saying that I support her - I'm saying that she represents exactly the kind of politician that has thrived in this country because of the realities we face. She is part of the larger political machine that is her family and she is doing exactly what she needs to do to win - avoiding bad press and making sure that she lets her name carry her all the way to the senate.

And we as a people will fully deserve her since little is being done to truly uplift the poor and change their situation. Not enough is being done to educate them, develop a true industrial base for this nation to stand on and fully employ the thousands of Filipinos without work. In the absence of true opportunities in life, they cling to the handouts of our politicians and play the game of patronage politics whether they want to or not.

Yes, everyone should vote wisely. Everyone should pick the best possible people for the job. But in their case and given their perspective, the girl with the familiar family name and the annoying branded candy is what they think is the path to success. But those of us who think we know better have no place saying that the greater majority of the country that lives from hand to mouth don't have the right to vote. They have every right to do so. Our job is to help them become better, gain access to education and true job oppotunities and thus allow them to come to the realization that we can do so much better in terms of our political leaders.

And I fully recognize that's a bit of a pipe dream at this point. And maybe I'm being an overly optimistic hack that people find easier to dismiss since my policy of actively abstaining from voting due to a lack of respect for our candidates is easily dismissed as apathy. I care deeply about this country - I really do. But I know that participating in the circus that is our electoral process is not the direct path to change. Figuring out how to change the lives of thousands of Filipinos living in squalor is the true challenge, and one that I have to admit I don't know how to fully address either.

Then again, who does?