I was so excited when I turned 18. No, there was no ball for my debut. I couldn’t even remember if I had a party to celebrate my birthday that year. But I was so excited that I was going to finally be able participate in the process of choosing local and national leaders, to express my choice on a law or enactment that might be submitted for a plebiscite or a referendum, or to be part of an initiative where the people directly propose or enact law. To my mind, that was my right of passage to adulthood.
When I was younger, I would vote for someone I aspire to become. Being young and idealistic, I wanted to believe in something. I wanted to hold on to this idea of democracy and freedom. That perhaps in this life time, we have a chance for greatness. I guess, I was foolish as well.
Several presidents later, I cringed whenever another election draws near. I couldn’t say I am wiser. But I have began to dread the process of trying out someone new… and realizing that we probably made a mistake. Then we have to wait another six years to try again. (Though most of the guys I voted for never made it to Malacañang.)
So why vote?
Our right to suffrage was born out of the struggles to those who came before us. Decades of colonial rule, deprived Filipinos to participate in the electoral process. It took a revolution after revolution for Filipinos to finally be granted the right to self-determination… or at least to choose their representatives. Though of course this meant choosing someone who was Uncle Sam’s anointed one and the right to suffrage was limited only to men. Well, we (Filipinos) always had the gift of optimism… of seeing a glass have full. The right was then predicted on gender and economic status.
For Filipino women, the struggle was even longer. It wasn’t until 1937, when 450,000 in favor versus 50,000 who voted against women’s suffrage that they were finally allowed to vote. This was an overwhelming win for women, who were only required to get 300,000 votes to be granted suffrage.
The right to vote is a political right or privilege, to be given or withheld at the exercise of the lawmaking power of the sovereignty. It is not a natural right of the citizen, but a franchise dependent upon law, which it must be conferred to permit its exercise. It can emanate only from the people, either in their sovereign statement of the organic law or through legislative enactment which they have authorized. It is not included among the rights of property or of person. Neither is it an absolute unqualified right, but is altogether conventional. When once granted, it may be taken away by the exercise of sovereign power, and if taken away no vested right is violated or bill of attainder passed. For example, those to whom the right of suffrage is guaranteed by the constitution cannot be deprived of it by any act of the legislature. (White vs. Multnomab County, 13 0.317)
As much as it is a right conferred by law, it burdens us with a duty and obligation to take part in making a national decision as to what direction will we take in the next six years. Do we choose a someone who will solve the problems that have plagued this country for decades? Do we choose someone who will inspire us to be better? Or should we just settle for the lesser evil?
Political discourse and bickering are all over social media as the internet had become another venue for campaigning… and (for many) simple ranting about their chosen candidates or those they are against. When tweets or status updates pop up in our timelines as we near the May 9, there are times that it provokes us to think, or sometimes it makes smile or laugh, and but there are just those we try hard to ignore and refrain from rebutting. It’s never easy to listen to opinion contrary to ours, especially when that one voice cuts deeply on the things we believe in. But democracy, whether we like it or not, is someone advocating and shouting on the top of his/her voice something that you spent a lifetime fighting against.
Come to think of it, what is it we are fighting for? Presidents and all other elected officials come and go, and nothing really changes. Criminality still prevails, traffic sucks, corruption is eating away our economy, we are helpless against foreign threats to our sovereignty, majority of our people are still poor… why do we still have to subject ourselves to this process when nothing really gets done? And this political exercise often end up deviding the country and polarizing people.
So why should we still vote?
Maybe it’s time to remember before demanding our right that we need to fulfill our duties and obligations as citizens of this country. That whenever we complain about traffic, we need to learn to use the pedestrian lane when crossing the streets and followe simple traffic rules. That whenever we are disgusted by civil servants demanding bribes or ‘padulas’, we should not try to bribe them to begin when we find it necessary. That whenever we curse whoever is sitting in Malacañang, we should try not to disenfranchise ourselves by failing to register or vote.
The right of suffrage is predicated upon the theory that the people who bear the burden of government should share in the privilege of choosing the officials of that government. This is the theory of a representative form of government. (Macolor vs. Amores, G.R. No. L-8306, Nov. 5, 1953)
And yes, change should begins with us…