Voting is a Right, an Act and a Vision

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Voting is an intentional act of political participation. It is not done by accident or by force. In fact, the Philippine Constitution sanctions every individual to exercise his or her right to suffrage. It can be exercised by all citizens of the Philippines not otherwise disqualified by law, who are at least eighteen years of age, and who shall have resided in the Philippines for at least one year, and in the place wherein they propose to vote, for at least six months immediately preceding the election. No literacy, property, or other substantive requirement shall be imposed on the exercise of suffrage (Article V of the Philippine Constitution).

Being so, then by no means an individual is given the right and obligation to vote for qualified citizens to vote for national and local officers of the government among others. It is identified as a political right, where each is enabled to give his/her choice or decision of who should govern the governed. The principle is one man, one vote.

The conduct of the election is the selection of a public office by popular vote. This means those who got elected or won are the candidates with the highest number of votes, while others are left with nothing. This reinforces the “winner takes all” set up. It is by means where people choose their officials for definite, and fixed periods, and to whom they entrust for the time being as their representatives, the exercise of powers of their government.

This role of the citizen to elect their leaders or a public office is a crucial decision especially this coming election on May 9, 2022. Expectations of the electorate are growing and shifting but what is more interesting is how voting behavior is influenced by external factors rather than by internal considerations. 

Benguet is not an exception to this changing behavior and adherence to a patronage system that bolsters vote-buying. Vote-buying comes in many ways and in different contexts but it always entails obtaining material benefits in exchange for votes. This also implies exploitation of poverty and misery of people and the practice of “utang na loob”. According to one study, vote-buying is harder to control these days given more sophisticated means of transferring money, including GCash and online banking. Vote-buying also involves non-monetary offers like the giving of food packs, groceries, laptops or promises of employment or projects (contractor politics).

Based on a study by the Ateneo School of Government (ASOG), 40% of the poor surveyed in Metro Manilas saw vote-buying take place in their community and 20% admitted selling their votes.  Often vote-buying is seen as happening because of the presence of demand but as they say, there are two sides of the coin. The supply side is also facilitating vote-buying to happen.  Today’s politicians are capitalizing on resources (not necessarily theirs) to create loyalists and ‘clients’ and to reinforce the patronage system during campaigns. 

In Benguet, the act of vote-buying is becoming a familiar sight. Sadly, both external and internal influences are becoming the drivers of changing values in Benguet. The concept and practice of “inayan, lawa and bain” are being devalued, discounted, and degraded to facilitate vote-buying and accept it as a norm. With the acceptance of this norm, the communities are being confused, polarized, and divided.

Voting is decision-making. It is rooted in intuition (combination of experience and values) and reasoning (facts and information). It is not mere compliance but a deliberate judgment guided by prayers. Voters should value their votes more than the “short-term benefits received” or “promises” of the candidates running for a public office. The election is a right of every citizen to choose leaders who can impact not only the present but the future being of every citizen. This May 2022 election can be a tipping point for a better or worse future of governance. Whatever the turn of this election the role of the electorate continues. Each citizen must be vigilant to be guardians of their rights. 

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