I HOPE your respective manok (bets) either made it to the winners’ circle or, at least, put up a good fight in the just concluded Philippine midterm elections. If they’re not winning, don’t despair. A sequel is definitely in the works.
In every race or contest, including one spawned by a democracy, there will always be winners and losers (or as the jaded among us love to put it: dinaya at nandaya—the cheated and the cheater). Let’s just be glad that we didn’t have to lop off each other’s head to arrive at a decision.
One message that struck me in the run-up to the recent elections came in the form of a cover photo from my good friend Ivy’s Facebook wall (I’m beginning to hate her because of her huge Facebook following as well as her pulse on the zeitgeist): “Bawal magreklamo ang ’di bumoto. (People who didn’t exercise their right to vote shouldn’t complain).”
Like not a few catchphrases, it was exaggerated and said for effect. Of course, no one can stop us from bitching about our leaders whether we voted or not.
Essence of democracy
That’s what democracy is all about: our right to regularly trouble ourselves for several hours to cast (or, in yesterday’s case, shade) our choices and determine the outcome of a race that, in the Philippines, seems almost preordained, or to sit on our asses all day daydreaming, Tweeting, Facebooking or playing Candy Crush while the rest of the world passes us by.
But if you come down to the essence of what a real and functioning democracy is, people who opt not to vote because of a rather flimsy and overused excuse that they’re making a “statement” are conveniently forgetting that they’re able to do so because we’re living in a democracy governed by a government “of the people, by the people and for the people.”
In short, unlike in closed societies and authoritarian states, we’re not being compelled with guns pointed to our heads to exercise our right and duty to vote (or not to vote) because of our hard-won freedom—paid for largely by, as Winston Churchill once so splendidly put it, the blood, sweat and tears of those who came before us.
At the same time, those who choose to vote are, in an ideal situation, not forced to vote against their will for certain candidates and parties.
Put another way, this choice to vote or not to vote came at a price. Indeed, it seems ironic, but the only way we can ensure that this freedom of choice be upheld is by exercising our inalienable right to vote. Apart from exercising our freedom of speech, expression and assembly, voting freely is one of the cornerstones of a genuine and functioning democracy.
Stuff you read on FB
While I was trawling through my newsfeeds on Facebook yesterday, I came across one such justification from a supposedly intelligent and educated friend whose schooling was funded no less by the country’s premier state university.
In essence, he complained why some people are taking them to task for not voting. At the same time, despite having not voted, he asserted his right to bewail current and future government incompetence and malfeasance because he supposedly pays his taxes. (Well, honey, everyone, from the lowly basurero to the scandalously rich Chinese-Filipino taipans—in their own circuitous and opaque ways–does.)
Now this part was the ultimate copout: can’t people just leave them alone and respect their decision not to vote because doing so is a form of “silent protest?” In short, he was trying to make it sound noble because he and his ilk were making a “statement.” God, I nearly went for and hit the unfriend button.
Let’s go first to the idea of taxes. My dear boy, even the ancient Romans were compelled to pay taxes. But were they individually given the right to choose their leaders? Did women, who were considered property of the menfolk, even figure in the equation?
It was their esteemed senators, employing both fair and foul means, who did the choosing for them. And should they so much as grumble about how onerous those stupid taxes were, they were either banished into exile in some remote colony in North Africa or, worse, fed to the lions at the coliseum.
Jesus H. Christ!
The Jews, who were under the Romans for a time, didn’t fare any better. They had it worse! Suspected tax evaders and rabble-rousers weren’t treated with kids gloves. Jesus, they were crucified!
Having come of age in the Philippines at the cusp of the Marcos dictatorship and the restoration of democratic institutions afterwards in 1986, I find it personally offensive for people to treat voting lightly. I’m not begrudging them if they choose to snub such an exercise, but to proudly declare it to the world as if it’s the most normal and most noble thing to do is for me the height of chutzpah. It’s tantamount to spitting on the dead.
Yes, it’s their right not to vote. But I find it totally unacceptable to justify it publicly with such an overused excuse of making a statement. Tell that to the countless teachers and poll watchers who were gunned down through the decades, some of them clutching ballot boxes soaked in their own blood, just to ensure that the sanctity of the entire exercise was upheld.
While not a few people in remote corners of the globe are being oppressed, even paying with their lives this very moment, just to be heard through the ballot, we Filipinos have won the right to chart our future course peacefully by electing our leaders. And here you are, straight face and all, making a “silent protest.”
Quoting Whoopi Goldberg in “Sister Act,” I only have two words for you and your ilk. And they’re not what was ultimately said in the movie.
More often than not, and my friend Armando agrees, such an excuse is simply a mere if brazen ploy to cover up for one’s laziness. Yes, you have the right not to vote. But, no, you may not complain of the outcome now and in the near future. Since you’ve made a “silent protest” not to exercise your right and duty to vote, you’re also expected from now on to make a silent complaint if things didn’t turn out your way.