Manila Standard : Right and responsibility of the ballot

By Jude Acidre | Manila Standard

"There is no other way to end a vicious and corrupt political cycle than through a free, resolute and firm electoral choice."

The right to vote is the defining mark of our democracy. It is the most tangible proof of the sovereignty of the Filipino people. The right of the people to freely elect their leaders, likewise, forms the basis for the social contract between them and their government. Thus it can rightly be said that voting is more than just a single person’s political right; it is everyone’s civic responsibility.

While the aforementioned proposition sounds logical, the concept of voting as a duty has not been that acceptable to earlier notions of democracy. In fact, in early democratic systems, voting was a privilege reserved to the tax-paying and landed male citizens of the nation. It was not until after more than a hundred years of American democracy that female citizens were accorded the same right. Later, the people came to a much fuller understanding of voting as a right accorded to all citizens of both sexes – and of all colors and creeds.

With the growth of democratic societies came the perspective that with the right to vote is a burden of civic responsibility. Considering voting as an act of civic duty avoids the perverse sense of entitlement that comes with the right of suffrage. It is important to understand that the right to vote was not easily won by our forebears, but only after a long and arduous struggle toward freedom. The freedom that as citizens of our country we now enjoy came at a price – by those who laid their lives on the line.

It has been more than a hundred years since the first Philippine Republic was established and since our aspirations of independence were proclaimed. The election to the Malolos Congress, however, was far from the more familiar political exercise that we have today. Many, if not all, the members of the Malolos Congress were members of the Spanish-era privileged principalia. The modern ballot came only when the US-style elections finally became part of our democratic system.

In the same month next year, Filipinos will be going to the polls once more to choose the next set of our nation’s political leaders. It is important to be reminded that voting is not a right that is to be taken lightly, but a duty to be undertaken with a deep sense of responsibility. While mandatory or compulsory voting, similar to that enforced in Australia, is not part of our country’s system, there is no doubt about the gravity of a more meaningful exercise of one’s right to vote.

More than an act of citizenship, voting is an important feature of civic stakeholdership. It is not enough to exercise the right to vote, but it is important for the voters to make meaningful choices and ensure fair political representation. With one’s vote, comes one’s voice in shaping the policies as well as the way forward for our nation.

The Commission on Elections expected more than four million first-time voters for next year’s election. However, about a month ago, the COMELEC admitted that fewer than two million had actually registered. While the risks and restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have adversely affected it, the laggard pace of voter registration is an alarming reality that requires immediate attention.

With our significantly young population, the choice of more than four million first time voters can well define the results of the upcoming elections. The youth therefore must realize that they have a correlating duty to participate in the elections. Exercising the right to vote requires the individual voter to uphold the responsibility that comes with it – by voting for whomever he or she sees fit.

Who you vote for is your own business. That we all show up on election day, however, is everyone’s concern. If we fail to vote with a deep sense of duty, but instead are swayed by fear, influence or money, then we shouldn’t be surprised by the kind of leaders that we get.

When you begin to wonder how a single vote would matter less in a sea of millions, that is when you begin to remind yourself that every single vote undoubtedly matters when it comes to the overall election results. The quality of political leadership in the next six years will chart the course of our nation’s history and progress. The duty of voting therefore will affirm our responsibility to define our country’s present and shape our nation’s future.

The seeming lack of interest from would-be first-time voters to register for next year’s election should be a cause for alarm for all of us. Of course, we cannot be oblivious of the people’s declining trust in our democratic processes. But, our people must understand that there is no other way to end a vicious and corrupt political cycle than through a free, resolute and firm electoral choice. Abstaining from the ballot will only allow the continued prevalence of the crooked and frustrate the chances of those who would have espoused the correct kind of politics. It is also important that the present government takes even more seriously its moral responsibility to instill confidence among our youth in our nation’s voting system. Failure to do so will further the already growing political and social cleavage between the people and those in power.

Imagine a Philippines where every Filipino votes not simply as a matter of right, but with a sense of duty. Imagine if every Filipino takes to heart this obligation to choose the right political leaders for our nation. Imagine if in spite of our differences in political opinion or views, we all choose to take common action on election day—and put in place a truly inclusive and dynamic Filipino democracy.