By Emmeline Aglipay-Villar | The Philippine Star
Democracy isn’t easy. It isn’t meant to be whether for leaders or for citizens because democracy is a form of government built on consensus and compromise, and most people will tell you that these are two of the most difficult goals for any group to achieve. This is true whether we speak of a married couple, a 12-person basketball team or a nation of millions. Democracy can be inefficient, messy, prone to abuses and inconsistencies. But modern democracy is also the only form of government that is built upon the principle that the vast majority of citizens have the right to have a say regarding how their nation is run, and in who leads that nation. The purest expression of that principle is in the citizens’ right to vote.
I say “modern democracy” because in ancient times, the right to vote was held by only a very limited number of people. In many cases, whether or not a person had the right to vote shows how much the leaders of the nation feared that class of people: armed soldiers, the rich and landed aristocrats. This was why the path towards a more modern, egalitarian democracy was paved with so much blood and anguish – groups such as women and minorities had to prove that they were a force to be reckoned with, that they were a force to be feared, before the State would recognize their right to vote. In fact, by that point in time, governments were only acknowledging what those suffragist movements had already established as a fact: that the government was accountable to these people. That accountability is what is embodied in the vote.
Voting, like democracy itself, can be inconvenient and time-consuming. There are many ways that one can be involved in the betterment of one’s community without ever casting a ballot. But voting is the most fundamental right possessed by a citizen of a democracy, and it is the right that guarantees all the others. Our Supreme Court has said that “[e]ach individual qualified to vote is a particle of popular sovereignty” and that “[t]he existence of the right of suffrage is a threshold for the preservation and enjoyment of all other rights.” To put things in perspective, for all the rights that the Constitution and our body of laws guarantee us, they can only protect us if we elect leaders that are committed to upholding those rights. And our leaders only have incentive to uphold those rights if they know they will be replaced if they do not.
Our next national elections are in 2022, but this month the Comelec reopened registrations after suspending it in March due to the pandemic. Filing of applications shall be held Tuesdays to Saturdays, including holidays, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the Office of the Election Officer (OEO). The exception to this is for areas under ECQ or MECQ. While the need to physically file applications before the OEO may be more daunting due to the existence of COVID-19, Comelec has taken steps to minimize the risk to registrants. They have made available the required forms on their website https://www.comelec.gov.ph/?r=VoterRegistration/ApplicationsForms which may be printed and filled out prior to the registrant’s arrival at the OEO – but be advised that the forms should be signed only in front of the Election Officer at the Comelec office. There will be express lanes for PWDs, senior citizens and pregnant women. The number of visitors at the offices shall also be limited, and all are required to wear face masks and face shields and to bring their own pens. Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez has also stated that the Comelec is working on reviving the iRehistro initiative which will allow for online accomplishment of forms.
It is important to be mindful of our health during this pandemic, but it is just as important that we be vigilant when it comes to our rights. While the elections are still in 2022, and the registrations are meant to be ongoing and continuing, the past few months have shown us all why it is best not to assume that today’s opportunities will remain tomorrow. For those of us who need to register, or re-activate our registration, or move our place of voting, it would be best to plan a visit to the OEO as soon as reasonably possible. It would be advisable to call ahead to your local Comelec office for any concerns and to double-check the schedule (sometimes these offices may close for disinfection). You can find links to the field offices of the Comelec here: comelec.gov.ph/?r=VoterRegistration/WhatisVoterRegistration/RegistrationCenters
Yes, it will likely take more effort to register to vote than in the past, particularly if we do so while minimizing our risk of exposure to the pandemic.
Yes, it will be worth it.
It’s not just about the potential for your single vote to make a difference. It’s about how engaging in the act of voting exerts a positive influence on your community and yourself. Even if you don’t think you’ll end up voting, even if you feel you have much more pressing concerns at the moment – without registration, you will not have the choice to exercise your right of suffrage come May 2022. And this right, earned for you, was hard won.
The promise of democracy is not ease, efficiency or unvarnished perfection. The promise of democracy is a government where it is possible to build institutions and practices where policies must be discussed in common, where individuals can be heard and where leaders can be held to account. All a democratic form of government can do is provide us with a template, with a chance – and many have suffered and died to give us this opportunity. The rest depends on us, our efforts, our voices, our votes.
As a woman from Ukraine once said during a rally to demand a new election:
“We used to go down on our knees before the people in power but now we have got to our feet.”
Stand up and be heard.