Everyday, our lives are governed by choices other people make for us: from the amount of taxes we pay to which vehicles can slug through the congested roads of EDSA on a Monday. Everyday, we live through choices other people make for us, whether we agree with them or not, as part of a “democracy.” However, every three years, barring election fraud, our own personal choices prevail over politics and agenda. Suddenly, what we think and how we feel matters.
These days, leading up to the elections, we are reminded by the power of our vote: TV commercials abound, aspiring candidates make their rounds in TV and radio shows, and student councils initiate campaigns to encourage the youth to register and exercise their right, nay, responsibility to vote. To be fair, we have been doing quite well: in the last Presidential elections in 2010, the National Statistical Coordination Board reported the highest voter election turnout in 30 years, with 38 Million (75%) voting. In the last midterm elections in 2013, this was again surpassed with 40 million (76%) turning out.
For many of us, it is our first time to head towards elections when a sitting President continues to enjoy high approval ratings, thereby making the election, in many ways, a referendum to his administration’s leadership. We are also not wanting in choices: with 130 candidates for president, 19 for vice president, and 172 for senator, we are faced with a myriad of choices, which some would argue is a sign of a healthy democracy.
Having worked in government for the past few years, friends would often ask me who to vote for, or how they can assess candidates in order to make the right choices. Apart from finding out a candidate’s stand in key issues and interrogating their platforms, one of the things I would tell them is to never associate the number of bills filed in Congress to quality. Take a closer look and you will realize that many of these bills are copy-pasted versions of their colleagues’ previous filings or are seasonal favorites (for example, many bills to increase teacher pay get filed around October in time for teachers’ day). Instead, find out: How has he or she worked hard to get it through legislative hurdles? How well studied are its provisions?
"Most of us understand that an election indeed presents high stakes: one that would seal the fate of our country in the next six years—after which we will yield our voice again and subscribe ourselves to the wills or whims of those who govern. But does it really?"
It is during this season, every three or six years, when our opinions are acknowledged, courted (and then polled), and when we ourselves put extra scrutiny in our leaders’ backgrounds, what they say in speeches, or do in their campaigns. Most of us understand that an election indeed presents high stakes: one that would seal the fate of our country in the next six years—after which we will yield our voice again and subscribe ourselves to the wills or whims of those who govern. But does it really? Think about it: elections have become such a one-time-bigtime exercise of our democratic responsibility, that after casting our vote, we feel that our work is done and then cede all responsibility to the next leader who emerges and then go on believing that our lives are once more governed by choices other people make for us, until it is time to vote again.
Citizenship is not a tri-annual event. Yes, government can and should do better in creating more spaces for citizenship through initiatives such as bottom-up budgeting and open data—inviting us to play a greater role, and giving us the confidence to feel that our opinions indeed matter beyond elections. But instead of waiting for it to happen, perhaps we should demand it.
"Citizenship is not a tri-annual event."
In my work in the Senate and now in the Executive branch, you’d be surprised as to how very rarely we hear from people wanting to get heard, either to express agreement or opposition to a certain policy, when in fact, we do have valid opinions about many things, except we keep it to ourselves. Maybe this time around, beginning this campaign, we can start using our voice more wisely. Where, instead of just entertaining us with commercials and then asking us to just respond to polls as to whom we might vote for, let us compel them to instead talk to us and ask: What issues matter to us? What do we think government should prioritize? Where do we think our country should head towards in the next 6 years? After which, with the same scrutiny, we should ask ourselves: What role will I play? How can I help to make it happen? Remembering that our lives do not have to be governed by choices other people make for us, and that the heavy-lifting of citizenship happens not during election season, but after.
Ed's note: Exercise your right to vote. Registration for the 2016 elections is ongoing in all COMELEC offices until October 31, 2015. You may read up on the requirements, procedure and online resources in this official gazette. You may also check the status of your COMELEC registration through this precinct finder.
Karol Mark Yee is currently with the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) for its K12 Transition Program. He is also co-founder of Habi Education Lab, an education start-up committed to working with teacher champions in driving innovation and lifelong learning in our schools. He finished his Ed.M. in International Education Policy in Harvard University as a Fulbright Scholar.