Today, Filipinos went to the polls for the midterm elections to elect the country’s new set of lawmakers and local government officials.
In particular, this election will see half of the 24-seat Senate filled up with 12 new Senators, and at least 300 new district and party-list representatives who will serve in the House of Representatives. It is widely perceived that majority of President Rodrigo Duterte’s allies will sweep their respective elections. (To be clear, many of these politicians are already entrenched names in the ruling class, who have simply coalesced en masse under the banner of the President because of his enduring popularity. )
I have not felt as strongly in a general election as I have for this year. It even trumps the 2013 midterm elections where I was party-list nominee for the House of Representatives. That year felt like a contestable election, you know, where contending parties had fighting chances to challenge incumbents, and offer alternatives. This year? There is an overwhelming sense of despair because all odds appear to be stacked against any and all opposition to the current administration.
A lot is at stake, I feel. I’ve never seen and heard of so many corrupt officials and nincompoops in government, both appointed and elected. Parang nagsama-sama at nagsisibalikan lahat ng kawatan sa gobyerno. The degree of nepotism, political rent-seeking, patronage and accommodation is disgusting. You see incompetent people being appointed everywhere, their only credential being their participation in the election campaign of the President. The extent of violence against critics is alarming, too. And the disregard for the ideals of human rights and democracy is frightening. Most of all, very little has changed with regard to the economic well-being of millions of Filipinos.
Despite all these, the President and his allies have remained popular among significant segments of the population, such popularity spilling to his endorsed-candidates who are poised to win and dominate the elections today. I do not know what to make of it except that many Filipinos have probably chosen to prioritize their immediate economic needs and the sense ‘stability’ of having a pseudo-authoritarian government in power that gives many a sense of security, and most of all–urgent relief. The dominant campaign rhetoric of the candidates poised to win is the promise of immediate aid, after all. The candidates who appear to be most helpful to the needy and the poor, no matter how corrupt or devoid of democratic values they appear, are poised to win. Many are too destitute and in need of money, food, shelter and jobs, to even think about policy, ideology or democratic freedoms. To be fair, the answer may be more varied and complex than what I make of it right now, but a significant factor in the political decisions made today are grounded on the socio-economic realities majority of Filipinos face. To be sure, these are very legitimate concerns.
Notwithstanding the feeling of gloom, I proceeded to the polls with my family today and endured four hours in queue. I needed to register that vote. None of the candidates I voted for may win, but I needed to cast my ballot for them. The results are yet to be known as of writing, but I am preparing for the worst.
I think what makes this election difficult for me to accept is the feeling that I have lost touch with the sentiment of my countrymen. Parang hindi ko na kilala ang bansa ko. I feel that I do not identify anymore with the political choices of the majority. Admittedly, I belong to a minority of Filipinos privileged enough to enjoy more than the basic necessities in life. But doesn’t that situation make me more susceptible to vote for the status quo? Why is it the other way around? Why aren’t people who are most in need of systemic overhaul demanding it, by the ballot or by the millions on the streets, or by the rifle in the countryside? Why hasn’t the national democratic revolution succeeded after so many decades of waving a just war? Ah, too many questions at this point. This needs some processing. As a believer in democracy, I am bound to recognize and respect the political choices of the majority as legitimate and valid.
The only glimmer of hope I have at this point is the intensity by which many young Filipinos have seemingly taken up the cause of challenging the status quo. The extent of youth politicization over the past months is overwhelming. By the measure alone by which alternative candidates have swept campus mock polls and the increase in membership of mass organizations and activist formations, I see the prospect of a better future still burning bright for the Philippines. I just pray that the youth don’t give up despite the inevitable results of the elections. We carry on fighting for a better future for ourselves and our country!