The purpose of an election is to allow citizens to vote for the candidate who they believe will do the country the most good. And the exercise of this right becomes most critical in the choice of the president. In this regard, I have been carrying an ugly secret since 2004: I voted for Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Instead of her character, credentials, skills and accomplishments, I decided to vote for her because she was leading in the surveys at the time. I did not want to vote for a candidate who was going to lose, even though he or she seemed more trustworthy and just as competent as the well-educated and highly skilled President Arroyo. Though she had broken her promise not to run for election after replacing President Joseph Estrada, this did not seem to be a major flaw to me. Besides there was no other major issue then against President Arroyo that would make her seem like a bad choice.
But the many scandals and accusations of corruption and misconduct that soon hounded her second term caused me to regret my decision. What especially damned my vote were the allegations that she used her influence as an incumbent chief executive to manipulate the results of the election in her favor. If they were indeed true, then not only did I vote irresponsibly but I also helped her claim a dishonest victory. While she was undermining a vital democratic process by engaging in electoral fraud, I was also eroding it by thoughtlessly casting my vote in her favor just because I wanted to be on the winning team.
Today, each time I read or hear about the latest electoral survey results, I keep asking myself if other people are about to make the same mistake I committed six years ago. The situation is very similar: two presidential aspirants have risen to the top and can hardly be challenged by their rivals. The surveys have been very consistent and, if indeed accurate, the winner of the coming presidential election will either be Noynoy Aquino or Manny Villar. As such, it is very easy to question the wisdom of voting for anyone other than these two; defeat is often associated with futility. This was the trap I fell into six years ago.
However, this is not the only danger I see. Certainly, elections in the Philippines are usually dirty affairs, with criticisms and plain, old mud being hurled from all sides. But since they look like the favorites, Aquino and Villar have been the subjects of loud and vicious accusations of deceitfulness, elitism, greed, inexperience, incompetence, opportunism and ruthless ambition, among other things.
Especially damaging are the unresolved issues concerning Aquino’s Hacienda Luisita and Villar’s C-5 road project. We, as voters, cannot help but look at these as portents of things to come.
Times are tough after the various calamities and crises we have experienced. We are disillusioned by an exiting administration, which is leaving behind a trail of corruption and unethical practices. We don’t want either a repeat or an addition to these by the new administration. But because our choice of president seems to be limited to these two, now we are left with no other recourse but to pick the person who would do the country the least damage instead of the most good. In other words, this year, many will not be voting for whom they want to become president. Rather, they will make a decision on who they don’t want to be president of the Republic of the Philippines by casting their ballots for his opponent.
This is voting to win, which is a horrible exercise of pragmatism.
When I voted for Arroyo in 2004, I did not foresee the various issues of corruption that would surface during her second term. I had no idea how damaging their impact would be on our society and economy and a people already burdened by all sorts of hardships and disasters. As I prepare to vote on May 10, I can sense a pessimistic outlook being shared by my fellow voters, from members of our family and friends to even strangers on the street. We find our choices practically limited only to those who can win, rather than to those who should win. We will be searching and voting not for the best and the brightest but for the least likely to make things worse.
But even as each person votes according to his or her own reasoning or method, I can only pray that we do not regret the choice we will make.
(Javier Patag, 29, is an administrative assistant at NAMEI Polytechnic Institute in Mandaluyong City.)