THE Philippine masses weren’t always allowed to vote.
During the time of Spanish rule, for example, there was no part of our national legislature that was for the Philippines. All we had were people from an entirely different country telling us what to do and how to live our lives.
While Filipinos were allowed to choose their barangay chief, often, it was only the principalia that was allowed this opportunity to vote.
Strict rules continued to govern the Philippine electoral body even after Spanish rule, during the time of the Americans. Aside from this, women still weren’t allowed to vote at all.
At present, as we have finally become an independent country (kind of,) each and every Filipino has the right – and is even encouraged – to vote, given that they fit the requirements such as being of age or being a resident of the Philippines.
This does not mean, however, that we have been freed of all our electoral problems. If anything, one may argue that they have gotten worse as we have gained our freedom.
Anyone can vote
In the Philippines, the only requirements to be a voter are as follows:
- At least 18 years old on the day of/before the election
- A resident of the Philippines for at least a year and six months
- Not otherwise disqualified by law
Here, voting is fairly accessible. Those who have disabilities, or senior citizens who cannot accomplish a ballot by themselves, are given help to ensure that they are able to cast their vote. Even those who are illiterate are still granted this right.
Seen as one’s civic duty, come election time, every Filipino is encouraged to vote as well as to register to vote. In fact, it’s seen as a civic duty to do so. However, as time has passed, many problems have arisen with the electoral system that hinders this very right.
Corruption continues to run rampant
In this country, disinformation and fake news run rampant during election time.
From lies about the candidates themselves all the way down to incorrect voting practices, this has proven to be extremely harmful given that fewer voters are able to vote properly at their precincts because of this.
Corruption also grows even worse during this time. Vote buying, for example, is an extremely common practice here.
In 2022, it was found that around 6.3% of Philippine voters were offered money to vote for a particular candidate. There have also been instances of people being threatened, coerced, or commandeered into voting for the so-called “right” candidate.
Even violence is something to worry about during the elections.
Who can forget, for example, the 300 people that died during the election campaign in 2004? Or of the 45 in 2010? Though many have seen a decline in violence when voting, the problem is still something that causes people to grow wary of voting, or even turn them away from it altogether.
What’s most saddening about these issues is oftentimes, they have a harsher impact on the lower classes within the Philippines – those who have not been given the privilege of education, and who do not know better when it comes to voting.
Time and time again, their vulnerability is taken advantage of by those in power.
Let people choose freely
While the Philippines may have achieved independence, I’m not sure if that means that our voters have grown to become entirely free. Is it truly freedom, or have the people taking advantage of them simply become our own?
How can we say that everyone is free to vote when those living in poverty are often coerced into voting for the candidates they vote for? When they have no choice but to shade in the names of those who have handed them money because they’d have no money or means to feed their families if they were to choose not to do so?
How can we call it freedom when only the middle and upper class are given extensive voting education, while the rest of the Philippines are seemingly tasked to figure it all out on their own? How can we say that everyone is equal when it comes to the elections when from the education all the way down to the actual act, it seems to be a rigged game?
At the end of the day, every Filipino deserves to be able to choose who they feel is most qualified to run our country. Every Filipino should be alert and aware of the social ills happening in society, wherein they are not abetted by fake news or disinformation. Given all these issues, it’s no wonder why the voter registration turnout seems to grow smaller with each passing year.
To those who plan to vote: I urge you not to grow discouraged due to the ills found within the system. At the end of the day, your vote still matters, and it’s important that you use this given right to make a change within your country.
Beforehand, be sure to research thoroughly. Get all sides of the story before deciding who you want in charge, whether it be on a local or national scale.
To those who may have already become discouraged: Please don’t lose hope. Yes, given our past elections, things may feel bleak – like anything you do won’t actually make an impact in the end.
That is by no means the case. Remember: your vote is what could very well make or break an election.
And to those who have put this entire system in place: Do better, we beg of you. It’s all we can do.
Find ways to improve this system so that it is accessible and equal for everyone so that when voting, people will have nothing else in mind other than the candidates they wish to choose solely because they know that said candidate is the best person for the job, with no other hidden agenda behind their decision.