2016 elections: Searching for stars, saints and superheroes 

Many people’s hearts are heavy as we approach the elections, and for good reasons. The choices are not at all good, and there are lots of misinformation, hate, and fear that threaten to determine the decisions of many.

For an exercise dubbed the “highest expression of the people’s will”, and endlessly bragged as the only way to change the government and system, the coming elections totally stink.

We have been dealt a bad hand, with the worst possible cards from the same old deck and in essentially the old, rigged game. Even the automated edition leaves so much to be desired – aside from the fact that our voter data was allowed to be carted away and exposed to the world.

No, I am not being cynical. I’m preparing myself (and perhaps even you) from a crisis of expectations as we approach May 9. For this cannot be how change looks and feels like.

In my heart and mind, I’d like to see changes beneficial to the majority of farmers and workers. That means genuine land reform and the creation of millions of jobs with security of tenure and adequate wages. I would like the Philippines to be able to say to farmers and workers: We will reward your hard work with a good life.

In my heart and mind, I’d like to see modern infrastructure, transportation, and communications to enable our people to do what they want and need to do.

In my heart and mind, I’d like to see lower and fairer tax policies so that those who have more would give more, and that taxes do not unduly burden the poor and hold down the middle class, especially professionals and entrepreneurs.

In my heart and mind, I’d like to see the Philippines recognize and implement a new right: The right to health care. No questions asked. No deposits. No premiums to pay.

In my heart and mind, I’d like to see the authentic promotion of education, science, culture, the arts, and sports. There should not be a hindrance to getting a college education, especially in state schools. We cannot achieve progress if we leave scientists, artists and athletes behind.

In my heart and mind, I’d want to see the beginning of the end of the policy of pushing Filipinos to work abroad. Our OFWs and Filipino immigrants, even those who have been naturalized in their adopted countries, are raring to go back home, if only we bother to provide them the same opportunities and, more importantly, draw out the skills and knowledge they have learned there.

In my heart and mind, I’d also like to see changes beneficial to national minorities especially the lumads. That means recognizing the indigenous peoples’ ancestral domain and joining them to preserve their culture and traditions.

In my heart and mind, I’d like to see changes beneficial to LGBTs: Anti-discrimination and anti-hate laws, recognition of civil unions and domestic partnerships, and the right to enter into marriage. Basically, full equality as guaranteed by our Constitution.

I don’t aim low. We can’t aim low. Especially if we consider that we’re talking about the highest offices of the land and six-year terms. Especially if we talk about Congress and the Senate. And the local governments. We can’t aim low if we are to decide on those we would choose to be our leaders.

Aiming low could be tantamount to making a self-fulfilling prophecy about small-time, negligible, cosmetic changes.

We must challenge this way of thinking. Cynicism has only given us either betrayal or mediocrity.

For it deprives us of the opportunity to also question the election per se as the only way to achieve change.

Actually, we tell ourselves often that “sistema ang problema.” But if it cannot be changed through elections, then how? That is a question that has not been raised in these elections.

The candidates meanwhile have split us according to their colors and personal characteristics. Some have even been able to ask us frankly and without shame that we kiss and embrace the very chains used on us for the last six years or even longer.

Some say “change should start with me,” as if the biggest problem of the Philippines is its people. But that’s not true. We don’t demand doleouts. All we want simply is a truly independent country where its people broadly share the fruits of democracy.

I hope I’m making sense. Maybe all I wanted to say could be as simple as we need to rely less on the broken vessels of hope called old candidates and old parties. Or to reject the newly-canonized saints or newly-minted superheroes. Or to mistake the destiny of these characters who offer themselves as leaders for our own destiny or for the nation’s.

Actually, I want to say more than that. I want to say we must revolutionize not just the elections, but also how we view elections, how we view our country and ourselves, and how we intend to achieve the much-need and important changes we want and deserve. We cannot be talking just about May 9 and only these candidates.

In order to achieve the changes we desire, we cannot be just the voters, the human “props” in debates, the supporters and the cheerleaders, the audience of ads and sorties, and all the other usual roles. We have tried that, and then in between elections, left the business of politics and government to a few. It has never worked, and it isn’t working.

As the elections approach and as we make our final choices, may we realize the need to revolutionize our outlook and worldview. And to revolutionize the elections and Philippine democracy.

For maybe in that future we hope to reach, we would no longer be dealt a bad hand because it is no longer a game where only a few control the deck. In that future, we would not just be voting. We ourselves would be leading and comprising the parties, fielding new faces as candidates, and competing with each other based for the best solutions to our problems and issues.

In that future, we the people would be the stars, saints and superheroes. The people will have their own parties and a just share of the power. And they’d finally have a direct say in the direction and destiny of the nation.

Utopia, some would say. But come to think of it, that’s democracy. And that’s a future worth fighting for.

First published with the title “Vote towards a future we want and need” in the Manila Bulletin on 26 April 2016. Republished here with a new title and edits for clarity.