Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Excited, Anxious First-Time Voters

Excited, anxious: Teenagers Cezar Anthony Valencia, left, and Arvin Jasper Mañalac register to become first-time voters in 2010. (Photo by Sweet Cawicaan)
BARAS, Rizal (Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project / May 20, 2009) - Seventeen-year-old cousins Achilles Jerome Mañalac and Cezar Valencia are excited. Before the year ends, both of them will turn 18 and just like all of their age, they are looking forward to the benefits of adulthood - including the right to vote.

Achilles Jerome and Valencia are among the estimated 1.9 million first-time voters turning 18 in time for the May 2010 national and local elections, according to the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

Valencia, who celebrates his birthday on November, registered last week in the local Comelec office alongside with Achilles Jerome’s older brother, Arvin Jasper. Achilles Jerome says he will register in the next few days.

Mixed emotions

“I am very excited about the prospect of voting,” says 19-year-old Arvin Jasper. “So much is at stake next May - because we will choose leaders from the president down to the kagawad (village councilors).”

Another first-time voter Mariano Casaclang III, 20, is just as excited.

“I know that I can make a difference by exercising my right to vote,” Casaclang says.

But alongside demonstrable excitement is a similar wariness.

“I don’t know what the candidates can really do for the country,” adds Achilles Jerome.

Prized right

For many Filipinos, the right to suffrage is highly-prized. In theory at least and baring any irregularities, everybody becomes equal on Election Day regardless of education, status, age, sex, religious, political and other beliefs.

The people in Baras seem particularly keen on elections. Baras is one of the smaller towns in the province of Rizal. Occupying 8,492.64 hectares and is located at the foothills of the Sierra Madre Mountains and its funnel-like shape dips into Laguna de Bay.

“The town registered a 74 percent voter turnout in the last May 2007 elections,” according to Joseleo Tibay, Baras’ assistant election officer.

Officials are also expecting a high voter turnout next year.

As of April 20 this year, Comelec has registered a total of 16,511 voters from the 10 local barangays (Concepcion, Evangelista, Mabini, Pinugay, Rizal, San Jose, San Juan, San Miguel, San Salvador and Santiago). This figure is 52.4 percent of the town’s population of 31,524 based on the National Statistics Office’s 2007 Census.

Comelec records show 555 new registrations since January 19 this year.

Baras’ former election officer, Yolanda Rio, said Comelec is expecting another thousand or so new registrations before October 31, the last day first-time voters can ensure they get on the electoral roll.

Youth power

The local Comelec does not have records of youth voters. Nor does the Municipal Planning and Development Council have updated data on age demographics – but based on the 1995 census, the town’s population is relatively young— 42.2 percent of the total population or 8,461 people were between 15 to 39 years old.

And it is much more than likely this has increased – probably substantially since then.

Nationally speaking, the First Time Voters Network said roughly 60 percent of the 2010 electorate will come from the age bracket of 18 to 40 years old.

The national Comelec earlier this month indicated 2010 would see around nine million new voters joint the electorate —a very sizeable audience which many politicians acknowledge can hardly be ignored.

All four first-time voters we spoke to suggested that the youth vote could help to reshape Philippine politics.

Apathetic about elections

Equally however, they suggested that a sizeable percentage of the young are indifferent about voting and think it will change nothing.

One of these is Joanne Peñaranda, 23, who has not voted—nor registered—despite having been eligible for the past two elections, in 2004 and 2007.

“Don’t get me wrong: I want to exercise my right - I just think it will be useless,” she says.

Peñaranda said she has been disillusioned of the elections because most of the candidates lack experience, capability and political will. She also questioned the morality and stature of those who put themselves forward for either local or national office.

“Politicians are all the same. Corruption remains rampant. Paulit-ulit na lang (It is a cycle). And then there is overwhelming problem with vote buying.”

Vote buying issues

Casaclang says he heard about vote buying here back in 2007. So too did assistant local election official Tibay. The local Comelec office however says it did not receive any complaint about it.

“Not reporting vote buying activities is understandable because people fear for their safety if they do so,” suggests Arvin Jasper.

A source who refused to be named told us how some of her relatives were offered PhP 500 (USD 11) each in exchange for their votes at the last election. She said she didn’t know who to be more angry with – the person who offered the money –or those of her relatives who accepted it.

Many observers are increasingly saying that corruption and vote buying will only end when people on all sides refuse to become complicit to it regardless of the scale. Some say offers of vote buying should immediately encourage those approached to support the other candidates in clear protest at the attempts to subvert the democratic process

Worthy candidates

“Those planning to run in next year’s election should have concrete platforms for economic development. Providing jobs for people must be a priority,” says Casaclang.

“And on local issues, I think officials have to be stricter in implementing the law. Even though crime rate is low in this area, there have been instances of gang fighting with drunken teenage members,” he says.

Valencia meanwhile says the country’s new leaders should be “pro-poor.” They should also serve as the “voice of youth.”

Call for youth voters

“I still believe the youth is the hope of our country and we should encourage them all to become active and to exercise their rights,” he says.

Tibay advised all new voters to go to the local Comelec offices to register –making sure to bring with them a valid ID.

All four first time voters agreed that attending local miting de avance and watching political rallies and debates will help them choose the best candidates.

According to Arvin Jasper it is wrong to simply vote for somebody because he is a relative or friend or shares the name and is part of a famous political dynasty. Voting for people like that who promise personal help if they get elected is part of the country’s continuing problem with political patronage, he says.

Casaclang adds that those people looking to vote for incumbents should first look to see what they have actually achieved in office before paying any attention to any new promises of action.

Just as the millions of first time voters should be wise in exercising their vote – so politicians whether national or local should be wise not to take anything or anybody for granted. Increasingly, actual ideas, platforms and policies –not mere names– are starting to matter. (Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project - Sweet Cawicaan. The author is a freelance journalist.)



bianca said...
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The Mindanao Examiner said...

Hi Bianca,

You may upload the content. Please put story credits.


Mindanao Examiner

bianca said...

of course :)thanks much!