Sunday ∗ 20 Jun 2004

Boycott!

published in i magazine, The Investigative Reporting Magazine of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, Vol. X, Nos.1-2, January-June 2004

No, this isn’t about apathy and a lack of interest in my country’s affairs. Nor is this simply about how the roster of candidates and their non-platforms have so stupefied me, I can’t bring myself to even think of voting. While the start of election season has seen me going through varying degrees of dismay, disgust, and distress, it’s not just these that have made me decide not to take part in the May elections. Truth is, long before GMA flip-flopped on her decision not to run, ever since EDSA Dos when the unified mob that stood up against Erap decided to go their separate ways – some on home, some with Cardinal Sin to pray, some with the Left to Mendiola – I have been finding many reasons not to vote, not least of which is the worsening poverty alongside a ballooning foreign debt, and the escalating presence of America in our land.

But the main reason goes beyond government and politics into the state of our minds. I’ve decided not to vote because over the last three years I’ve realized that we – the so-called “educated”, the middle to upper class “intelligent” and “enlightened” sector, the ones who read and write essays like this, including politicians – are actually all in over our heads, unable to make sense of our political and economic troubles, and incapable of working together towards real change. Worse, we actually think we are doing enough for the nation while blindly we accept and promote the Establishment’s propaganda that we need to celebrate our democracy with the vote even when the choices for president are all questionable.

How can we be at fault, you may ask. After all, we are the print and television personalities who fashion ourselves (or are fashioned) as “intellectuals” (sometimes academics) and who make it our business to be critical and to look out for the nation. We are the entrepreneurs who provide jobs, and the individuals who build NGOs to help neglected sectors. We stood up to the Marcos dictatorship and stopped tanks in 1986, then again marched to EDSA in 2000. We would like to think that we work and live for self AND nation. The question is, are our efforts getting the country anywhere near the goal of a happier prouder democracy?

Nowhere near, I would say, considering that even Inquirer’s Conrado de Quiros only goes as far as saying that we are responsible for the ignorant masa, but doesn’t tell us what he thinks we should do about it. Talk shows, like ANC’s Talkback with Tina Monzon Palma can only ask questions like “do political ads affect your vote?” as if the answer isn’t obvious. And on GMA 7, Debate’s Pareng Oca and Mareng Winnie are still stuck, still asking if a candidate’s personal life is important, as if there weren’t other, more important, questions begging to be asked.

The middle and upper classes happily go their separate shallow ways, content to do some good for some marginalized sector or other, but not to work on the flawed system to which it belongs. We’ve become so swift to label each other (communist! rejectionist! sell-out! even, fascist!) as though this were the be-all and end-all of any person, never mind that his or her proposed solution to a national problem may have merit. And for fear of being ourselves labelled, lest we lose our readers/fans/supporters – even present and future jobs – we have become very careful of what we say, and who or what we endorse, in public. It’s self-censorship at its best.

This is why we can celebrate democracy at the same time that we allow government to trample on it by disallowing rallies. We can moan about the how big the foreign debt is, but we can’t bring ourselves to insist that something be done about it. We say we’re pro-Pinoy yet we refuse to demand a pro-Pinoy platform of our presidential candidates. Worse, we do not seem to care, if we’ve noticed at all, that most of these candidates have charter change, specifically, changes in economic provisions, in their agenda, which should be freaking out serious pro-Pinoys!

Rightfully so, we are critical and wary of the wholistic solutions espoused by the extreme Left (communist rule) and the extreme Right (military rule), yet we in the middle have yet to come up with a coherent alternative, a political and economic strategy that would institute radical changes not only in the way we use and share the nation’s resources and do business among ourselves (Christian and Muslim alike), but also in the way we share our resources and do business with the rest of the world. And when someone actually comes up with something important, a must-read, like Walden Bello’s recent two-part essay “Thetragic consequences of doctrinaire economics” (posted on www.inq7.net, Dec. 24, 2003) on the Philippine economy and what we have been doing wrong compared to the rest of tiger Asia, no one prints it, no one reads it, no one takes it up for discussion.

Like Joel Rocamora, I thought for a while that maybe we could unite behind one candidate (my bet was Roco) and actually beat FPJ. But common sense and reality tell me otherwise. As de Quiros says, along with ABS-CBN and GMA 7 ads, voting is a personal thing. To vote is an act of conscience, an act of citizenship and freedom. Unfortunately for this country, this only really means voting for who we personally think will do something for us as individuals and our corresponding ideologies. It’s about self-centered concerns, and it means helping put in the highest position of the land someone who does not truly measure up.

A boycott may not solve anything, but would voting? The fact is, we need more than an election to save us from our troubles, and we need more than an “enlightened” electorate to get a good president. That we cannot even get ourselves a nationalist candidate is a reflection of how little we have come to demand of our leaders, and of ourselves. Too often, we have become like the politicians we complain about – we’ve started to believe our own propaganda and think we are doing enough.

In 1992 I campaigned for Salonga in the first ever election I was interested in. I was too young to vote, and he lost, but it was the only election I felt good about.

Having voted for Erap in ‘98, and participated in an EDSA that did nothing but put GMA in power, I refuse to put my country through the consequences of another of my mistakes. I owe it to my country not to vote. I will not settle for some “lesser evil”.

ComeMay 10 and enough registered voters boycott the exercise (which turn-out statistics would reflect) it would at least send the message to the President-elect that he or she has the vote and confidence of the inadequately informed and the politically naive only. *

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