Soon, it will be elections in the Philippines. Already, senatorial candidates are studying surveys revealing their chances of winning while candidates for local government office are preparing to prove their excellent performance (for incumbents) and their suitability and potential to do the job (for aspiring rival candidates).
It is thus incumbent for voters to know how to vote: register early and confirm well in advance from the COMELEC office if your names are on the voters’ list to avoid a waste of time. In past elections, many voters have been turned away on the actual day upon finding out that their names were not on the voters’ list, thus denying them their right of suffrage.
Next is knowing which candidates to vote for. It is not enough to go by “name recall” as most voters do and just check the list of candidates they have heard about from their neighbours or from the TV commercials. I actually know of some people who have no clue who to vote for. They ask others in their circles whom they perceive to be knowledgeable and just vote for whoever he/she recommends.
As we know, the qualifications for eligibility to run in public office are very basic and minimal, perhaps to allow for a wider, democratic selection process, e.g. for Senators and Congressmen: “the candidate must be a natural-born citizen of the Philippines; at least 35 years old (Senators) or 25 years old (Congressmen) on the day of election; able to read and write; a registered voter, must be a resident of the Philippines not less than two years (Senators) or one year (Congressmen) immediately preceding the day of election”
For Philippine local officials, they must be: a citizen of the Philippines, at least 23 years old for governor, vice governor, members of Sangguniang Panlalawigan… able to read and write Filipino or any other dialect, registered in the constituency of the locality and resident of not less than one year immediately preceding the day of election.” (Philippineelectionlawyer.com).
With these qualifications, so many Filipinos would qualify to run. No wonder we have numerous nuisance candidates throwing in their hats into the ring. After the nuisance candidates are eliminated, how do we weed out the undesirables from the ones who deserve to be voted into office? Or more simply, how do we vote for the right candidate? For me, educational requirements up to the graduate level may have a bearing; previous demonstrated excellent and above-par public service experience; ability to flesh out the basic needs of his/her constituency and address them in a timely manner without getting snagged in the usual red tape; integrity in the face of pressure and approachability to his/her constituency.
But more important than these is determining if they have a vision for their constituencies; if they do (and this is not the usual copy-cat visions from previous incumbents), then what strategies will he/she use to make these visions a reality? How will he/she deliver the milestones from this point to the next until http://he/she reaches his ultimate vision? Further, he/she must have the political will to make things happen in the face of constraints or obstacles. Lastly, he/she must have a heart for public service. The right candidates are not there to pocket “kickbacks” or hefty commissions and enrich themselves but to ensure that people in their localities have access to education, training, job opportunities and incentives for those going into entrepreneurial tracks. In short, they are there to make life better for the people they serve so that qualified people will have jobs; people could have affordable housing; there is sufficient food supply for the population; there is access to public education and relevant livelihood or technical trainings. Unless these basic needs are met, people will not be content and there will always be public outcries.
Several years ago, I watched a CNN reporter interviewing then-Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. He is now back as ruler of Malaysia after 22 years since 1981. The reporter asked him, “Why are people in Malaysia not allowed to hold protest rallies? Why can they not exercise their democratic rights?” His answer was simple and succinct: “I would rather that my people have a roof over their heads, food on the table, education for their children. What’s the use of democracy if the people are suffering?” (paraphrased).
Our country is facing many social ills but the basic root of all is the grinding poverty. As of 2015, according to World Bank figures, some 22 Million Filipinos or more than one fifth of the population still live below the national poverty line and most of these live in the countryside as farm workers. We need to keep trying to meet the basic needs so we will be more prepared to tackle the higher calling of a mature democratic nation.