We ask two things of every Filipino voter on May 9, 2022: Resolve to show up at your polling precincts. Claim your ballot already firm about the candidates you will vote for.
To squander that freedom to register our voices, to waver in our choices – worse, to not have a choice at all – is to be remiss as citizens and to turn traitors to our country.
Because there is no excuse for anyone to be unaware of the stakes in this year’s elections.
We are the exhausted medical frontliners who were deprived of hazard pay while Palace cronies milked pandemic contracts for their Lamborghinis. We are the residents of far-flung barrios who have yet to receive a single dose of COVID-19 vaccine more than a year after the national task force rolled out the jabs in choice regions. We are the cancer patients worrying if a poorly-equipped government hospital will turn us away when another coronavirus surge overwhelms the doctors again.
We are the teachers who have reached into our own pockets to print modules and learning aides or buy phone internet credits to help our confused students absorb lessons in distance classes better. We are the mothers who feel powerless that we cannot help our children struggling with math, science, and reading comprehension because we didn’t get an education ourselves. We are the teenagers who hesitate to dream of university education because even with free tuition, our parents cannot afford the daily allowance or the monthly dorm.
We are the indigenous people declared enemies of the state because we assert our ancestral rights over the area where the Chinese want to build a dam. We are the farmers helplessly watching developments encroach into verdant rice fields because a senator whose family builds subdivisions has the power to shelve a national land use plan. We are the fishermen whose families barely have enough to sell and eat because the government refuses to defend us against foreign militia vessels intruding into our fishing grounds.
We are the daily commuters who wait three hours for a bus ride or walk kilometers to get home because car-riding, convoy-assisted policy makers decided to enforce traffic schemes that didn’t make sense. We are the student volunteers who are branded as terrorists because we serve neglected communities. We are the parents whose guts turn into knots when our children are out because we’ll never know when an abusive cop or an unaccountable police informer sets them up for vigilante murder. We are the women degraded with lies of sexual affairs because that is the lamest that threatened misogynists can do when we do things better.
We are the breadwinners taxed to death by a government that frees plunderers. We are the income-less jeepney drivers who are jailed for taking to the streets to ask for aid. We are the job hunters whose prospects have dwindled because investors from countries horrified by the government’s human rights record are shying away, while locators mull over leaving if the unrepentant son of a thieving dictator becomes the next president.
We are all these – and more. The difference is, with which candidate did we identify? And what does that candidate make us feel about ourselves, about tomorrow?
Can we look them in the eye with pride – the frontliner, the barrio folk, the sick, the teacher, the mother, the student, the indigenous brother, the farmer, the fisherman, the commuter, the community volunteer, the parent, the woman, the breadwinner, the jeepney driver, the job seeker – and say we are too tired of hoping, so any false promises and pretense of leadership is fine by us?
Or can we put our arm around their shoulders – our family, our neighbor, the stranger on the street, the Manong, Manang, Toto, and Nene kept on the margins for so long – and say that in the last 90 days of hustings, and in the last six years of quiet service, a partner-servant has always believed that every Filipino could rise up from learned helplessness and be his or her own hero?
A year before the elections, when Rappler launched the #WeDecide: Atin Ang Pilipinas battle cry of its election coverage, we were clear for whom we were doing this:
The main character in the 2022 elections is going to be the voter. The campaign will be to disabuse the minds of Filipinos that there’s no more turning the tide against whoever is fielded (for favored) by an administration that has governed with mediocrity, heartlessness, intimidation, and corruption – as well as brute towards imagined adversaries and subservience to the real enemy. The message is to convince every eligible citizen that his or her one vote will count. It will. It can.
Today, we will do just that.
We disabuse our minds of the lie that nothing will change whoever wins the elections, that when the polls close you and I will just go back to fending for ourselves.
For the first time in a long while – 36 years after we ousted a tyrant who left our nation in ruins – the Filipino voter has a real chance of changing the course of his or her life and this country with the vote that will be cast.
For the first time in a long while, the Filipino voters will once more find their voice and the courage to wield their power long after the closing of the polls.
#WeDecide: We will own the elections, we will reclaim this country.