The change we want

April Porteria
'While I see the 2016 national elections as a crucial period in our democracy, the change we want should go beyond it'

I first voted in 2010 – a presidential election. I was excited to cast my ballot for the very first time. I felt that it was important to get my voice heard to change the country.

Although I have an activist background and maintain skepticism toward practices that entrench instead of confront power, voting felt like a meaningful opportunity to take part in a country-wide activity that can change the course of our nation. Elections, after all, are moments when citizens pin their hopes and aspirations on leaders who promise to deliver reforms.

It is no surprise then that when we talk about elections, we talk about the kind of “Leader I Want” – which perhaps, not incidentally, is the theme of Rappler’s #PHVote forum last May 12 in De La Salle University.  

Traits, virtues, and desirable qualities of leaders were discussed in a very engaging manner. Most of the audience were students from different universities and representatives of different student organizations. I remembered my 19-year-old self, a UP student excited to scrutinize the qualities of every single presidential candidate so I could make an informed choice about the leader I want.

From I to we

In a number of instances, however, I feel discomfort with framing the elections as an issue of the “leader I want.” Dean Tony La Viña of the Ateneo School of Government who presented in the forum put forward a very interesting insight – instead of talking about the leader “I” want, we need to talk about the leader “we” want because it should be a collective matter.

“If it is only what ‘you’ want, you might not get the leader that you want,” he said. (WATCH: Dean Tony La Viña talks about the qualities of a leader the Philippines needs)

This insight very much appealed to me. Thinking about elections in people-centered rather than self-centered terms allows us to remember that when we vote, we must not only vote for our self-interest. Instead, our vote must be cognizant of the conditions of our fellow Filipinos who are in conditions of dire poverty and extreme starvation.

It is only by thinking about our vote as a way of amplifying the voice of those who most need social change and justice that we can consider elections an effective mechanism to create meaningful change.

More than the vote

But change is never easy. To vote and rely on a small group of individuals who promised to serve their constituencies has never been enough. Through decades, Filipinos have been disappointed with leaders whose performance always falls short of expectations.

As I observe Philippine politics, I have increasingly been convinced that the problem lies not with the individual leaders we vote but with a broken system that has set limits on our dreams and what we can do to achieve them.

The system of wealth accumulation, for example, has already transcended the political. The recent issue of the pork barrel scam wherein alleged public funds were used to fund bogus NGOs has showed us the vulnerabilities of this system. Thus, the people must watch their leaders and they must be empowered to demand a meaningful change of the system.

The youth

Rappler’s election forum puts hope on the youth in choosing the rulers of this country. I agree that the youth has all the potential to participate in bringing about change. In fact, history has shown that the youth has been capable of delivering on this promise.

This was seen in the formation of Kabataang Makabayan during the Marcos dictatorship. The ideological organization led the campaigns to mobilize the youth to oust Marcos. The youth also plays an active part in the formulation of legislation today through the Kabataan Partylist. Another formation is the recently founded Youth Act Now, which unites different youth organizations in the fight for truth and accountability in government.

While I see the 2016 national elections as a crucial period in our democracy, the change we want should go beyond it. The country seems to face one crisis after another, which often leaves us feeling demoralized and left without hope.

The farmers who produce the food we eat themselves cannot afford to eat thrice a day. Workers face different forms of injustice from unfair labor practices of their employers to depressed wages. Also, the youth who are meant to change the course of the future are faced with unaffordable tuition, insecure job contracts, and low wages.

Collective action to demand and work for widespread leadership change is timely now. Choosing the right leaders is only meaningful if we have thought about the kind of society we want. –

April Porteria is an MA Philippine Studies student at the UP Asian Centre and is a Research Associate in the Development Studies Program at the Ateneo de Manila University.


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