May 14, 2007 was an unreasonably hot and muggy day and to avoid the last minute crowd, I went early to my voting precinct to cast my vote.
The mood at the Lianga elementary school grounds where the town folk always cast their votes was sober, subdued and little of the expected electric excitement of the closing days of the campaign period was in the air. The mood was resigned and a matter of fact.
I had expected the situation to be more hectic if not chaotic and, for a moment, I thought if I should wonder why that was so. You see, the reason was already clear and obvious in my mind.
Elections under a democratic system of government are exercises anchored in a people's hopes and aspirations for a better and kinder future. They are based on one premise, that the ordinary citizen and man on the street has the power, collectively together with his peers, to shape and determine the future of his community and country by the right to choose the leaders who will be serving in his government. This right of suffrage is a fundamental cornerstone of the democratic way of life.
When such right becomes perverted and usurped by a corrupt political culture and a political system that is rife with selfish personal interests and greed, then the premise of public accountability on which democracy must stand in order to be viable and effective becomes merely a slogan or catch phrase that has no meaning or real substance anymore. And when that happens, what follows is a widespread disillusionment with the whole democratic process. If ignored and allowed to fester, such disillusionment may start to erode the democratic framework from within and the democracy we are supposedly living under is eventually doomed to certain destruction.
It is patently clear and obvious that that there was rampant vote buying and electoral fraud in the last elections. In Lianga in particular, most, if not all, of the political candidates and parties engaged in the massive buying of votes. There were reports too of voter intimidation, ballot tampering and other forms of electoral cheating.
This is, of course, not something new. In fact, the practice of vote buying, for example, in Lianga has become so commonplace during elections that it has become elaborately systematized and tolerated by all, even by those who consider themselves ardent moralists and believers in the democratic ideal.
The fact is that the majority of the electorate in Lianga are fast losing hope in the electoral process as a means of effecting positive change in their local and national political leadership. They are now seeing the elections as mostly a parody of the real thing, a lie that seeks to hide the sobering fact that the electorate have become merely impotent tools of entrenched political forces and interests whose goal is simply to achieve political power to protect and promote their own agenda.
What is encouraging is that there is indeed a growing segment of the local electorate that is slowly realizing that if this depressing situation is to be remedied, and corrected it must be at the soonest possible time, they must themselves take action. I have to talked to many of the ordinary townspeople and there is a strong prevailing sentiment that something must be done to reform the electoral process and really return the power of the ballot to the people to whom it should belong.
But the obstacles are formidable and there are still many of those among the common folk who, though they favor immediate change, simply feel impotent and insignificant in the face of the powerfully entrenched political and economic forces that favor and promote the prevailing social and political order. The end result is the apathy and resigned indifference that continues to plague the fragile democracy we have struggled and sacrificed so much to establish.
After voting I wandered around the voting precincts for a while. I watch the voters come and go. That the people are voting in an environment seemingly free for fear and intimidation is, I supposed, something to be thankful for. In many ways, the scene before me that day was reassuring and reminiscent of a democracy in action. If there is something wrong in the process going on that day it was not visible or even immediately palpable.
But the rot in the system is there beneath the facade of normalcy and the people know and feel it in their hearts. They have been taken for a ride again at their own expense and, worst than that, they know it but have no choice but to play along and pretend the process is really working.
Perhaps there is some degree of comfort and bliss in such pretension and indifference. The question is for how much longer they can feign such indifference without paying the ultimate cost for their complacency and suffering the consequences of their lack of vigilance.
Or perhaps, maybe they are already paying the price without knowing it.