We make choices every day. Some of them are mundane choices — what brand of toothpaste or shampoo to use, what to have for breakfast, where to eat. Some choices are very consequential. For instance, the choice of what to major in college is an important decision in life because it would have some bearing on the kind of future you would have. For some people, that decision is made for them by family circumstances: your father was a doctor, your mom was a doctor, your older brother was a doctor and so your choice most likely will fall along that line. Some make their own choices, like a person who would decide to pursue his dream of becoming an artist in a family of lawyers for instance.
Looking back, I think my decision was a little bit of both. I was exposed to entrepreneurship early on in life as I helped my mother sell fish and shrimp in Divisoria. And I loved learning about selling and dealing with customers from my Nanay Curing. But I did make the conscious decision to take up Business Administration at the University of the Philippines, and to leave the corporate world and become my own boss. It was a decision that changed my life and over which I had no regrets.
Another important choice is voting. In a democratic society, choosing our leaders is a sacred duty. The suffrage of course is a right to be exercised. The Philippine Constitution (Section 1, Article V) provides that “Suffrage may be exercised by all citizens of the Philippines not otherwise disqualified by law…No literacy, property, or other substantive requirements shall be imposed on the exercise of suffrage. The Constitution places the power of government, specifically the right to create a government, squarely in the hands of our people. This is the reason why voting is not just a right but a duty.
The exercise of this right is a duty because the choices we make will matter not only to us individually but also to our family, community and country. And the importance of such a decision will matter not just today but for our future.
That burden of responsibility must not be taken lightly. It is a personal responsibility one must take seriously, a difficult choice requiring a lot of discernment on the part of voters. Aside from the president and vice president, Filipinos are expected to fill in 12 senate seats, 300 congressional seats, and more than 18,000 local positions, from governors to councilors.
And in a democracy where people from different backgrounds have the right to make their own choices, people will make diverse choices. This is the whole point of democracy and suffrage in the first place — no one person has the monopoly of wisdom such that he or she can make the decision for the entire country. That decision is placed in the hands of all Filipinos — regardless of educational attainment, socioeconomic status, or religious belief. Democracy relies on the collective wisdom of the people to make the choices in government leadership.
This is the reason why I am uncomfortable with people ridiculing other people’s opinions. It is okay to have a civil conversation about who to vote for. It is even expected in a democracy to have a civil debate about the issues and the personalities surrounding the elections. That is necessary to make an informed choice. But it is wrong to mock as stupid other people simply because their choices do not conform with yours. This is wrong even from the point of view of electoral strategy. If you want your candidate to win you need to convince the undecided and convert people who prefer other candidates.
And so as we make our decision for the 2022 National and Local Elections let us remember to do our duty by studying the platforms of candidates, examining their track record, and more importantly, respecting the rights of others to make their own choices in a democracy. Unity does not mean we should all think alike or make similar choices. It means we should be able to have a meaningful conversation as a people despite our differences. That democratic conversation begins in the choices we make as we write on the ballot and continues even after elections as we participate meaningfully in governance.