It was noontime when I joined a huge crowd rushing to beat the deadline of the voters’ registration in my hometown in Laguna last December. Sighs and shouts of people who had been waiting there since early morning filled the jampacked municipal hall, and it certainly wasn’t a sight to behold for a first-time voter like me.
The very long line was enough proof that I was about to begin a long wait. One hour passed, then two, then three, then eternity. I left the place already at midnight, leaving hundreds of other registrants still waiting. After almost 12 hours, I officially became a registered voter, holding my voter’s stub, tired and sleepy.
It was an energy-draining experience, much like auditioning for a talent search because of the long hours I spent for waiting. But while I chose to “audition,” many people my age did not.
According to a Pulse Asia survey, more than 20% of eligible first-time voters did not register for the May 2007 elections. Most of them, according to the survey, said that they are simply not interested to vote. In a country where politics is often seen as a dirty game, this is no longer surprising.
This could mean that politics in our country has gone to such a sorry state that even our most potent force, the youth, no longer sees it relevant. Maybe lining up for hours to register is not worth the effort for many young people like me, even if it is a crucial first step in exercising the right and responsibility to vote. Maybe it’s better to audition for a talent search.
For many, it may appear a waste of time to register just to be able to cast a single vote that would be combined with millions of other votes anyway, and that can be stolen any time with a simple phone call. And what a waste that single vote would indeed be without enough good candidates to choose from.
What do we really get after voting? If what we always see in the news are politicians involved in this scandal and that, or one candidate vilifying another, then what’s the use of writing on the ballot and dirtying our nails with indelible ink? We would just be placing the same breed of people in the same old system that our elders have always been complaining about. Would a single vote make any difference?
As sad as it sounds, this is probably how many of today’s youth think about the elections and Philippine politics in general. That is, if they even still think about these things at all.
Many young people today are perhaps clouded with fear, a fear to go beyond themselves and step into a bigger world where they have a big responsibility. It is a fear that is not always noticed, but is constantly being heightened by the realities we face each day. It’s not that the youth today are selfish or apathetic, as they are often accused to be, but that they are afraid to engage in concerns they consider not their own.
What is frightening is that even during the elections, an event that supposedly promises new life and reform for our country, this fear persists, and even gets worse.
Seeing this fear frightens me personally. It scared me, for instance, to see many students ignore the Sanggunian’s Reg2Vote campaign last year, where they would have been transported for free to register as voters. It also scared me to hear my brother joke that he will register when he turns 18 so he will be able to sell his vote.
The way I see it, we as a nation are like a broken-hearted lover who, having experienced the same hurt many times, already finds it hard to trust and love again. She fears even a new suitor who promises to revive her, love her so much more, and bring back what she had lost. She’s afraid to risk it all again, and thus chooses to be indifferent.
She, however, can never grow that way. We as a nation can never grow that way. She needs to heal. We need to heal. And the best way to heal is to come face to face with the wound, to strike at the heart of the fear, to risk failing and experiencing hurt. Only then can we conquer this fear and move forward.
We, the youth, are the strongest force that can help our country heal. This is why it is disheartening to know that many of us did not register for the elections, and more disheartening that a lot are simply uninterested to vote. Many of us would often say, “Those candidates are all crap, and this country is hopeless. My vote will be wasted." I say this is evading and worsening the fear instead of healing it.
Today, May 14, we are given yet another chance to heal our country's wounds, to conquer our fears, and to hope again. The precincts are waiting for us.
Ryan is the Inquiry Editor of The GUIDON. He won second place in the Kabataan Essay Category of last year's Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature.