It has oftentimes been said that the most important reform that must happen to Philippine elections is to have more educated voters. It is argued that no matter how efficient and accurate our registration,voting and counting processes can become, no substantial improvement in our political system can ever be realized if the “quality of the votes” continue to be “low.” We cannot have an effective, responsive, and accountable government if Filipinos continue to make “bad” choices during elections.
But what has made the “quality of the votes” low? Has it been because many Filipinos do not know how to distinguish between decent and obnoxious politicians, or between honest and mendacious candidates, when they go to their polling stations to vote? Has it been because many Filipino voters would rather sell their votes for a few hundred pesos to corrupt politicians rather than vote for those who can offer “good governance”? Has it been because a substantial number of Filipinos are really dumb voters and do not know who among the candidates could be good for them? The masses, those from the urban and rural poor communities – the masa, have always been blamed for the low “quality of votes” in our country.
I must admit that I myself have gotten frustrated with the kind of leaders elected in various posts in government. But I am not ready and willing to condemn Filipino voters, particularly the masa, for what has been tagged as low quality of votes in the country. This kind of condemnation or this attitude of condescension is really a product of an elitist frame of mind. It is just like saying “I am educated, so I should know better,” or “I have seen most of the world, so I should know what would work for us better,” or even “I have more nutrients in my brain, so I can decide better for you.”
The primary concerns of the Filipino masa relate to the worries brought about by their day to day survival needs. They are concerned about basic necessities like how they are going to have their next meal, how long they are going to stay in their shanties, or how long they are going keep their jobs, etc. There is virtually no opportunity for them to think of the “bigger stuffs.” Good governance and anti-corruption principles are mere abstract ideas to them that do not make enough sense in relation to the realities of their existence.
But this is not to say however that because of their situation, they are incapable of discerning between what may or what may not be good for them in terms of who to vote. It is just that they are presented with few “quality candidates” during elections. The choices are usually the – “none of the above” types. Between candidates, who they believe would likely steal from the public coffers anyway, the masa would rather vote for the one who can provide for their next meal, the one who can promise them jobs, the one who appears to be someone they can approach when they need anything. Well, this is also how the rich and some of the so called “intelligent voters” choose their candidates. Sino ba ang kakilala natin? Kanino ba tayo may pakinabang? The elite and the masa actually vote alike, and it is wrong to blame just the latter for the low quality of votes in our country.
This is not to say that there are no good or well-intentioned candidates during elections. But a lot of them have become frustrated. Some “more decent” once have quit politics altogether. Perhaps rather than outrightly abandon their calling, decent politicians just have to understand better and more deeply the realities in the day to day experiences of the Filipino masa. They should be willing to be educated by the true conditions of the masa by the masa themselves, instead of the other way around. Good politicians should not just rely on their university education and textbooks in communicating with the voters. Upon having been educated by the masa, they should be able to translate and deliver, in understandable, simple and plain language, their esoteric programs of government into concrete plans of actions that would directly address the immediate concerns of the people.
Charlatans and opportunistic politicians who mouth populist rhetoric have so far been successful in convincing voters that they are the better option. There are many of them around. It has therefore become a burden on “decent” politicians to come up with effective social communication strategies to enable them to out talk these charlatans. This is the central role of electoral candidates in elections and in a democracy. Candidates and political parties should be able to effectively communicate to the voters how life can be better if they are voted upon.
Let us stop blaming voters or the masa alone for what many perceive to be the poor quality of our elected leaders in many positions; let us instead push our candidates and political parties to be educated well enough to understand the realities affecting the Filipino masa. Before anyone else, the politicians and the political elites in our society are the ones who must be educated.