COMMENT: They didn’t vote in 2016. Now they regret it

·6 min read
COTABATO CITY, PHILIPPINES - JANUARY 21: Voters look for their names in the registration papers as they flock to polling precincts to cast their votes on January 21, 2019 in Cotabato City, southern Philippines. Nearly three million Filipinos in region of Mindanao are voting in a plebiscite which could pave the way for lasting peace at the country's Muslim-majority southern region and place them under a substantially more autonomous regional government. Based on reports, Monday's plebiscite on the Bangsamoro Organic Law could provide a political solution to decades of fighting between Islamist separatists and the Philippine army which has left at least 120,000 people dead over years of violence. (Photo by Jes Aznar/Getty Images)
FILE PHOTO: Voters look for their names in the registration papers as they flock to polling precincts to cast their votes on January 21, 2019 in Cotabato City, southern Philippines. (Photo: Jes Aznar/Getty Images)

In the past few weeks alone, I have personally met and talked with some people who wished they voted and made some difference during the May 2016 national elections.

During a conversation with a former colleague a few weeks back, for instance, he told me, “I really wish I voted that year. I was eligible to vote in the previous two national elections and yet I did not register.” When I asked him why, he only said, “Well, I always thought that my singular vote would not do anything to actually change or affect the results significantly. The media would always tell us to register for the elections, but honestly, I just thought that they and Comelec (Commission on Elections) just wanted a huge voter turnout only for greater media coverage.”

It was only later when he realized the importance of his could-have-been vote. “It is highly frustrating to cover the news every day and see all this mess. It is even more embarrassing that I am complaining a lot on Twitter now about what happened to the Philippines in the past five years, and yet as I look back, I realize I actually had the power to avoid such terrible things from happening,” he added. “I now feel like I am part of the problem.”

Film and TV actor Alex Medina was also among those who did not register and vote in the previous national elections despite being eligible to do so. Just recently on Instagram, he published a poster that showed a giant school of fish preying on a shark. The poster was accompanied by a text that said in Filipino, "Register to vote. The change comes in your vote.”

Medina told his 100,000 followers in Filipino, “First-time voter at 36 years old. Register to vote. Don’t wait for the deadline. Be part of changing the course of history,” ending it with an emoji of a fist in the air.

When I asked him why he suddenly decided to become a registered voter for the May 2022 polls, he told me, “I think our generation remains indifferent in politics so I never took the time to actually register and vote. So, this time around, I feel like it’s my duty to vote and get that energy put out there. I think the millennials remain to be untapped voters, which should not be the case; we should register, vote, and make our voices heard this time.”

I think our generation remains indifferent in politics so I never took the time to actually register and vote. So, this time around, I feel like it’s my duty to vote and get that energy put out there... We should register, vote, and make our voices heard this time.Alex Medina, film and TV actor

This was the same sentiment of the person I met when I was at a local Comelec office two weeks ago. I was processing the transfer of my voter registration from Mandaluyong City to Cabuyao, Laguna when we got into a little chitchat while we were waiting for our respective turns. She (who was there for reactivation of her inactive registration) told me that she has always been a supporter of Vice President Leni Robredo (just as I am!), although she was not among the 44.5 million Filipinos who voted last 2016.

She is not alone. Data from Comelec showed that of the 54.3 million registered Filipino voters, only 44.5 million actually did cast their votes. While it was a record-breaking high turnout, the truth of the matter remains that millions of people still did not vote.

“I did my part in supporting her through Facebook posts and all. My efforts always received overwhelming responses because of a high volume of likes and shares so I thought it was enough effort from myself already,” she said. “And while she won, she won by a very thin margin, right? So now, if she runs for President, I want her to win by a wide margin already.”

Posting on social media is good, but please remember that social media's algorithms do not reflect the nation's collective voice — it only mirrors your circle’s. If you are on Twitter and you see a lot of woke millennials tweeting their support for Robredo, for example, that does not mean that that is the reflection of the larger society's sentiments. Remember when our Twitter feeds were heavily bombarded by support for the late Miriam Defensor-Santiago's presidential run, and yet she only managed to get 3.42% of the votes?

Now is not the time to be complacent, especially if you are unsatisfied with the way things were run in the past few years alone. The real battle happens not in social media but in the polling precincts.

During my visit to the local Comelec office in Cabuyao (on a Saturday — yes, voter registration is open even on Saturdays!), I saw hope. It was raining and yet the center was trooped by hundreds of people, carrying pieces of paper in their hands, hoping to become registered voters already. No rain was strong enough for these people to go out and make sure that they will be able to participate in the upcoming national elections. It was an encouraging sight.

So, if you are eligible to vote but are still unregistered by this time, you have 10 days left to go to the nearest Comelec office to register. You can opt to fill up the online application form or you can just go there with your necessary documents and fill up the form there. All details are found on the Comelec website.

For people like me who are registered voters already but would not be able to vote in their previous precincts due to travel restrictions and other valid reasons (especially as a lot of Filipinos have relocated since the pandemic started), you can have your registration transferred to wherever you are residing now. That is what I did just recently. The process was relatively shorter than that of first-time voter registration and I was also able to do it on a Saturday — so really, there is no reason not to vote on May 9 (unless you have COVID-19 by that time).

I would like to borrow what I said in my op-ed "The youth are outspoken, and rightfully so" published on Rappler last year. I said there that we need to transform our frustrations into ambitions and goals. While it may be true that this is not an easy time to be young, it is also a great one because we are in a position where we and our ideals can improve our quality of life.

Let us continue calling out and changing the wrong, the bad, and the ugly, so that the right, the good, and the prosperous will emerge.

Juju Z. Baluyot is a Manila-based writer who has written in-depth special reports, news features, and opinion-editorial pieces for a wide range of publications in the Philippines. He covers societies, cultures, and gender. The views expressed are his own.

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