What vote impacts lives of seniors like us.
'The circus in town!'
So observed the media during the last-minute rush of filing of COCs (Certificates of Candidacy) by the motley group of political aspirants for next year's midterm elections. This also reflects the attitude of many Filipinos who have come to view our elections with skepticism.
Based on experience, many voters are wary that our periodic electoral exercises are fraught with systemic and external flaws, with mixed results in terms of credibility or validity, specially on the local level. The terms 'vote buying,' 'tampered returns,' 'flying voters' and 'hakot,' plus the questioned accuracy of the automated voting machines, have gained wide currency, especially among losing candidates. After every election, the many electoral protests filed have given rise to the observation that 'There are no losers in any election, only those who were cheated.'
Add to these the perceived overspending of many candidates (an easily recoverable 'investment' while in office), the recurring instances of election violence, the perpetuation of political dynasties, and the increasing abuse of the party-list system by entrenched interests.
In truth, as long as widespread poverty effectively disempowers many citizens through 'patronage politics,' most obvious during elections, many ills will continue to plague our electoral enterprise.
While all this can be discouraging, let us look at the flip-side of the coin. For most ordinary citizens like us, choosing our proxies in government through voting is the only way we can periodically have a direct impact in the democratic process. And while one vote is only a drop in the ocean, the totality should still reflect the collective choice of the people, hopefully in many places, if not all. And let's face it, there are still decent candidates out there who have the integrity and competence to represent us, although oftentimes the odds against their winning are great.
While electing national leaders (President, Vice President, senators) is very important, it is our choice of local officials (barangay captain and council members, mayor, vice-mayor and city or municipal councilors) that impacts our lives more directly on a daily basis. Their decisions and local ordinances (sometimes in response to public clamor) are the ones that can improve the quality of our everyday lives, specially in the case of seniors.
Some examples of ordinances from selected cities and municipalities: The placement of additional traffic lights in accident-prone areas; the assignment of traffic enforcers to high traffic-volume streets; the exemption of seniors' vehicles from the number-coding scheme; the parking-fee exemption for seniors in malls and other public places; the smoking ban in specified areas; the availability of commonly used medicines in government-run pharmacies, and even delivery to house-bound patients; thousands of local-government sponsored scholarships for primary and secondary level students (one municipality alone claims to have 60,000 scholars).
These and many other citizen benefits and privileges provided by local governments, in addition to the mandated basic services, should be an incentive for us voters to examine the track records, campaign promises and plans of those who present themselves to serve us in our localities.
But how to choose? I recently received an e-mail from an organization called Pilipino Movement for Transformational Leadership (PMTL). I understand that it is a broad, advocacy-driven, non-partisan movement, which is ecumenically Christian in character and composition.
PMTL provides key guidelines in choosing suitable candidates, which it had disseminated with some success in recent elections. Quite idealistically (something I believe we need in these pragmatic times), the guidelines aim to promote the choice of candidates who will more likely contribute to bringing about true transformational change in our country.
Called 'Gabay' (moral guidelines), these provide solid criteria for the conscientious voter. I have put them concisely as follows:
Character and integrity -He/she consults constituents and respects the boundaries between right and wrong; has a clean public record; does not associate with disreputable people; lives righteously, making him/her respected in society; has not been involved in cheating or violation of election rules; has not been involved in corruption and has no unexplained wealth.
Leadership and abilities -He/she has adequate education, knowledge and skills for his/her desired position; has adequate experience and a tangible record of accomplishment in his/her previous work; has political will, especially in implementing the laws of the land.
Sincerity to God and country-He/she endeavors to live according to God's will and laws; respects authority (parents, church and society); values life and the family, and dignity of people; is genuinely empathetic towards the poor and the underprivileged.
Leadership integrity- He/she is a law-abiding citizen; is righteous and fair and fights for what is right; has a clear program to address widespread poverty; fights illegal drugs and smuggling; uses the country's financial resources judiciously and does not use government funds for personal gain; protects and makes good use of the country's natural resources; does not promote political dynasties and does not believe leadership must be limited to a select few.
In case the foregoing criteria should appear unreachable and limited to saints, PMTL has provided an evaluation scale of 1 to 5, with 4 being the scale level where the voter rates the candidate as meeting a specific criterion. A level 3 rating (neutral) indicates that the voter can't positively say that the candidate meets the criterion.
As we have and at times painfully experienced, our choices of political leaders crucially affect our lives, for better or worse. Let us remember the lessons learned next time we vote.