Commentary PHL Vote 2022

Moving forward after a divisive election campaign

After today’s balloting, there will be winners and losers. Others will cry and claim they were cheated.

The just-concluded campaign period, which is probably the most divisive in the country’s recent political history, has left deep wounds among candidates and their supporters that need healing. It’s been said that time heals all wounds. But do we have the luxury of time to make the deepest wounds disappear and be united in recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic and resuscitating the economy?

During the campaign, all the candidates for president called for unity as a necessary ingredient for economic recovery. When today’s election is over, the situation can only turn worse if we continue throwing accusations at one another and spreading untruths.

We need to move on, but moving on doesn’t simply mean skipping or compromising legal processes to address the tensions and issues raised before and during the campaign season and the election itself.

I said in my previous column that pre-election survey results and huge attendance in campaign rallies do not make a candidate win. When we cast our votes today, it’s not merely to “confirm” or “make official” the survey results, as many supporters of a certain candidate assert. Saying so diminishes the credibility and integrity of the electoral exercise.

Surveys cover just a few thousand people while the actual balloting involves 65.7 million registered voters. Not all attendees in campaign rallies are registered voters; others are for hire. How can these be used as a basis for a candidate’s victory or defeat?

Casting our vote is a democratic exercise that cannot be substituted by surveys, press releases and mammoth crowds; neither can engagement in social media platforms.

This election has broken friendships and ruined family relationships. Others just avoided political discussions out of respect for one another’s choices and to keep the peace in the relationship. However, some appear to be unforgiving of others who side with a candidate whose family has either been convicted or facing cases of tax fraud, accumulating ill-gotten wealth and human rights violations. “Let’s not pretend [that your choice of leaders] doesn’t [affect how I regard you as a person] if you vote for a liar, a thief or a killer. Why would I want to be associated with you? Why would I want my children to be friends with your children?” a friend posted on Facebook.

Another said it may be easy to be conciliatory if her chosen candidates win, but a defeat may be difficult to accept. She said she won’t be comfortable in the company of people who opted to align themselves with candidates of questionable qualifications.

What has made this election more complicated is the spread of disinformation that manipulates people’s minds. Sadly, a huge segment of the population is easily persuaded to believe the lies but refuse to accept court decisions and official documents belying the fabrications.

All political camps appeal to the public to be on the side of truth, but each of them has different versions of the truth. One candidate offers himself as an alternative to the bitterly warring top-ranking contenders, saying he could provide peace of mind to voters who want an end to the bickering involving supporters of two political families.

This election is not only about choosing the candidates who can best replace President Rodrigo Duterte and Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo after their six-year term ends on June 30. We should give equal importance to the senators, congressmen, party-list organizations, governors, mayors and members of the local legislative councils who will craft laws and implement policies that can make the Philippines a kinder place for all.

Voters should choose legislators who can make, not break, laws. A candidate’s academic background, professional experience, lifestyle and track record must be given primary consideration over popularity, good looks, the gift of gab or survey ratings.

After today’s balloting, it’s not yet time to take a break and relax. We should be more vigilant to make sure the votes are counted and canvassed properly, and the legitimate winners are proclaimed.

Winners should be magnanimous enough to reach out to rival camps and lead their supporters in a painful healing process to start moving on together and moving forward. Political wounds may take time to heal completely, but the process should begin slowly soon after the votes are counted.

One way to hasten the healing process is for internet trolls — who demonize other people by twisting facts, generating and spreading disinformation, and sowing intrigues — to deactivate. Politicians who continue to employ these online vultures should be publicly exposed and made legally accountable.

It may be an old cliché to say “vote wisely,” but it’s the right thing to do.


The views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of VERA Files.
This column also appeared in The Manila Times.