I was 14 years old when I first had my serious involvement in the Philippine elections.
The year was 2001 and a television station was looking for poll watchers, whose main job was to monitor the tally of votes in the precincts.
I remember quite clearly that I was assigned at the Pajo Elementary School in Lapu-Lapu City.
It was the summer break and I was spending it in Cebu. We moved to Leyte when I was nine years old but the summer months were spent in Cebu, at my grandparents’ house. I was then an incoming junior student at Saint Peter’s College of Ormoc in Ormoc City, Leyte.
For four to six weeks, I was mostly free to join cheerleading groups, camps, daydreaming that my crush would notice me.
For that summer, I found the poll watching gig because of my cousin, Catherine. What got me interested at first was the 500-peso volunteer allowance. I had been eyeing a hooded jacket from a local department store and I could use that money to buy it.
Excited about the new experience, Catherine and I filled up forms and attended an orientation. Because I was a minor, I was given a piece of paper that my guardian had to sign. I asked my Auntie Malik if my grandmother, Lola Patring, would sign it. She told me to ask Lola myself.
Lola was hesitant about signing the form. She said being “involved” in the election process exposed me to potential violence. She reminded me about stolen ballot boxes and harrased teachers.
But I was determined to get her nod. I promised to keep her updated and that I will take good care of myself. She eventually signed the form. Her signature looked crooked and hesitant. To this day, I still think that my grandmother signed that form under protest.
With the submission of the form signed by Lola Patring, I was then issued my poll watcher kit consisting of a shirt, ID, pens, lanyard, and drawstring bag.
We were instructed to constantly give updates to our “supervisor” and report any suspicious activity.
Late afternoon of May 14, 2001, I was already in my station waiting for the action to happen. A short while later, I was told the ballot boxes were in and the counting of votes would commence.
If my feet could function like wings, then I would have flapped them to get to the classroom.
There was a bit of a skirmish at around 8 p.m. inside the classroom-cum-canvassing area that night, as a local supporter accused a teacher of cheating. A few meters outside the school, a gunshot was heard. Thankfully, nobody was hurt that night. I continued doing my job of gathering the partial, unofficial count from the two precincts I was assigned to. I felt so important and needed in those hours.
Every time I left the precints to proceed to the stage, where we set up our headquarters, I would hold my folder bearing the results closest to my heart. Those results were important to me because they would determine the leaders of the country that I am living in, where I would soon study for college and work to earn a living.
My cousin and I clocked out at around 4 a.m. and walked with our fellow poll watchers as we discussed the future of our country. An older volunteer thanked us for our dedication to democracy and the right to suffrage. My 14-year-old self felt so much pride. I felt so privileged to be among that group of young people who served the country that day.
The poll watching experience empowered me so much that I realized that I could positively contribute to my community.
In 2002, I ran as SK chairperson in the village of Libas in Merida, Leyte. I started strong and hopeful. But the days leading to election day were dark times. I was encouraged to give money to my fellow youth because the other two candidates were dishing out P100 and P150 to each voter. I told my Mom I did not want to buy votes so I stopped campaigning altogether. When the results were out, I only had two votes. I voted for myself. The other vote came from Roselyn, my Aunt’s scholar who was about my age.
The youth candidate, who gave away P150 per person, lost to the young politician who gave away P100.
In the years that followed, nothing much happened in the village to encourage the youth to be more engaged. They complained about it. I told them they had no right to do so as they’ve sold their souls to the devils of politics a long time ago.
I am pretty sure that tonight many of you will be receiving envelopes. You’ll be asked to sign a sheet of paper as proof that you received your “share of the grace.” It will be exciting; think about the politicians who have been courting you as early as October 2018 to gain your trust and convince you to vote for them.
This is not to cast any judgment on those who chose to accept the money. But let the words of a congressional candidate echo in your conscience when you go to your polling stations on Monday, May 13. Choose the candidates who possess the 3Cs: commitment, competence and character.
I love how Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma explained the sanctity of one’s vote during the May 6 launching of the “Inter-Faith Convergence for Peace in Our Elections,” a movement consisting of leaders from different religious denominations advocating for fair and honest elections.
He said: “Let it be a product of prayer for discernment. Whatever we choose, whatever we put in the ballot, this is what our conscience has decided in prayer. Meaning, between me and God, and this is who I think, what I believe, is a good vote.”
If you’re a beauty pageant fan who scrutinizes every candidate, then make use of that skill to re-examine and re-evaluate your choices of leaders.
You are only given a day to choose the ones who will lead you; they will have years to either serve or fool you.
It’s a cliché but it still holds true for the 2019 midterm elections in the Philippines: Vote wisely!
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