Democracy is not something that happens, you know, just at election time, and it’s not something that happens just with one event. It’s an ongoing building process. But it also ought to be a part of our culture, a part of our lives. – Jim Hightower

Five days to the Philippine presidential elections, candidates are making their last-minute rounds, groups making their last-minute endorsements and the Commission on Elections is trying to solve a last-minute problem with the counting machines. This is the first time that Philippine polls will be automated. Almost everybody is experiencing a mixture of excitement, doubt and anger, praying hard that the hand of God be experienced during the polls, so that voters will choose wisely and honesty will rule.

My media friends have been experiencing stressful days and expecting more nerve-racking ones. One of them called this a “royal rumble” while another is just thankful that the taxing days will only last until May 10, the exact day of the elections. That, if the computer glitch of the counting machines will not cause the postponement of the polls. As of this writing, 76, 000 memory cards have to be replaced. The manufacturer of the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) claims that the problem does not lie in coming up with this number, but the “tight schedule”. Just imagine having to deliver all 76, 000 pieces, programming them and checking if they work. I can only cross my fingers.

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In the midst of all these hullabaloo, many Filipinos are still undecided. Some of them have not made their choices yet. Some of them are hesitant to vote at all.

Election day is a family thing for us. I always went to the polling stations with my immediate family, aunts, uncles and cousins. We remind each other to choose wisely and vote on time. Not voting was never part of the equation. We are aware that we have to exercise it. If it was normal to get one’s driver’s license in the Netherlands as soon as one turns 18, in my family, it was as normal to register as a voter when you reach that age. Maybe because we have an uncle who almost always joined the polls. Being that close to a constitutional activity does keep your radar up.

That is why I never understand why other people will think twice about registering themselves as voters, or if registered, exercising their basic constitutional right. Honestly and to be really dramatic about it, it breaks my heart. In inviting people I know to register and vote, I have heard the following reasons:

1. I don’t have the time. We have the time to go to a movie and sit there for two hours or even three and we can’t even fill-up a form for 10 minutes max! Ok, ok, for the really undecided, this can last about 30 minutes in the polling station. I have to admit I did not finish my overseas absentee ballot in one sitting. But what I’m trying to say is you’ve got time if you want to give it time. You have the time. Please, if you say you love the Philippines, give it at least 10 minutes of your time. 10 minutes less Facebook is all it takes.

2. I cannot choose. I know how distressing it is to choose 12 Senators in the lineup of say 50? The first time I got my voting documents in the mail, I could only choose 1. And then I checked back in for two or three times more and came up with 8. That was the maximum number I could come up with. The message: you don’t have to choose 12 if you don’t want to. It is disappointing to see recycled surnames but there are still good people in the list. Most of the candidates have websites too. Just google them and voila, automatic background check. This website might also help in your search for the best candidate.

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3. I might make the wrong choice. Follow your heart. Not your eyes. Do not vote for someone who is goodlooking or who can wear the best suit. Do not vote for someone because he has a fashionable first-lady-to-be. Vote for someone who has at least done something already. Vote for someone who has proven his worth. Not as a politician but as a person. Do not vote for someone because he or she is winnable. Vote for who you believe in. Win or lose, you have chosen right because you have chosen for who you believe in. Bad officials are elected by citizens who do not vote.

4. It’s all the same anyway. If every Filipino, or every voter for that matter, will think this way, we will never be able to change our future. Democracy malfunctions not because the leaders are not good enough. Rather, democracy experiences a setback because we have stopped believing that it will change. We have become complacent. The Philippines is a young democracy compared to, say, the United States of America. Yet, the US still experiences problems with their own government. Problems are a part of democracy. Our hesitation in taking part in the elections will not solve the problem or problems but worsen it. So go out there or fill-up your overseas absentee ballot.

Voting is our right and responsibility as citizens. Democracy lies in governance and governance lies in the people. Change lies in the people. Only if we change the way we look at things and the way we do things does the system change. The change we want to see does not take affect the day after the elections though, for it is all a process. But taking active part in the move towards change assures that change will, one day, take place.

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Before I end my article, I want to leave you with this quote from the movie “2012” —

The moment we stop fighting for each other is the moment we lose our humanity. – 2012 movie

Let’s say that the 2010 elections is the deluge in the movie. The voting precincts will be the saving grace, just like the ship in the film. Do we choose to do nothing or do we choose to get everyone in the ship and save democracy? Think about it and think about it hard. I wish that in the process, you will not choose to go quietly into the night. For the day you throw your vote away is the day you vanish without a fight. #

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