The Right To Abstain, or 4 Reasons Why You DON’T Have to Vote

Right to Abstain - Project Iloilo


| April 28th, 2016

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Finally being able to vote was something I looked forward to when I was younger–a sort of rite of passage, if you will. I was only 17 when I was first eligible to register since I would have turned 18 by the time of the national elections the following year. Despite my excitement about being able to exercise one of my rights as an adult citizen, I decided to forego registering that year; I felt I wasn’t ready to vote since I didn’t have enough information about the candidates to vote wisely. I thought, “Maybe I’ll try on the next one.”

Fast-forward to a dozen years later: I never bothered registering until a few months before I turned 30. For those keeping track, that was just last year. So yes, I have never voted even once since I was “qualified”. And despite finally being a registered voter—in a time that many will surely contend to being a very heated election later on—I still might not vote at all. I will most likely go to my voting precinct on Election Day (something which I dread, with the amount of people that will be there), but I’m not sure if I’ll write anything on the ballot. After all the debates and reading up on the candidates, I’m still undecided.

Okay, I know I’ve pissed off those of you who are staunch supporters of voting, but hear me out for a little bit. I have my reasons, and even though they might not necessarily be ones you may agree with, these are borne out of more than just apathy or a lack of love for my country; these actually have more to do with our current state as a nation, more than anything.

So, in true “internet bullets” form, these are my reasons below for why I choose to abstain voting for this election:

1. Trust

Do you really know enough about any of the candidates for you to completely trust them? How many of those elected turn out to be the opposite of what they claimed to be during campaign season? Too many to count, right?

The stereotypes about politicians are not without basis, after all; more than a few are outright liars and cheats. Even the COMELEC has been rather dubious that it’s hard to really to put your trust on any form of governmental authority nowadays.

2. The “Lesser Evil”

Many of you would probably tell me to just pick the best candidates available. But really, that just means going with the “lesser evil” for the most part. And the lesser evil is most certainly still… well, evil, much like the less foul-smelling garbage is still considered garbage. Heck, oftentimes, those claiming to be the “change” just end up being the same animal with a different-colored fur. Aside from poverty, I think this lack of real option is the reason why people end up selling their votes. We voters have no real choice, so we might as well make some money off of the elections.

However, if you do have a candidate that you really wanted to win the position, don’t listen to those who’d tell you that the candidate you’ll be voting for will lose; just vote for the one that you feel is right for your community and country. That should be a reasonable counteraction to settling with the lesser evil.

3. Media

As stated earlier, lack of information is one of my first concerns as a voter. More than not voting, I feel like it would be a bigger waste if I had voted without sufficient knowledge of the candidates or the programs they’re pushing for. But is it any surprise that in a personality-driven democracy like ours, most mainstream media outlets prefer to focus on the “juicy” angles rather than the informative, but boring, facts? It also doesn’t help that it’s hard to trust most of the news those said outlets publish nowadays; apart from information getting blown out of proportion or taken out of context for the sake of more clicks and hits, many media organizations aren’t exactly impartial when it comes to political matters.

Likewise, social media is also a double-edged sword; with accessibility and reach comes unreliability and unfiltered propaganda. Apart from unverified and downright manufactured “news”, the more vocal supporters and campaigners on social media are also not the most civilized. Terms like “Dutertards”, “Noytards”, “abNOY” and “Nognog” are getting thrown all over social media indiscriminately. These are not only politically incorrect, they’re downright juvenile.

Of course, the recent debates are definitely a step in the right direction. But as we’ve seen in the rest of these events, we’ve got a long way to go; really, how much do you think we have learned from the debates so far? It seemed like most of it was mudslinging and vague “motherhood” statements—those are hardly abundant information at all.

4. The Right to NOT vote

The Philippines is a democracy—at least, it’s supposed to be one on paper. With our right to vote comes our right not to vote. If I do not think any of the candidates are the right people for their posts, then not voting seems like the right course of action for that. I also know I am not alone in my sentiments; I know many intelligent people who truly love this country, yet still choose not to vote because they simply don’t feel strongly about any particular candidate.

If voting is a choice, so is NOT voting.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not against voting at all. In fact, I applaud you if you are exercising your rights as voters; I just hope you are well-informed and that you’re not being coerced or pressured by anyone to do so.

I wrote this not to deride voting entirely or, worse, even to glorify apathy. I just hope you’ll understand that there are legitimate and sensitive reasons for why some responsible citizens decide to abstain from voting. Much like the candidates you support, I hope you respect the decisions of those who won’t vote as much as I respect those who’ll do.

Besides, even though you’re not aware of it, many of us might actually care more about this country than you think.

Photo by Xtian Lozañes

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Spencer Ravago

Spencer is Project Iloilo’s Creative Director. He is also a graphic designer that has an unhealthy obsession with talaba.