Why I am silent about the elections

I am writing this article not only because I feel there is a need to explain my silence during this election time, but also to invite readers to consider silence as a valid response in these moments of confusion.

Six years ago when it was my first time to vote, I had a completely different picture of the country. I was fresh from school and overflowing with idealism. This time, my being assigned for summer apostolate here in Pio Duran, a third class municipality on the western coast of Albay, has allowed me to take a closer look at how wounded we have become as a people.

Random conversations and involvement in voters’ education sessions in the barrios revealed the frustration of many townsfolk over flagrant corruption, vote buying, rampant drug abuse, and many other problems. And I have seen the very same things in other parts of the country. I looked at the comforts I have access to vis-à-vis the unmet basic needs of the communities we visit, and I cannot ignore the truth that our people are poor and suffering.

What the elections should be
The elections are an institution where people could effect the changes we need. Yet how deeply have we tarnished this system? How many of us do not feel a little uneasy or even hopeless about this exercise?

On social networking sites, netizens busy themselves with expressing their thoughts. While well-meaning citizens try to air valuable opinions and show support in campaigning for the candidates they believe in, still many others are caught in the bandwagon of illogical arguments, senseless memes, and unconfirmed stories to the detriment of reputations and consciences.

We are a wounded nation, yes. But we must not forget that this cannot be our common destiny. The Filipinos are a peace-loving people and we have a rich nation and a long tradition of good values that we wish to hand on to future generations. Every election we are given a chance to shape an enabling environment for the progress we all seek.

No, the elections are not an end. It is rather a test of our values, of how we wish to be led and how we want our future to be. Only after the votes have been counted does the dirty work begin.

Therefore, to exercise our right to vote and to intelligently participate in politics is an act of charity, especially when we think about the common good. Pope Francis has repeatedly said that the chief aim of politics is always the common good. So when I go out to vote, I must think not only of myself but also of others, including the marginalized, the young people, and the environment.

Lesser evil is still evil?
Many are discouraged because they would not settle for the lesser evil, thinking that doing so would still mean choosing evil. One must not fall trap to this wordplay. In Augustinian philosophy, only God is all good; everything else has some evil in them. But evil here pertains not to something positively existing. It is rather the absence, lack, or privation of good. And so even if a person has some imperfections, we are still able to speak of him or her as a good person. Could it be that “lesser evil” is but a negative term for “greatest good” when given a set of choices?

For there are no perfect candidates. And we cannot downplay the leadership capabilities of a candidate simply by checking them against a single moral issue or some mistake committed in the past. Don’t we all have our own shares of errors? At the end of the day, we will still have to choose from among men and women who have courageously accepted the difficult challenge to lead.

Silence as a valid response
I am silent, then, about the elections because it is the best response I can think of. And I am not the only one. Many others have already chosen to embrace the same attitude.

This is not to discredit the value of openness and dialogue which are both necessary to progress. I am silent not only because I am with the citizens’ arm. This is not even an abandonment of my freedom of speech nor of my being a political scientist by education. I am silent because it is the best response I can think of given all the noise and confusion, because whenever I recall the sufferings of my people I am left with no more words. I can only sit with them in the silence.

Silence is not for the weak nor the coward. Silence is for the wise and the strong of heart. Here I am able to carefully listen to that distinct voice of the Truth. Here I am able to prayerfully discern so that when I cast my vote, it will be an informed vote even if it is but one among millions. Hope against hope, I will let my ballot speak.

This story was originally published in the author’s column “Like the Father” in Diario Veritas (Vol. 20 No. 7, May 2016), a monthly publication of the Diocese of Legazpi, Philippines.