I never felt as helpless as I did during the 2016 elections.
Given, I was barely out of my sophomore year in high school and didn’t know much about politics. Like many others, I grew up with the notion that the government was just an inherently bad thing. I watched scandal after scandal play by on the television, listened to my Social Studies teacher spend the entire period ranting about presidents and eras revised and proofed from our government-approved textbooks, while overhearing relatives complain about things that I wasn’t really sure of yet — like taxes, rising gas prices, or our sovereignty.
When you attend gatherings and small workshops for “activists” or the safer term, “community organizers”, you go around the circle and introduce yourself, your school, pronouns, and what politicized you. To this day, I’m still unsure of how to answer that last part.
My generation is desensitized to the failures of a government because it had been ingrained in our heads that it would never work for us. We grow through (quite privileged) phases of political apathy, because it’s widely-accepted that there’s nothing we can do about it. Political talk is forbidden: nobody gave a fuck about it in school, you risk causing rifts during family gatherings, and it goes nowhere.
I had barely turned sixteen when I saw Rodrigo Duterte sworn into office and a Marcos almost entering the Vice Presidency. In the months leading up to that election, it was impossible to ignore the shittalking Davaoeño but falsely easy to assume that no one could seriously vote for someone like him, right? He had practically no skills as an attorney, is marked only by family power, and dozens of human rights cases against his misguided view on drugs and criminality. Then: I saw every corner of the world filled with overwhelming support that I was near-voiceless against. From tricycle drivers to my own private Catholic schoolmates, they were all entranced by his promises and his ill formality and how he was going to change the Philippines — he swore, and it would be bloody.
I was angry and senseless, but I didn’t know if I had a right to be. I couldn’t vote then and hadn’t discussed these views much with others aside from soft conversations with teachers and friends. I kind of understood why things had gone to the point where we had voted in Duterte, though. The success of his campaign is built on a history of Philippine struggle and affirms the longstanding plight of the masses, so tired of the cyclic nature of corruption that we (or at least 39.01% of the population) had decided to settle for anyone who could seem different. Our frustrations had become so entrenched that it seemed like someone spitting out rape and murder could save us.
But of course he can’t. And of course we’re tired of broken promises.
I’m eighteen now and am across the world from my country, where I’m a legal voter. I’ve watched our democracy crumble and be threatened by misguided desperation and the cut of conversations and view that there is only one single route to progress — that it’s Duterte’s.
There’s not much I can do. I can cast a ballot and retreat to conversation about Buttigieg and Harris and what undergraduates from the Centrist Society over at the next state are talking about, but that’s not my story. My story is that I’m trapped in a situation where I have no idea how to spread my voice out and campaign for people that I believe would bring change along — just like how Duterte rose to fame — in the hopes that the current administration faces people on the side of progress.
To work around this, I started building Iboto.ph. I am tired of our apathy and how politics is a taboo. I’m tired of measuring success by the people we manage to get into the broken senate. If there’s anything we can do, it’s to champion people who represent the causes and visions of the masses and marginalized that have been so heavily disregarded. Our administration is blind; there are people blindly walking in with endorsements from the President and no decent grounds for running to people who have had corruption and fraud cases.
Maybe it’s too late. But it’s never too late to care, really. If we show that there is resistance and that we are done with complicity and demand the same type of change adjacent to these candidates, then we show that there are things wrong with this administration. We show that we are political, and it’s clear that they know this is growing and that they’re afraid.
Even if we seem voiceless or that we’re in the minority, it’s no longer time for us to watch things and ponder. It’s time to act, educate, and enter into conversations and rooms even if they’re difficult — our country is in need, now, more than ever. I refuse to be sixteen, refreshing as precincts turn in their counts and crying into the night at something that I never would have guessed.
As I write, there are sixteen days until the elections. That’s a bit over two weeks to convince everyone around you about what you believe in, the issues you care about, and why you believe certain candidates or groups are the best to do that — at any age.
The uncertainty of this story of politicization coming from a well-privileged person means that there is nothing more alarming than the situation our country is in today and how urgent it is for us to fight for something in a time of apathy and disinterest. Right in front of us is a struggle that we have long been detached to, a result of inaction ingrained — when alive at this very moment is a fight and a vote that could mean momentous change. If there is something at all to fight for, this would be it.
Even if it’s incremental, there are people here who I believe can reshape the government. There are millions of others who believe, too. And it’s our time to champion that: to educate, empower, and elect.