Benjamin Disraeli once said that the fate of a nation rests on the education of its people. The idea of “education” here applies not only to scholastic achievement, but also in the area of voter’s education. Participation in the elections re-affirms the citizens’ birthright to make their voices heard, with the intent of improving their lives and that of their fellowmen. Jonalyn Ablong an Aeta fresh out of high school, and the protagonist of Brilliante Mendoza’s Manoro – zealously subscribed to this belief.
Although under eighteen and just fresh out of high school, Jonalyn was already aware of the importance and influence of voting in the lives of all and sundry. To ensure that all voters in her area could exercise their right ably and confidently, she initiated her own wave of voters’ education. With the aid of chalkboards and sample leaflets, she set out to teach illiterate adults and elders the HOW-TOs of filling out ballots. She greeted every grown-up with “How’s your handwriting?” and “Don’t forget to vote tomorrow!”, and patiently helped her “students” enunciate the nominees’ names.
Not everyone, however, shared Jonalyn’s views on voting. Her father considered it a waste of time; he believed that filling out a job application form was far more useful than filling out a ballot. On the day of the elections, however, he had a change of heart, and trooped to the precinct with his smiling daughter by his side. The grandfather, Apong Bisen, was a tougher nut to crack. He embarked on a hunt four days before the election, and returned with a dead boar on his shoulders some time after the ballots had been whisked off for canvassing. At this Jonalyn was greatly disappointed, and she remained silent as a teardrop trickled down her cheek.
When the sun set on election day, the candidates’ promotional materials lay scattered on the grass. Once the adhesive on the posters weakened, and once the flyers are swept away, the faces of the future political leaders slowly fade from memory, seldom to be seen, felt or heard by the Aetas again (until the next elections, that is). In Jonalyn’s eyes, her Apo Bisen had missed out on a great opportunity to bring change to their community. She may have even judged him ignorant, unfeeling or lazy. It would be fairly easy for her to think that if only her grandfather had voted, he would have been an indirect agent of change in their neighborhood. But by spending four days hunting and afterwards sharing his catch with everyone, Apo Bisen was able to reach out directly to his community. Because he went the extra mile and shared his lot, Apo Bisen’s service to his people surpassed the lip service of many traditional politicians.
This is not to say that I am against the practice of voting. What I do believe is that voting is not the only measure of how much we care for our future and the future of our fellowmen. A certain character hit the nail on the head by remarking that the absence of his vote does not make him less of a person. After all, election day comes but once every three or six years. In between, we each have one thousand ninety-four or two thousand one hundred eighty-nine days to make a difference, and contribute to nation-building.