By Consul General Paul Raymond Cortes
My country just ended a month-long campaign to entice registered Filipino voters in Dubai and the Northern Emirates to participate in 2016’s Presidential elections. Every six years, Filipinos across the globe choose their leaders through what is possibly one of Asia’s, even the world’s, most frenzied democratic processes. The particular election year seemed quite more fervid. As far as I could recall, at no other time in our recent history, except thirty years ago during the 1986 Presidential Snap Elections between then President Ferdinand Marcos and Corazon Aquino, was everyone deeply zealous of their choice for the country’s top leadership. Support for the candidates was intense, bordering on the fanatical. Everyone joined the online fracas – each mouthing off an argument or two in favor of his or her candidate. Exacerbated by social media, the attempts at discrediting other Presidential contenders and, even more, their supporters were filled with vitriol. Quite frankly, the cyber bloodbath was brutal and harsh.
The end of the campaign season now puts us back in square one. Where do we go from here? In the six Presidential elections I have participated in, getting back on track as one nation has always been a challenge for Filipinos. Those who voted for losing candidates become adamant in supporting the elected President with the stubborn hope that they be vindicated at the earliest possible time. They openly mistrust the new leader, branding him/her as incompetent and unworthy of the national leadership. Each mistake is magnified and derided. Sadly, this attitude has delayed our capability to move on and get on with the task of nation-building ahead.
We must not degenerate into being categorized by the candidate we favored. Months before we opened the voting process to our Overseas Filipinos, surveys had already divided the Filipino soul into a pie chart of Presidentiables. Much effort was undertaken to lure others into their fray either by sweet coercion or by brazen bullying. As oppressive as the Philippines’ summer heat, vituperative words were exchanged between supporters, between commenters, and between tweets — so much so that the race had seemingly become an personal battle between Filipinos.
On the one hand, it was refreshing to see Filipinos deeply involved in the discussions on issues our society faced even if they had been residing abroad for so long or if they had been so long detached from anything Filipino (especially the dizzying world of Philippine politics). Showbiz inanities were the normative starting point in conversations regarding our homeland not governance issues. Facebook somehow reinvigorated their propensity to dissect and intelligently discuss the country’s societal concerns. It strengthened their resolve to see Inang Bayan rise to the glory each Filipino believes the Philippines deserves. Social media awoke the burning desire of every overseas Filipino to cure the ills of his motherland so that embrace her welcoming arms without fear of having to leave her once again for economic or political reasons.
The downside was that comment after comment, the barbs between camps were acrimonious, as if any distasteful remark merited infuriated responses from each other. Faceless interactions emboldened people all the more to viciously malign each other, consequences of a renewed arrogance hiding under invisibility the internet so conveniently cloaks them with.
By this time, a new President would have been chosen. A new one who did not statistically gain the majority of the electorate. Majority or minority notwithstanding, the incoming President will be leader of a 102-million-strong nation – a country and people desperately craving for a captain who could steer their ship to greater heights and loftier dreams. They will be pleading for a government that would build on the gains we have already achieved and at the same time, further catapult our economy to global preeminence; a dream so sought after by a famished national soul that longs for the day when we can finally bequeath a better Philippines to our children and our children’s children.