Friday, November 6, 2015

Right to vote

"x x x.

I have to call it funny for lack of a kinder word to describe the provision in the Constitution that calls for the cancellation and exclusion of one’s voting rights if the person had not voted for the last two preceding elections. I can immediately sense that the framers of the Constitution must have wanted to emphasize the importance of voting and used the fear factor to force eligible citizens to vote. But it is a myopic provision nonetheless, selectively punishing Filipinos for a sin of omission and not applying the same vindictiveness for greater shortcomings.

Voting is a right and a privilege more than it is an obligation. It is desired of every citizen but it is still a right and a privilege more than an obligation. To not avail of a right or privilege is not a crime; it is a personal loss of the citizen who chose to do so. He or she deprived herself of an act that can strengthen democracy by his or her participation but commits no crime. Removing a right and privilege granted by one’s citizenship is a harsh punishment for an omission that is not even a crime.

A college classmate who became a lawyer and even served as a president of the Philippine Bar Association of the Philippines, Atty. Rico Agcaoili, informed our class that he had written to Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. recommending the repeal Paragraph (c), Section 123, of the Omnibus Election Code, BP 881, which excludes from the permanent registry of voters those who failed to vote in the preceding two regular elections. I must admit that I had not paid attention to this concern in the past, and regret not having done so. It touches a raw nerve even for a citizen like me who is not a lawyer.

x x x.

I remember one simple case regarding the discounts granted to senior citizens. When one senior citizen, who only happened to be a lawyer as well, was denied the discount mandated by law because he did not present his senior citizenship card, he filed a case and won. Why? Because the law says that the discount is not granted by the senior citizenship card but by the fact that the citizen has reached the age that qualifies. The election ID does not grant the right and privilege to vote. It is a right and privilege of citizenship. Procedural lapses must not allow authorities to remove a sacred right and privilege.

Atty. Agcaoili did mention that there could have been very valid reasons why a registered voter was not able to vote in two preceding regular elections. I guess that as a lawyer, he can present many justifiable legal reasons. I cannot. But I understand citizenship. I understand being a Filipino. I understand that rights and privileges, as a human being or a citizen, cannot just be shoved aside by even a Constitution without the most grave of reasons. And not voting twice in a row is so much less than avoiding or evading taxes. It is so much less than tolerating hunger, tolerating landlessness, tolerating homelessness. Worse, it is so much less than tolerating corruption.

The framers of the 1987 Constitution must have been honorable men and women, but they were dead wrong here. If patriotism through suffrage was their intent to promote, motivation was needed, education was needed, good example was needed. Because they were after a virtue, not after punishing a crime. If the absence or immaturity of virtues promoting patriotism becomes punishable, we will have less country but more prisons.

x x x."