With 50 days left until the end of voter registration, the shift is starting to skew towards voter education. In this conversation, COMELEC Spokesperson and Director James Jimenez wants you to know that in the upcoming 2022 elections, your vote is a matter of life and death.
You don’t ever forget your first time. Whatever the context may be, the moment that toes over thought and into the tangible sears itself deep within your consciousness that even as the years will go by, a simple nudge will make you remember in vivid detail as if it happened yesterday. “Dude, I was like the worst possible voter you could imagine. I kid you not. The only person I bothered to think about to vote for was the President. And for the rest of the ticket, I decided at the polling place—and I used the word decide very loosely,” shares, COMELEC Spokesperson and Director of Education and Information Department, James Jimenez. This bit of candor perhaps informs his present point-of-view, one that encompasses information and inspiration in and out of his official responsibilities to get people to register and most importantly, vote in the forthcoming 2022 Elections.
“I had no idea what I was doing. I was told that if you’re 18, you have to register you have to vote because voting is a duty to the government and to democracy,” continues Director James Jimenez in this exclusive one-on-one. “But no one ever talked to me about what that right meant.” Coming from a generation that saw elections as mostly an old person’s thing, the spokesperson has now taken it upon himself to not only educate and encourage voting for the youth, but to also help steer the bureaucratic process into the future with developments such as voting automation and campaigns such as Magparehistro Ka for the 2022 Elections. “I had no idea what the dynamics were. And obviously, my perception of politics was defined by the politics I saw around me, whereas you, young person, you’re defined by what you see is possible. And when you see what is possible elsewhere, it is very natural for you to want these good things for where you are.”
Admittedly, he isn’t necessarily proud of how blind and cold he went into his first time voting, but if anything, he says, you can take his experience as a cautionary tale, especially that now more than ever, the national elections in 2022 is make or break for the democracy of the Philippines.
The Big Shift
“The big thing I think is that voting has never really been life or death for Filipinos. For the longest time before this pandemic, voting has always been something that would give you a government. But then again, you felt divorced from government. You didn’t feel affected by government, especially the youth…It’s always something that happened to someone else,” explains Jimenez. “But with the pandemic, suddenly the connection between your right to vote and the kind of governance you receive has become crystal clear. And the youth now sees that, not like they used to before. All of a sudden, people realize that the people they put in power are actually relevant to their lives, they realize that it’s actually a life or death situation.”
This isn’t to say that the youth has always been so far removed from the most fundamental democratic process of exercising one’s right to vote. There have been movements and conversations but never in the consolidated scale that is seen, heard, and felt nowadays. “It’s not a spectator sport anymore. It’s not something that’s happening to someone else. It’s something that’s happening to us. I mean, if you were going to be a nerd about it, I would say that, you know, we are experiencing true political socialization. Basically what it means is that the youth, the young generations are starting thing to realize that politics isn’t just picking who is going to sit in office. Politics is about solutions about what’s possible, what we can do to make life better for everyone, ‘di ba?” details James Jimenez.
Each generation is defined by its own circumstances, and this colors the perception of may points-of-view, as well as of the responses to it. With the shift and stream of social conscious among the youth, which comprises a healthy third of the voting population in the 2022 elections, is more inspired, informed, and invested in the democracy. And yes, this means going beyond just the bare minimum on the wild, wild west that is the internet.
Your Vote Counts
Make no mistake about, we are not working to an election, but building through it. What makes this shift so significant is that now, the younger generation set to vote for the first time in the 2022 elections isn’t just taking things as it is and being told what to do. The response to Magparehistro Ka basically reinforces what we’ve only really heard about before. Dati kasi, people responded most to authority figures, right? People responded most to people sitting them down somewhere and telling them to do this, do that. But over the years, voting especially has become a communal experience. It’s become about your friends telling you to vote; it’s become about people you love, telling you that this is something that you need to do. And we’ve seen it here that the youth will respond to that sort of approach,” says James Jimenez. And this isn’t an observation to be taken lightly because recently, it was announced that the COMELEC has blown past its target of 4 million new registrants.
Kabayan, pinapasugod ka na ng mga bayani natin sa https://t.co/AIpZBag0jb! Excited na silang turuan ka ng napakadaling proseso ng voter’s registration.— COMELEC (@COMELEC) June 28, 2021
Huwag nang magpatumpik-tumpik pa! #MagparehistroKa na! pic.twitter.com/FKTyr1GWcS
“Moving towards the 2022 elections, it gives us great hope, because this gives us a model that we can work on in the future. This gives us an idea of what works, especially with the youth. That’s the challenge of this sort of campaign. You know who your target is, but you don’t know what’s going to hook them right? Not right away. And this one gives us that insight. So, I think we’re well placed to transition to a get out the vote campaign in the future.”
The Responsibility Of Your Choice
With a considerable cause to celebrate, Director James Jimenez and the COMELEC is not digressing from the actual great work that needs to be done, channeling all these gains from registration to voter education for the 2022 elections. “Ngayon kasi iba, we haven’t even gotten to the elections yet, And we will really see how engaged the youth voters are. And that’s exactly what we’ve been working for all this year. So hopeful, absolutely,” he shares. Following this trajectory of mobilization and engagement, the focus is going to slowly shift towards the responsibility and power of one’s vote.
“The solution has always been clear, we just didn’t know how to get around to doing it. The solution was to raise a generation of responsible voters, one who from the very beginning, knew how to engage the voting system, knew how to engage the electoral system, and knew what their power to vote actually meant. And that is what’s happening now. What we’re seeing now,” says Jimenez. “What the youth need to be aware of is that being a responsible voter, doesn’t stop with just signing up to vote. Registration is just the threshold, just the doorway, right? Once you become a voter, the youth need to realize that voting isn’t the sum total of their right to vote.”
“Now, just because you’re a registered voter, doesn’t mean that your only job is to actually go out and vote. People, especially the youth have to realize that being a registered voter actually gives that person the opportunity to shape the narrative, the opportunity to take part in many different activities that would, in the end shape the choices that are being put in front,” explains James Jimenez of the mindset that has to be hardwired coming into what is bound to be a hotly contested and all-too important elections in 2022. “The youth should, once they get the right to vote, automatically study how to use it properly, how to use it to best effect. That means studying the choices, studying the problems, studying the possible solutions, so that they can evaluate the proposals of the candidates and to hold these jokers to account. That’s ultimately what the right to vote is about. It’s about holding their feet to the flame, right? Making sure that they’re uncomfortable enough that they’ll do their job. Always knowing that the people that the sovereign power resides somewhere else. Not with them. That’s something that the politicians tend to forget very easily. They are not the sovereign, we are—and the youth have to claim that power. And they have to do everything they can to exercise it effectively.”
You Got The Power
Aside from being connected to politics and the social issues, te youth have not only realized but confidently confronted that being apathetic or apolitical doesn’t insulate you from the problems of the Philippines, but it only exacerbates the cancer that continues to plague our democracy. This is why now, people are more conscious and compelled to really go out there and do something, which is to first vote and hold governance accountable to their promises and constitutionally sworn duties.
“Just like people are now aware that their vote actually matters, it’s good to see that they are also aware that their effort at bringing people to the polls will also matter. In a sort of roundabout way, it’s not just the actual voting that matters. It’s the feeling of social mobilization that makes a difference. Because if you feel like you are part of a movement, a movement for a change in the way things are, then that movement will be sustained, even beyond election day. And it will put you in the proper frame of mind to direct the actions of your elected representatives,” says James Jimenez in what he wants to see transpire from the vote on and beyond the 2022 elections.
“This will be a major change from how it used to be before, where people simply felt that if they exercise their right to vote, then their task was done. And the elected representatives could do whatever the hell they wanted with the position that they have. But now, if you’re voting as a result of some feeling of being part of a social movement, then that will carry you past election day. And it will help you be motivated to make sure that your vote performs as you wanted it to. See, this is what I’m saying that we’re at the beginning of a new generation of voters. This generation of voters understands their power, and they are psychologically well placed to actually make full use of their power as voters. These are very exciting times for democracy.”