OPINION: Machine to win

Manolo Quezon — The Explainer

Posted at Jan 08 2018 06:06 PM

If the Speaker were to have his way, the question of whether we will have a new form of government will be decided by May of this year. That's because he wants to have a plebiscite on a new constitution together with the May 2018 barangay elections.

Historically, voter turnout for barangay elections is lower than in national, specifically, presidential, elections. In May, 2016, the Comelec said voter turnout reached 81.62 percent. By way of comparison, in 2010, the turnout for the barangay elections was about 70 percent. But that's nationwide. 

Some places have higher or lower turnouts compared to others. For example, in Metro Manila, turnout in 2010 for the barangay polls was about 56 percent; other places ranged from 55 percent in Rizal to 64 percent in Laguna, about the same as provinces in Southern Mindanao and Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. On the other hand, places like Ilocos Sur had a turnout of 84 percent to 70 percent in Agusan del Norte.

Why do these numbers matter, as far as the Speaker's game plan is concerned? Consider another fact: turnout for constitutional plebiscites in general have been very low. A vote on a proposed constitution or specific amendments isn't very exciting, especially if you bear in mind another fact: most surveys have repeatedly pointed out that public knowledge, and thus understanding, of the constitution is very, very low. Left to their own devices, most citizens couldn't care one way or another about the constitution or its contents, even when asked to vote on it.

This actually means that timing a constitutional plebiscite with the barangay elections, raises the probability that there will be a decent turnout for the plebiscite. That's because anywhere from half to three-fourths of the electorate turns out to vote in barangay elections. And yes, while this is anywhere from ten to thirty percent fewer than those who turn up to vote for the presidency, it's a turnout on the basis of what politicians love: machinery.

The percentage that turns out to vote on barangay election day is the percentage motivated by loyalty to show up and make their vote count for barangay positions. Our barangay officials are experts in making sure they are successful in elections, not least because they stay in office longer than other officials, since their terms keep getting extended by higher officials, who rely on their vote-mobilizing, and thus, vote-delivering, ability.

So, here is a basic crash course in politics. If you have a topic that bores most people, or inspires a nosebleed when its topic is raised, then success or failure relies not on people understanding or caring about the topic, but showing up to vote as they're told. Timing a constitutional plebiscite is therefore less about what that plebiscite is about—the details of a potential new form of government, which up to now are not quite solid, or widely discussed, much less understood—and more about getting the result you want.

So, the real question that you should ask yourself, is this: Have you voted in the barangay elections? Do you intend to vote in the next one in May this year? If the answer is no, your opinion on charter change will not matter. Victory or defeat will be decided only by those who show up to vote.

If the answer is yes, then another question arises. Do you show up to vote as you're told, or to vote as you think? If your answer is, you're an independent voter, then consider this: How likely is it, that you represent the average barangay voter? The answer to that question will decide how free and fair, and how real the debate is, in your barangay, and by extension, the vote to come on the constitution.

Everything else, for now, as they say, is purely academic.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.