I don’t believe in the idea that only taxpayers should vote.
Without going into a rant about how “elitist” and “anti-poor” this idea is – and let’s face it, there’s nothing to this other than the denial of rights to those who can’t afford it – it sounds like a good idea. Middle-class sensibilities were once again trumped (perhaps even insulted) in this election, which favored the likes of Nancy Binay and Grace Poe at the expense of people like Richard Gordon and Risa Hontiveros. Rightly or wrongly, much of the blame is passed on to the “masses;” those who can be swayed by popular surnames or P500 bills passed around the precinct just before the polls begin. Never mind that these are the same masses that kicked out dynasties and entrenched political figures in other provinces, but that’s another story altogether.
I think that we, as “middle-class taxpayers,” do not benefit as much from government as much as we should. Nor are we as invested in government as we think we are. Political families and coalitions in the Philippines never pander or reach out to the middle class because government involvement interferes with our way of life. It’s just too stressful and inconvenient: political activities don’t jive well with our own pursuits.
A rally of workers and students in Mendiola, for example, is more of a cause of traffic than a legitimate expression of a gripe. And the “proper forum” is too inconvenient, too: writing a letter and mailing it to Congress, or lobbying for it, interferes with Monday-to-Friday productivity. And maybe it’s fair to say that a chunk of people who didn’t vote this election were the likes of us “middle-class taxpayers:” the process of registering or voting eats at productive time, anyway. In denying rights to the masses, I think that we’re all too often the first ones to deny it to ourselves.
There are two schools of thought to the “only taxpayers should vote” idea. The first one sounds grossly unacceptable, and it is: that the amount of taxes we pay corresponds to the amount of votes we have. So much for the “power of the middle class,” then, if the likes of Kris Aquino would have more votes than we do because she pays more taxes than 99% of the population. The second school of thought violates the very principle of the idea: if one taxpayer gets one vote, then whatever happens to the commensurate investment we all have in the salaries of elected officials? Isn’t that unfair for a taxpayer who pays P20,000 when he or she gets the same vote as a person who pays P10,000?
Either way, both schools of thought ignore a very plausible possibility in the outcome of this elections: that there are middle-class taxpayers who probably also voted for Binay or Poe, or the same old politicians. So much for the “only taxpayers should vote” idea: taxpayers, like the much-maligned masses, are also capable of making bad choices. Consider the same class that put Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in power, or threads of the very same class that longs, among other things, for the glory days of Ferdinand Marcos.
The way I see it, our problems with the popular sentiment isn’t one that finds firm footing in taxes, but in civic duty. It’s not the value of our vote, but how we value our vote. It’s not the amount of taxes we pay, it’s the amount of time we spend ensuring that those taxes are spent the right way. The truth is we are all invested in the political process in one way or another, whether it’s a middle-class taxpayer frustrated with tax deductions, or a fisherman with no access to higher education, a student who doesn’t pay income taxes but is more politically active than us, or a self-made millionaire grown jaded on the way things are.
Civic duty and civic understanding should be inculcated into the people as early as possible. Civic-minded citizens would not sell votes to the highest bidder. Civic-minded citizens would understand how government works, and what their role is in making good government possible. Civics allows us to understand why there’s taxation, why there’s universal suffrage, how laws are made and what the role of the elected official is in all of this. A strong sense of civic duty allows us to demand more of our politicians and our political system: that this shouldn’t be about personalities and dynasties, but that parties should be defined along clear ideas, platforms, and ideologies. Most of all, a strong sense of civic duty should impart the knowledge that one’s political obligations do not end at voting: if you want your candidate to win, you will support those candidates with all the reasonable resources you can. Or that if you think that there’s no choice, you become the choice yourself. We’ve seen the triumph of grassroots movements before: new forces like Ed Panlilio and Grace Padaca once inspired us, but there weren’t too many choices like that this time around.
All this falls into the responsibility of a public education system in dire need of reform. I think that such practical political courses should be started in higher K12 or in one’s first years of university education, but I digress and that can be saved for another time.
Do I agree with this election’s turnout? No; I would have been happier to see Teddy Casino and Risa Hontiveros in the next Senate. I would have been happier to see more independents in the Baguio City Council. I would have been happier to see bigger representation for groups like Migrante, Anakpawis, and Kabataan. I would have been happier to see PCOS machines work, and that platforms triumphed above personalities. Then again such are civic consequences in their own right: part and parcel of popular democracy is to realize the fact that some people will not vote for the same choices I make. Maybe out of personal choice, maybe out of personal circumstance. Yet, it is civic duty – yours and mine – to ensure that these choices are made freely, in good conscience, and with due value given to it.
Taxation is a civic duty. So is voting. If anything this election shows us yet again that the most essential acts of citizenship are often thrown by the wayside; if not taken for granted, they’re seen as heroic or exceptional or even irrational and aberrational. When it comes to representation as a consequence of taxation, I guess I rest my case.