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Should You Vote with Conscience or Pick the Lesser Evil?

It's not an easy conversation.
by Ara Eugenio
Oct 21, 2021
Photo/s: Canva

Condo utility worker Julios Nievarez has no time for Facebook and his criteria for choosing the country's next president is simple: who can provide food and education to Filipinos languishing in the pandemic. On social media, the question is more complex, one that's a recurring theme for decades, should you vote based on conscience or pick the lesser evil?

Nievarez can't categorically say he's "against" President Rodrigo Duterte. As a Christian, he believes everyone sins and must be given a chance to repent. What he doesn't like are candidates making big promises, like what the incumbent did in 2016.

"Hindi naman ako tutok sa Facebook. Wala akong panahon diyan kasi mas concern ko, pang araw-araw. So siguro 'yung iboboto ko, kung sino man 'yung maabot man lang nila 'yung kahit simple lang na totoong pangangailangan ng tao," he said.

Duterte treated illegal drugs as if it were the country's biggest scourge and downplayed China's aggression in the West Philippine Sea, which had real ramifications on the lives of Filipino fishermen, he said. 

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"Totoo naman na 'pag may nagawa kang mali, dapat kailangan ka bigyan ng pagkakataong magbago. Pero du'n nalang siguro ako sa kayang asikasuhin 'yung mga problema natin sa paligid. Hindi naman ako nage-expect na totally ma-solusyonan 'yung problema sa kahirapan within six years," he added. 

For Filipinos on Facebook, Twitter, even TikTok, the 2022 vote is a sort of litmus test for the values they stand for. It's a reflection of their morality as human beings, save for little compromises here and there.

Is it really a choice between 'voting with conscience or picking lesser evils'?

Framing it through the rosy good evil (or lesser evil) lens is dangerous in a country like the Philippines, where voters generally don't see themselves in that dilemma, said Cleve Arguelles, a De La Salle University political science professor.

"For many people in different communities, hindi starting point 'yung question na 'to because for them, the elections is usually devoid of moral values. It's a pragmatic thing, practical even," he told reportr. 

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Filipinos have different motivations and needs when it comes to voting in the elections, studies have shown. For instance, some tend to be "willing" to consider corrupt politicians as long as they deliver in other areas like basic services, the absence of which usually determine whether their community life will be harder than usual in the next three years or so.

"So is that already evil? Is it true na when you vote for these politicians, you’re necessarily corrupt yourself? That characterization of voters is something we want to avoid because our electoral environment is not built for that," Arguelles said.

"When something is a moral struggle, it’s a zero-sum game. Either you fight with the good or you fight with the evil. So kahit ano pa yung messaging mo, populists are so likely to benefit and thrive in that condition. Kasi 'yung ganong klaseng discourse is so antagonistic, divisive, and polarizing," he said.

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In a democracy like the Philippines, conceptions of what is morally good and bad are not something that's very strict and is "always in contemplation", he said.

What usually happens when another camp is labelled "evil"? "Wala. Kung Catholic yan, parang 'yung preaching is that they have to repent. Pwede rin kapag kapag dinemonize mo na, exorcism na ba sagot diyan? It’s dangerous because when something is already morally evil, we refuse to engage," Arguelles said. 

"Kung automatic good and evil, you reduce the possibility of having conversations and compromises, that changes can be made in terms of political positions," he said.

"To 'moralize politics' is valid, as long as we don’t dismiss that other communities of voters have different motivations as to why they participate in the electoral exercise," he added. 


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What then is at least, the 'ideal voter'?

Instead of getting caught up in morality, Filipinos must instead strive to be "deliberative and strategic" when it comes to voting, Arguelles said.

Deliberative in the sense that when one votes, they must also be willing to change their preferences and perspectives because they listen to others, as to why they're voting way they do, he said.

"Kasi kapag pumapasok tayo sa electoral exercise already thinking na alam mo na agad ano ang tama, i’m not sure if that’s really democratic. Because then, you might come off as if you're just imposing your idea of what's best and that you just want everyone to join you," he added. 

The ideal voter is also strategic, he said, citing how Marawi residents mostly voted only for civic leader Samira Gutoc-Tomawis for senator in 2019.

"You want others to win pero kunwari taga Marawi ka, a place that is underrepresented and marginalized in national politics. So 'yung focus mo nalang si Samira kasi you want her to take the most votes, especially if 'yung gusto mong bigyan na iba will most likely gather votes from other people," Arguelles said. 

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"Having that representation alone says so much about the possibilities of transforming our politics for the better. So, I don’t characterize strategic voting as evil or wrong because at the end of the day, ang electoral system natin, may rules of the game siya. And if you take advantage of that, you make your candidate win," he said.

Ultimately, Arguelles said what’s important is "when we vote, we take into consideration not only our desires, our idea of good, but also what our neighbors think, what other people think."

"Yes, democracy is about speaking up and making your voice count, but it’s also about listening to others. The sooner we learn that, some of the issues we face during elections, if we can’t solve them, then we at least have a better grasp of them," he added.


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