I voted for Rodrigo Duterte in 2016.
I have to admit this feels weird to admit publicly. It feels like a dirty secret. What I think I believed is that my voter’s remorse began after that first victim who was wrapped in masking tape. But the truth is I think I regretted voting for him—or, I regretted knowing that I would vote for him—after that first public rape joke. You know the one: ”dapat na-una si Mayor.” Cue laughter. Cue (justified) online anger. Cue noise noise noise noise noise.
It was horrible.
Also, it felt horrible—because as disgusted as I was, it really was not enough for me to vote for Mar, Binay, Grace, or Miriam—which, from the beginning, simply felt wrong (especially voting for Miriam, who legitimized a certain wretched son of a dictator). Duterte, despite his (I am looking for an all-compassing term. I’m going to go with:) yuckiness, was the slightly superior option to me because of what he appeared to represent. After watching his interviews and talking to people from his home city, it seemed to me that Duterte embodied the oppressed, appeared to defy the elites who ran roughshod over the country (and continued to neglect the marginalized), and was promising results—with the track record to back it up. Also he was the only one who flat-out said that he was “for same-sex marriage.” Not civil unions. Marriage. M a r r i a g e. Not even my candidate this year has said that. Of course, I ended up being wrong. Duterte was not the president he said he was going to be, and, even worse: he was exactly the president he said he was going to be.
It was horrible.
Many people were justifiably angry. The anger was agitated by his troll-driven supporters, which then extended to the people who voted for him. “Blood is on the hands of 16 million people,” some would say. It made me feel sick at times. So I kept quiet about my vote. Eventually, it rendered me more silent than I should have been. Silence, of course, means complicity. But I felt that I had little choice: how could I publicly hold the President to account when I was one of the idiots who voted for him? I decided to keep my criticisms to myself, and to smaller and safer circles.
It was horrible.
It was also wrong.
The democratic process of voting results in one person being sworn in as President, and every Filipino voter is a part of that process. Voters have an obligation to participate in it, and embedded in this obligation is the right to their vote being protected—the voter only answers to themselves for their vote, and no one else, because it is the electoral process—which involves all voters— that determines who the president is, not merely the voters of the winner of the elections.
It is the public servant—not other voters—who answers to the public. The very nature of our democracy demands that individuals are entitled to vote for whomever they want, for whatever reason, and they do not answer to anyone but themselves for their vote.
There may be a multitude of reasons to criticize people for their choices. For better or worse, democracy allows for this. We have a right to have opinions—on candidates, on our own votes, and on other people’s votes. But it is democratically illogical to blame a President’s voters for the President’s failures. And worse, it diffuses the accountability of the President.
It is the President—not his voters—who answers to everyone—every single Filipino. Thus, it is him who owes all of us an apology, and then some. Blood is not on the hands of 16 million, but on the hands of one.
All of this being said, even if I do not owe it to anyone, allow me to express my remorse anyway: I was one of the 16 million who voted for Rodrigo Duterte, and I regret it. I was wrong, and I am sorry. I am attempting to make up for it by learning to be a better citizen and a better voter—to consider more important matters, to acknowledge the limits of the presidential seat, to reckon with the essence of power, and to be sober yet hopeful about meaningful and lasting change.
Let me invite you to pursue this change with me.
To do so, we must understand that the democratic process requires empathy, because no one who participates in a democracy is more entitled than the other. The process symbolizes our equality: each of us is entitled to only one vote, and no one vote is worth more than the other, or is owed to the other. To act otherwise is at best, unproductive, and at worst, harmful. It would lower political discourse (which heaven knows Filipinos collectively need to improve in), diffuse political accountability, and ultimately chip away at the very nature of democracy itself.
As a people, we have been trampled on enough. But while democracy allows itself to be abused by our oppressors, it also offers us the mechanism to protect ourselves, protect each other, and dismantle structures of injustice. Empathy empowers us to uphold this mechanism and use it for the good of society.
I say all of this knowing that way too many people might vote for someone whose family I never again want to see in power. We must remember that the war against the erasure of history, against misinformation, against the rise of lies and corruption and society’s worst impulses, is not a war against the common voter. Misinformation, manipulation, deceit, corruption, injustice, and impunity—these are powerful enemies, and we need each other to defeat them.
Thankfully, the 2022 presidential race is not as much of a lose-lose situation as it was in 2016. In fact, it is incredibly clear in which scenario the Philippines truly loses, and, to me, in which scenarios the Philippines has a fighting chance of progressing. This means it is much easier to determine the right candidate for me. I am full of hope that I will not regret voting for her.