The passage of the reproductive-health (RH) bill earlier this week underscores the emerging awareness of the electorate that they can substantially influence the legislative process. Sure, not everyone got what he wanted, but in the end, our democracy has emerged stronger and more vibrant than it has been in a long time.
It’s been a long and hard road to get to this point. Along the way, numerous battles have been fought, various strategies have been employed, and a lot of frustration needed to be survived. Every difficult journey, however, is a teacher for everyone who undertakes it; from all difficulties, lessons can be learned. And so it is with the campaign to secure the passage of the reproductive-health law, particularly for the awakened electorate that should consider last Monday’s events as a learning experience, rather than a mere gladiatorial spectacle.
Lesson One: Democracy is a long game, and voting does not work in a vacuum.
The RH bill took almost two decades to get to this point. This bill could have easily disappeared into the dusty archives of Congress, were it not for a cadre of dedicated proponents that doggedly fought that fate. These campaigners tirelessly engaged lawmakers who were initially unconvinced, they never wavered in publicly propping up their position through information and education, and they determinedly voted for legislators they felt would champion their advocacy.
In other words, simply voting for someone doesn’t guarantee anything. Democracy, like anything worth keeping, must be fought for continuously and cannot be taken for granted. The voter’s responsibility doesn’t end with the act of selecting a candidate from a roster and slipping his ballot into the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machine. To the contrary, the act of voting is simply the beginning. After having voted a person into office, the voter must continue being an outspoken advocate for the causes that motivated him to vote the way he did. In this way, an elected representative remains continuously aware of what his constituents want and need, so that he can take his cue from them.
Otherwise, if the elected representative ends up doing what he wants—without considering the will of those who put him in office—then we just prove that old truism about people getting the leaders they deserve.
Lesson Two: Differences of opinion are inevitable.
The voting for the RH bill wasn’t lopsided. It was a closely fought contest that saw both sides fighting tooth and nail for what they believed in. This may have caused a great deal of frustration and teeth-gnashing on both sides of the fence, but we have to accept that diamonds are not made on the beach but in the depths of the earth, amidst tremendous heat and pressure. In the same way, fierce debate—no matter how stupid you feel your opponents are—forces us to sharpen our arguments to the keenest points possible so that when we gain adherents, it is not simply because we sound smarter or seem cooler, but because we have proved that we are right.
Voters would do well to remember this and approach differences of opinion with the desire to arrive at the best possible conclusions, rather than with a fiercely adversarial attitude that simplistically declares “you are either with us or against us.” With that kind of thinking, acceptance of defeat becomes unthinkable and differences of opinion are transformed into insurmountable obstacles to cooperation later on. Incidentally, that sort of thinking is also behind the running joke that, in the Philippines, no candidate ever loses an election.
Lesson Three: Losing the vote isn’t the end of the world.
Well, okay. It remains to be seen whether we have actually learned this lesson. Nevertheless, it is something to consider, if only because it is key to the survival of any democracy. Without the ability of losers to shake the dust off, extend their hands in friendship to the victors, and commit themselves to working within the framework set by the will of the majority, democracy becomes farcical. Conversely, if the victors prove vindictive instead of magnanimous, then democracy becomes a joke as well.
At this crucial juncture, when the proponents of the RH bill are celebrating their well-earned legislative victory and the opponents of the measure are taking stock of their loss, ordinary voters like us have to pay close attention to how our champions deal with the circumstances they have found themselves in.
Victors must show themselves to be gracious in their triumph and extend the hand of cooperation without rancor or recrimination. Those who have lost must realize that there remains much to be done in terms of ensuring—without straying into obstructionism—that the future enforcement of the new law does not give rise to the dangers they so earnestly warned the people about.
*Originally published in the Business Mirror