How We Rocked the Vote on the Road to Change

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By Amaris Grace M. Cabason, volunteer for Rock the Vote

She was president when I was 13, and she was still president when I turned 22. In those nine years, corruption became more prevalent and embedded, from the President down to the clerks in government agencies. She spent taxpayers’ money like she was entitled to it and ate at lavish restaurants while her people had less and less to spend for food.

Those nine years were crucial to me because it was then that my eyes were opened to the realities of the Philippine government. What the Arroyo administration showed me was that it was okay to lie and cheat and steal because Filipinos wouldn’t do anything. Sure, it would make the headlines for a few days, but it would die down because another issue would replace the old one, and people would forget altogether. She took advantage of the fact that Filipinos had short-term memory, and that we never learn from our mistakes. She broke our faith when she turned out to be an even worse President than the one we had impeached.

Those nine years made me pessimistic and angry. I concluded that most government officials spend their terms making themselves rich at the expense of their constituents. They abused their offices by entering into agreements which would serve only their interests. During the 2004 and 2007 elections, whenever I saw a candidate campaigning in our village, high and mighty in their air-conditioned SUVs while their volunteers walked under the heat of the sun, I would roll my eyes or shut the door. To me, all of them were corrupt, and that, like the previous administrations, nothing would change.

Rock the Vote buses

The three buses of Rock the Vote on their way to Ilocos Sur.

Then one day, I decided to volunteer for a politician.

A friend asked me, on Facebook, if I wanted to become a volunteer. It was around the start of April, when most people (hopefully) did their research and tried to decide on their candidates. I still wasn’t completely sold on her candidate, but something made me say yes. Three days later I was packing my bags and telling my parents I would go on a nine-day tour around Luzon to promote the candidate.

“Public office is a public trust.” Our president should be someone we could trust, because he has earned it, because he has proven it by not stealing, because he has shown that he is worthy of our trust. And I believed that Benigno Simeon Aquino III is the person for the job. They say that his performance as legislator is mediocre at best, but to them I say this: would we compromise the integrity of the highest post in the land for a few bills, enactments, and other political achievements? If he has hundreds of laws to his name, yet he uses these to advance his own vested interests, do Filipinos win? Senator Aquino’s efforts while he was in Congress and the Senate was directed at making government transactions more transparent, and tightening congressional oversight on the executive’s use of public funds because he knew that that was the country’s primary problem—corruption. The bills that he sponsored showed his dedication to good governance, and why these were not passed is not hard understand. After all, why would the other members of Congress support a law that would make it hard for them to use public funds for personal gain? They would be shooting themselves in the foot if they did. Even while in Congress, he was already championing the advocacies he promoted during his presidential campaign.

The objective of the Rock the Vote: Road Trip to Change caravan was to promote then-Senator Benigno S. Aquino III, Senator Mar Roxas and the SLAMAT LORRRD senate slate to the electorate by distributing campaign materials. Another objective was to create a virtual yellow ribbon around the Philippines by tying yellow ribbons around different provinces. We also held free concerts at night, featuring bands that made themselves available for the caravan, and the senatorial candidates who tried to make themselves familiar to the people. The caravan was made up of three buses and a few private cars driven by members of the Aquino family and other volunteers.

Rock the Vote volunteers with Noynoy

With then Senator Benigno Simeon Aquino III at Isabela.

On the first day we went to Pampanga, known to be Arroyo turf. The turnout for the concert that evening wasn’t very good, but it was our first day and everyone was still adjusting, and we were in “enemy territory” too. We weren’t discouraged. The next day we went to the Cory monument in Tarlac for a short program and lunch with local Liberal Party candidates, then we proceeded to Dagupan, Pangasinan, where we held another concert.

Our third day was spent in Baguio where, aside from our usual campaigning, the volunteers had a chance to get to know each other better with a dinner and bonfire. On the fourth day we had pit stops at La Union and Vigan to meet with some of the local officials before the concert that night at the Laoag plaza near the Sinking Bell Tower. We spent the next two days at Tuguegarao—on our first day we campaigned and promoted the concert the following evening, and on the second day we went around the universities.

Rock the Vote concert

After the last Rock the Vote concert at Nueva Ecija.

On the seventh day we made our way to Isabela, where we had a quick encounter with Senator Aquino. The next day, after a quick detour to Ifugao, we travelled to Nueva Vizcaya, and then to Nueva Ecija. Finally, on the last day of the caravan, we went to Bulacan, where we had a program to end our road trip. For every province that we passed, a torch was lit and passed from province to province, and in that program all the torches were lit and held up by the volunteers.

During the campaign, most of us got to see new places and encounter all kinds of people. We also realized that there were people who were willing to sell their vote, like when we give away flyers and someone tells us, “Dapat pera ang binibigay niyo, ” or “Wala bang pangkain?” or “Kahapon nagpa-merienda si (name of candidate) at namigay ng t-shirt, bakit kayo wala.” There were people who would vote for someone based on what the candidate did for them or gave them, and nothing about what that candidate could do for them or for the country for that matter.

But for the most part, we had the chance to see for ourselves how the people in the provinces flashed the Laban sign and showed their support for our candidate. Even after spending hours walking under the heat of the sun giving away flyers and ballers, whenever I met someone who told me that they would vote for our candidate because he gave them hope that there will be change in the country and in their lives, it made me feel that all our hard work was worth it because we were making these people believe in the government again.


During the torch-lighting ceremony at Bulacan.

When we passed different towns and provinces, we saw through the bus windows the outpouring of support from the people and their desire to have a government that they can trust. When I talked to a man who congratulated me for going all the way to Tuguegarao just to support a candidate I haven’t even met, I felt that sense of purpose I haven’t felt before. It was during moments like those when I felt that Filipinos all yearned for a government that would restore our faith, and that our candidate was the person they placed these hopes in.

Being a volunteer is a commitment. It entails hard work and passion, and it starts with a dream. If we let ourselves be disillusioned by the current state of our government, then not only do we defeat ourselves, but we also add to the burden by being part of the apathetic millions who just sit and let history take its course. But for those who dream, and who actually go outside of their comfort zones to make it happen, nothing is impossible. After all, it’s hard to douse a heart that burns with a passion for change.

One Comment on ““How We Rocked the Vote on the Road to Change”

  1. Alex santos

    I really do not understand how we can be so forgiving to people who take advantage of power and enrich themselves through others hard work. We need to be vigilant at all times and be unforgiving sometimes.

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