MANILA (PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Young and first-time voters represent a decisive force in the May 2022 elections, according to the latest figures released by the Commission on Elections (Comelec).
As of February 2022, the poll body has tallied more than 65.7 million registered voters. The total is at least 3.9 million more than the number of registered voters in the 2019 elections, and exceeds the Comelec's target of 59 million voters in the first national and local elections to be held amid a global pandemic.
Of the 65.7 million total registered voters, 37,015,901, more than half or about 56 per cent, are aged 18 to 41, and includes first-time voters. New voters number 9.1 million, according to the poll body.
Clearly then, with such impressive numbers, young voters have the power and the potential to shape the results of the May 9 elections. No wonder the youth are being actively courted by competing candidates-mainly through short flashy videos on TikTok and YouTube.
Studies have suggested that the young, being internet savvy and often burdened with a short attention span, are particularly vulnerable to the enticements of social media which remains a free, open, and interactive platform for information. Unable to afford or unwilling to access mainstream media and other sources of verified information, young voters may be more susceptible than their elders to fake news and disinformation on social media which are calculated to favour certain candidates while discrediting others.
It is a weak point that they must be aware of and be willing to address. Despite initial fears that the virus would discourage people from registering, the record number of registrants indicates high public interest in the elections. It may be noted that this interest was palpable in the long lines of people outside Comelec offices and satellite registration sites, with scores of registrants spending overnight on the site just to beat the original (but since extended) deadline for the list-up last year.
Such interest is an encouraging development, showing that young Filipinos are eager to exercise their right to choose their own leaders. With more than half of Filipino voters comprising the youth, it is not an exaggeration to say that the future of the nation is in the hands of the young, as national hero Jose Rizal had once said.
Perhaps at no other time in our country's history is an enlightened youth vote more necessary than today, when the coronavirus pandemic has exposed long-festering problems of socioeconomic inequality, an ill-equipped health care system, and inept and corrupt public servants. Taken together, these societal ills have unleashed a perfect storm on the country.
It is the young who have taken the biggest hit in this crisis, including the loss of jobs and opportunities, the setbacks in education as many poor students can ill afford the technology for online distance learning, and the poverty and hunger that they and their families have had to endure. Then there is the immeasurable impact on their mental health and well-being by the strict quarantines, extended lockdowns, and required health protocols that have deprived them of social interactions with family and friends.
The pandemic has underscored the importance of having elected officials at the national and local levels who have the integrity, competence, decisive leadership, and genuine empathy to respond to the ongoing health and economic crisis. But while exposing elected and appointed officials who have bungled their mandate with corruption and ineptitude, the pandemic has also highlighted the shining examples of young local officials with their hands-on, science-based, and inclusive leadership.
As the nation seeks the yet undiscerned light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, the 2022 elections may provide the best means to electing leaders who can help us grope our way out of this crisis. In this pivotal democratic exercise, the Filipino youth-who represent more than half of the crucial votes-must rise to the people's expectations. They must actively educate themselves on the candidates' worth by seeking out more reliable alternatives to social media as sources of news.
There are also the televised debates, interviews, and fora that dive deeper into the candidates' platform, background, character, and values, which they can monitor and take note of. They can monitor as well how the Comelec is doing its job and call attention to its lapses in maintaining the fairness and integrity of the coming elections.
This is a decisive and historic moment for the Filipino youth. It is both a privilege and responsibility for them to seize this opportunity to steer our nation-and their future-toward hope and renewal.
- The Philippine Daily Inquirer is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media entities.