The 2016 national elections are coming and the clamor for making the “right” choices is steadily rising. In the Philippines, taking a swing at politicians for not delivering on promises once elected is just as common as pinning the blame on the nearest voter for not making the expected “wise” vote.
Pointing the finger at the urban and rural poor for making the “uneducated vote” has become a common malpractice among the average Filipino over the years. In fact, just last year, discussions about not allowing non-tax payers to vote flared up after a recommendation from a well-known political figure was reinterpreted and misquoted over and over through different social media sites.
The “poor vote” is not what many think it is.
Rather, according to a study by the Institute of Philippine Culture of the Ateneo de Manila University, the poor has more or less the same criteria for voting as the middle and upper class have. The study showed that the urban and rural poor of the country do not necessarily favor the rich and the powerful. Instead, they consider a candidate’s piety, helpfulness, loyalty, sense of responsibility and intelligence as top characteristic considerations among all others mentioned in the study. Our brothers and sisters from the lower income groups do think about their votes before they cast them.
The real issue
Of course, when one thinks about who to vote for, they can only use the information at their disposal. The same study suggests that among the poor, the most important sources of information in choosing a candidate are media, family, church and political parties, in descending order of influence.
The media may not always succeed in painting an accurate picture of each candidate, while the other mentioned influences are susceptible to bias and personal preference, making the “right” choice for people a lot more difficult to make.
The rest have the Internet. The convenience of finding information in the Internet allows people to harness significant amounts of information almost simultaneously alongside their daily functions. However, such privilege is not enjoyed by all.
The phenomenon that is the “digital divide” has a portion of the society left behind by the fast-paced information exchange experienced in ICT-enabled areas. In the Philippines, an estimated 60 percent of the population has no direct access to the Internet, putting them on the slow side of the divide.
With social media, interregional discourse is happening in every corner of the web. Opinions are traded, scrutinized and broken down and somehow, barriers are brought down by group think thanks to broaden perceptions, giving those with access to the Internet what they need to make that “wise” vote. Wouldn’t it be better if everyone could join in the large-scale discussion that is made possible by the Internet?
Bridging the gap
To include everyone, a constant Internet connectivity is needed.
In 2014, a solution to bridge this divide was conceptualized and is now on its initial phases of implementation.
The Juan Konek Free Wi-Fi Internet Access in Public Places Project under the Digital Empowerment Program aims to narrow this divide and eventually eradicate it. In this project, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), through its Information and Communications Technology Office (ICT Office) targets to provide 7,118 free wi-fi hotspots in 43 major cities and 967 municipalities across the archipelago.
Because the project was designed to mainly service the poor, usability factors have been taken into consideration and possible issues were foreseen. To address such issues, the infrastructure build will come side by side with user training and support, with a feature designed to ease new users into the Internet.
“With Juan Konek, every Filipino shall have access to vital information readily available on the Internet that they could use in order to be digitally empowered citizens,” said DOST Secretary Mario G. Montejo. “This reflects the DOST’s thrust of utilizing technology to improve the lives of every Filipino.”
More digital people, more informed society, more powerful vote
The key to voting “wisely” is of course being wise. In this day and age, the word “wise” pertains to a person who is more knowledgeable. Because of the new media made through ICT, a wise man is a connected man. The Internet has made it possible for people to gather information from across great distances and send messages across borders. If truth is what people need to vote wisely, then having access to the Internet will enable them to find it.