GRADUATING education student Tor Sagud, 19, is anxious of his first time.

For him, waking up early in the morning, coming up with his cheat-list, and making the right choice this coming May 10 will be his commitment to his rite of passage in becoming an active and full-pledged citizen of Baguio.

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“Excited na akong bumoto kasi gusto ko maranasan ang pumili ng mga taong uupo sa gobyerno,” Sagud said.

Sagud, is just one among the almost 2 million first-time voters in the country. For him, exercising his right to suffrage by voting for the right person in the local and national polls is but a little contribution, but will be of great help for his beloved city.

A young cartoonist and artist, full of idealism and creativity, Sagud pictures out and imagines Baguio as a city that never was. For him the city, just like his artworks, is still a small town that needs restructuring, urban planning and a whole lot of catching up in the changing times.

With an estimated 150,000 voters in the city this coming elections, first time voters (which include those who transferred registration and those who have turned of legal age) comprise around 60,000 voters or roughly almost 40 percent of the total voting population in the city.

Sagud is just one of them.

With an almost unpredictable voter’s preference in the choice of local leaders in the past years, as shown in the past three elections of the city, Baguio voters remains flip-flopping on who would be their next city mayor.

Another first time voter, albeit arbitrarily a voter of Quezon city in the past, community organizer, blogger and one of the so-called new guardians of the uglification of Baguio, Lisa Araneta, a harsh critic of the past city administrations claim that first time voters, just like in campus politics, are non-aligned and actually can make or break an election.

“Although not a block vote, first time voters tickles politician’s imagination on who wins in Baguio, much like all those who voted for Miriam Defensor Santiago in 1992 where she placed close number two,” Araneta said.

Moreover, “There is no Igorot vote in the sense that each tribe is not solidly behind their candidate,” Araneta added.

This year’s election, therefore, will actually be anybody’s ballgame.

With this claims, Araneta said that the first-time voter’s vote, the Iglesia or Muslim block vote, the transport group block vote or the market vendors block vote will definitely decide the new set of city officials.

Others would say (including this writer), that the Ilocano or the Pangasinan block vote or even an Ibaloi vote (considering that they just concluded an Ibaloi day last month) can also decide the fate of the new set of Baguio officials.

Comelec regional director Julius Torres said first time voters including those who just transferred registration to vote in the city may be a factor in the outcome of the coming polls.

Torres added that those ages 18 to 30 registered voters, most of which are first time voters definitely will have a say in the outcome of the coming polls as they are now in the thousands.

But he also added that other factors like block voting can also affect this year’s local election outcome.

’First time’ voters

In the 2007 local elections, young voters comprise already majority of the voting population. First time voter project, an online network of newbie voters based in Manila, shared this doesn’t only mean the youth can swing the results of the elections, but it also tells of the power of the youth to significantly contribute to the institutionalization of deeper and meaningful reforms in our political system.

Using this power of the so-called MTV generation, First Time Voter Project claims, is not only important, but also necessary and urgent. The country is currently facing a serious political and economic shift.

The group added that the space for reforms provided by EDSA 1 and 2 and even the unsuccessful EDSA 3 have been bastardized by traditional politicians who put personal and myopic interests above the interests of the nation.

Competence, credibility, and good governance have been replaced by popularity, prominent family names, and wealth.

With this view, the youth, idealistic and optimistic of things yet to come, will surely be the key to the changing of electoral traditions.

In an estimate by the First-time voter’s network, more than 60 percent of the country’s voting population will be composed of ages 18 to 40 years old. These similarly youth votes may either make or break a politician’s hopes of holding power.

In a published Journal of Southeast Asian Studies of the National University of Singapore, written by Steven Rood in 1991 at the University of the Philippines – Baguio, entitled Perspectives on the Electoral Behaviour of Baguio Voters in a Transition Era, which made an analysis of voter’s preference of Baguio citizens after the 1986 People Power revolution during the next two elections that followed in 1989 and 1992, Baguio’s voting preference seems to be likely inclined to the political aspirants view of the city’s reconstruction after the 1990 earthquake and the city’s focus on tourism and other-related concerns.

But based on an informal survey of this writer (conducted through online threads and floated questionnaire methods), these focus on rehabilitation and tourism although still with some indirect connection has relatively changed voter’s preference and attitudes in just barely two decades.

Most of the concerns of first time and old-time registered voters of the city are now more inclined to solving perennial issues that has plagued the city for years that included the state of the environment, garbage and solid waste problem, solutions to traffic issues, addressing the water shortage, peace an order, decongestion and urban planning and a whole lot of corruption that has disabled the city to move forward in its goal of being a model highly urbanized city and tourism-oriented city in the past decades – even to the point of dethroning the city’s claim as the number one tourism destination of the country.

Voter’s expectations

In an informal survey conducted by this writer, old-time residents and new settlers have multifarious views on what the next mayor of Baguio should first address.

Out of the 60 total number of respondents randomly selected in the city already 29 were first time voters or those who have just transferred voter registration in the city and those who have turned of legal age to vote.

This already is sufficed to say that first time voters already comprise to more or less 40 percent of the voting population of the city.

Of the first time voters in the city, most of them same as old- time registered voters concur – 80 percent of the respondents to be exact – that the first issue that should be addressed by the mayor is the garbage problem including then solid waste management implementation and the construction of the engineered sanitary landfill of the city.

First time voter Von Flores, 24 said “first is the trash collection problem the next mayor should come up with better management for better investments than just dumping trash in a landfill that would be more productive like a recycling system would address this issue.”

    

Resty Refurezo, 58, agrees to Flores by saying that the garbage problem in all its reeking and foul effects to the city is the first problem that the city’s chief executive should address.

Law student and first time voter Clifford Chan says the incoming mayor should develop strong ties with the council and work with them in promulgating resolutions that actually lead somewhere.

Lorene Duculan, 21, said, “I think that Baguio leaders need to be more environmentally aware. They should prioritize waste disposal. I think they should do something more concrete than posting “please segregate” and fines.

Meanwhile, most of the under 30 first time and old-time voters in the survey all agree that crime prevention including the alcoholism among the youth, gang wars and brawls happening in and around the city as their main concern.

Many believe (including this writer) that there should be less of what Jimi Hendrix would say that ”Every city in the world always has a gang, a street gang, or the so-called outcasts,” as every great city, once led very well will not have even one gang that would jeopardize the future of the youth.

Lawyer and long-time voter of the city Lauro Gacayan said aside from garbage, the peace and order situation shall be the primary focus of the next mayor since he has control over the police force.

”Note of the worsening peace and order situation, like rape with homicide, as well as numerous arrests involving drug pushing, if the peace in order is excellent, then the community will easily cope with the remaining problems,” Gacayan said.

“If there’s one thing that bothers me most in Baguio now, it’s the crimes committed by frats and gangs. I don’t know how to solve it but it’s really uncomforting to know that you can no longer walk the streets of Baguio freely at night,” UP Baguio Professor Carlo Suller said.

Suller, 26, recalls that he was once chased by gangs along Laurel street and it even makes him think that some of the gangs maybe his students.

Brotherhood for Peace advocate and second-time voter Jason Balag-ey said “the next mayor should focus on peace and order. He or she should strengthen the law enforcers by having more patrol cars, more youth programs and more police and tanod trainings.”

Young writer Sacha Weygan believes that the youth today are misled. But not only problems on youth violence should be addressed but also public transportation and traffic.

Of the first time voters surveyed by this writer, mostly composed of students plying city streets to school everyday and almost 60 percent would agree that the traffic problem should be the next thing that the City Government should answer.

Others who have just transferred registration or just registered even if they have been in Baguio for years now include Lisa Araneta and Charmaine de Guzman.

“Many believe the garbage is the problem. The problem is overpopulation coupled with really bad housekeeping on the part of the local government,” Araneta said.

“This will be my first time to vote in Baguio. I am hoping that my vote will not be wasted,” De Guzman said.

In addition, Long time voter and Baguio Tourism Chair Anthony De Leon said “Immediate removal of inept and corrupt dept heads should be the solution to all problems and the rest will follow because it is no different from reorganizing a management team before implementing programs.”

Upon taking charge as the new mayor Edwar Cayetano of Loakan said accepting the challenge to become the “Father of the City”, the mayor, he or she should seek the full support and cooperation of all, those at City Hall, the staff, the different department heads, fellow elective officials, the leaders of the basic political unit like barangays and even his or her defeated competitors.

Journalist Frank Cimatu added the willingness to take unpopular stands for the good of the city’s environment should be the next step of the next mayor.

Cimatu also added problems of air polluton to which Mike Bugnosen agrees and says “the air quality in the central business district is very much polluted.”

These are just a sampling of the concerns raised by the more than 60 residents of the city, including first time and long time voters of the city.

Other issues raised although not as numerous as the garbage, traffic and peace and order problems include water supply, aesthetics of the city including the loss of its pine trees, poverty alleviation, educational support and sports development.

But all these boil down to one thing: these problems which the mayor should address affect the tourism industry of the city.

After all, the city’s one town one product according to Department of Trade and industry Baguio-Benguet provincial caretaker Freda Gawisan is ecotourism.

Gawisan said that without the improvement of our existing tourism facilities and services definitely will have adverse effects on the economic situation of the city.

Far from its heydays in the 1990s when influx of foreign and domestic tourists fill the city’s hotels and inns and enjoying the scenic spots and the cool weather in the city, most of the tourists would rather hang out every summer in beaches in the Visayas because as most locals would agree, Baguio has lost its luster as a tourism destination.

The lack of new offerings in tourist destinations, adventure sports activities and theme parks to boast makes the city lag behind Cebu and Camarines Sur as travel destination.

Oxford Business Group on The Report: The Philippines 2010 based on the data given by regional offices of the Department of Tourism ranked the city number 4 in tourist arrivals in 2009.

Camarines Sur from January to June 2009 alone had 902,202 foreign and domestic tourist arrivals while Baguio only has 371, 205 which is not even half of the previous’ tourist arrivals.

The city is also behind Cebu and Boracay as tourism destination from January to June 2009, which is the time when most of the tourists troop here.

With all these setbacks, what the next set of city government officials should address, not only the next city mayor, are these problems mentioned by its over 301,926 residents according to the 2007 census.

And, almost half of it is voting this coming election.

Most of them, first time voters like Tor Sagud, whose hopes for the city are as idealistic as any future educator and artist there is.

“Dapat seryosohin natin ang pagboto lalo na at una natin itong pagboto. Sayang naman kung sa una pa lang ay magkakamali na tayo sa mga taong iboboto natin. Pero mas lalong nakakahiya kung iboboto pa rin natin ang mga nagkamali na at nagsira ng ating lungsod,” Sagud said.

With all these problems that beset our next batch of local officials,  the city in all its more than 100 years of existence, must learn from great philosophers in the past, whose thoughts, still, are as valid in the modern times.

Aristotle said “A great city is not to be confounded with a populous one.” Plato added “This City (referring to Greece) is what it is because our citizens are what they are.”

Aside from the philosophers, the next leaders of the city should learn from noted American anthropologist Margaret Mead who said “A city is a place where there is no need to wait for next week to get the answer to a question, to taste the food of any country, to find new voices to listen to and familiar ones to listen to again.”

And to the next city officials, including the candidates vying for local posts this coming May, listening to the voices of first time voters and long time voters is always and important aspect of good governance.

And that is all that matters.