IN OUR last column, we quoted the historic statement of Dr. Jose Rizal, "Tal Pueblo, Tal Gobierno" which means "As the people, so is the government." By this memorable statement, Rizal pointed out that a democratic government is basically a reflection of the culture of the people. Hence, the government can only be as strong or weak as the citizenry make it so. We recalled this historic statement in light of the present political season in our country. Based on this statement, we see the insights whereby the choices of voters during elections are crucial to the kind of governance the country will have in the coming years.

The critical questions here are how Filipino voters will exercise their choices for national and local candidates. In our past columns, we have indicated the critical importance of the needed voter education which can help our electorate make the crucial intelligent and responsible choices. As we stressed, the intelligent choices of voters should result in public officials who are honest, capable and dedicated.

As a brief historic recall, the Philippines has experienced this kind of governance under the colonial administrations of Spain for more than three centuries and America for half a century. Of course, the Spanish system was not democratic and our people did not learn democratic principles such as free election. On the other hand, the American democratic system gradually introduced democratic principles of government from 1900 to 1946 with a brief interruption of the Japanese occupation from 1942 to 1945. From 1946 to the present, many news reports and books have been written on how Filipino voters have exercised rightly or wrongly their democratic rights today.

Our discussion on the current election season has shown a mixture of positive and negative behavior by the electorate.

Firstly, we have already noted that many voters in past elections have voted mainly or only on the basis of popularity of candidates. This is a negative factor if popularity is the only basis for voting. It is useful for voters to know their candidates well so that they can properly decide on the real character of honesty and dedication to public service, relevant qualifications, competence, or performance in previous government jobs.

Voter's education is especially needed for new or uninformed voters who might be misled in voting only for candidates who are popular and as movie or entertainment personalities. This aspect is worsened when some voters decide on the basis of sentimentalism or emotionalism for some candidates who may be exploiting their dramatized backgrounds.

The most important factors for voters to learn in choosing candidates for public office should be consistent with honesty and dedication, relevant educational background, professional competence and good track record in government or civil society. As valuable lessons in history, the government can only be efficient and effective in promoting inclusive economic growth and thereby alleviate widespread poverty and corruption with a properly educated electorate.

Next week we will share more specific factors useful in the voter's education effort.