Being Right

It was former Supreme Court justice Antonio Nachura, in his book Outline Reviewer In Political Law, who stated that, for the Philippines, “suffrage is both a privilege and an obligation.” He’s right.

People habitually view voting as a right. Perhaps because the US Constitution says it’s so five times. But really, it’s only a right once a person is granted the privilege of having it.

Thus, according to our own Constitution, “suffrage may be exercised by all citizens of the Philippines not otherwise disqualified by law, who are at least 18 years of age, and who shall have resided in the Philippines for at least one year, and in the place wherein they propose to vote, for at least six months immediately preceding the election.”

In a short number of lines, a number of qualifications were set to allow one to vote: citizenship, no legal disqualification, at least 18 years of age, resident of the Philippines for particular periods of time.

It is a privilege and rightly so because the destiny of our country rests upon its proper exercise. Amendments to the Constitution and public offices depend on the people’s vote. If the individuals voting are immature or irresponsible, then logically so will our government.

Our 1935 Constitution set a voting age of 21. Amidst the Vietnam War, when American 18-year-olds were being sent to battle, the logic was that if you could get killed for your country then you should have the right to vote. Hence, the 26th Amendment was made, lowering the voting age from 21 to 18. Our 1973 Constitution followed suit.

But economic, social, cultural, and security developments have made it such that perhaps the magic number 18 should be reexamined.

In one study published in The Lancet (“The age of adolescence,” by Sawyer, et al.; January 2018), it was found that, “arguably, the transition period from childhood to adulthood now occupies a greater portion of the life course than ever before at a time when unprecedented social forces, including marketing and digital media, are affecting health and wellbeing across these years.”

Or in short, as The Guardian’s Yvonne Roberts puts it, scientists found that “adolescence, previously thought to end at 19, now stretches from 10 to 24, and they recommended that laws should be changed to take this into account.”

Of course, in today’s liberal activist world, much is made of the fact that several of the US “Founding Fathers” were actually “kids.”

Young people fill up registration forms for voters IDs at the Comelec registration center Manila, Philippines July 28, 2013.

But these so-called “kids” (e.g., in 1776: Alexander Hamilton was 21; James Monroe, 18; etc.), by the time they politicked, were already veterans of war, many having families of their own.

Incidentally, our own “Founding Fathers” were a bit older: Apolinario Mabini started his revolutionary career at 29, Emilio Aguinaldo at 26.

Even then, as social commentator Tony Esolen points out, “if 18-year-old kids were not considered old enough to vote back when 18-year-olds were getting married, setting up in a trade, working a farm, or serving the second or third year of a stint in the military, then they sure as hell are not old enough to vote now.”

Older voting ages are not far out. Taiwan has a voting age of 20. Singapore and Malaysia has 21. The United Arab Emirates has 25.

As we seek changes to our Constitution, I’d recommend a voting age of 25. The reason is common sense and science. Mental Health Daily reports, “although brain development is subject to significant individual variation, most experts suggest that the brain is fully developed by age 25.”

Thus, “the fact that our brains aren’t developed until the mid-20s means that ‘legal adults’ (those age 18+) are allowed to make adult decisions, without fully mature brains. Someone who is 18 may make riskier decisions than someone in their mid-20s in part due to lack of experience, but primarily due to an underdeveloped brain.”

So let’s raise the voting age to 25. As political author Matt Walsh argues, “the idea is to open up voting to people who are full, contributing members of society. The majority of people under the age of 25 have never had a job. They’ve never supported themselves. They’ve never even paid a bill or filed their taxes. They know very little about how the country actually works. And they contribute little if anything to it financially, which means they are going into the voting booth and deciding what happens to other people’s money. They have no skin in the game themselves.”

One further point, our laws allow 18-21 year olds to get married but only with parental consent; 21-25 year olds with parental advice. Still, 75% of annulment cases filed are by married couples 25 years old and below. Twenty-five surely is a factor.

A more mature electorate could only be good for the country; for which a bit of aging could certainly help.

Let’s set voting at 25.


Jemy Gatdula is a Senior Fellow of the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations and a Philippine Judicial Academy law lecturer for constitutional philosophy and jurisprudence.

Twitter @jemygatdula