Less Is More: The True Value of Vote-Poor Places Like Batanes

Less Is More: The True Value of Vote-Poor Provinces Like Batanes. Written by Hon Sophia Balod for SubSelfie.com.

In a faraway province in the northernmost parts of the Philippines, Ryan Cardona is excited for the month of May. The clear blue skies, pristine waters of the Pacific, and the warm winds from the ocean during this month are all good signs for his business. Ryan works as a tourism officer in Batanes, ushering in visitors from all parts of the country and around the world to visit the Land of the Winds.

This year, however, Ryan does not only look forward to tourists flocking in during summer. “The coming months are very important. On May, another presidential elections will be held after six years,” he said.

What Is at Stake?

More than 18,000 elective seats are set to be filled, which includes the most powerful posts a person can hold in a democracy: President, Vice-President, 12 Senators, 59 party list representatives, and 238 Members of the House of Representatives. These are positions of power, and whoever holds these seats determine the course of the country for the next six years. They can make or break laws and policies, for better or worse.

The stakes are even higher this year as 54.4 million Filipinos are expected to cast their votes on May 9, 2016, the most number of registered voters in Philippine history.

The bulk of the votes comes from vote-rich regions in Luzon such as the Southern Tagalog Region and the National Capital Region (NCR). Logically, these regions are the main targets of candidates. As the campaign season officially opens this February, scores of aspirants are expected to come swarming in the cities, parading their faces, and giving away cheap tokens to their supporters. The dirty graffiti on walls will be replaced by sticky pictures of smiling politicians. The streets will be filled with echoes of tacky campaign jingles blasted on megaphones.

A local farmer at Sabtang Island
A local farmer at Sabtang Island

Vote-Rich Areas

Quezon City remains the top vote-rich city in the Philippines with over a million voters, followed by Manila, Davao City, Caloocan and Cebu City.

Vote-Rich Cities (as of November 16, 2015)

1 Quezon City 1,150,342
2 Manila 974,479
3 Davao City 873,670
4 Caloocan 648,933
5 Cebu City 630,003


Cebu has always been the center of limelight during campaign season with over 2.5 million voters. During the 2013 elections, 80.77% turned up in the precincts, according to the Commission on Elections. The number has increased to 2.7 million voters this year.

Vote-Rich Provinces (as of December 2015)

1 Cebu 2,722,288
2 Cavite 1,843,163
3 Pangasinan 1,705,260
4 Laguna 1,675,366
5 Negros Occidental 1,663,492


Not a Guarantee for Victory

But here’s the catch. According to Eric Jude Alvia of the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL), getting the support of vote-rich areas is not a sure ticket to winning. For example, Joseph Estrada won the presidency in 1998, but lost votes to his Cebuano rival Emilio Mario Osmena, Jr.

In the 2010 elections, Jejomar Binay lost to Mar Roxas during the 2010 elections in Cebu where Binay secured only 400,000 votes, compared to one million votes for Roxas. Binay won the vice presidency that year.

A high number of registered voters does not also automatically translate to actual voter turnout. Davao del Sur is the seventh vote-rich province in the Philippines but it also had one of the lowest voter turnouts during the 2010 presidential elections at 64.37%. Vote-rich Metro Manila has also culled a poor record in terms of voter turnout; 15 out of 17 cities did not reach the national voter turnout. Only Valenzuela and Pateros recorded a voter turnout higher than the national figure. Metro Manila recorded the second to the lowest voter turnout among the regions at 69.07%, a few points better than SOCCSKARGEN’s 68.91 %.

Being a popular choice in social media is also not a guarantee of victory. Most Filipinos live in rural areas where there is no access to electricity, let alone a computer or a mobile phone, Alvia said. Because of big voting populations in the cities, as well as the overkill of campaign efforts, voters from urban areas are also likely to develop a flaking mindset. “In cities where there are lots of voters, one may think that his or her vote may not matter. As a result, he or she may not go to the precinct to vote,” Alvia said.

Hence, focusing on one vote-rich province and ignoring other small provinces may affect a candidate’s chances of winning.

Alvia says the secret to winning is the even distribution of campaign efforts through all the provinces. Door-to-door campaigns or the ground strategy remains the most efficient campaign strategy especially in rural areas where television and the Internet are only available to a few.

A woman sells vakul and kanayi for P300-P450 in an old Batan village. In Batanes, it seems everyone knows everybody.
A woman sells vakul and kanayi for P300-P450 in an old Batan village. In Batanes, it seems everyone knows everybody.

Small in Number but Big on Turnout

This is where the differences between vote-rich and vote-poor areas come in. While voters from the urban areas seem to be less enthusiastic to go to polling precincts, those who live in small, unpopulated areas appear to be more eager to cast their votes.

Statistics can prove this.

Looking at the Philippine map, Batanes may seem like an insignificant province in the north, a small dot amidst the vast oceans surrounding the archipelago. But voters in Batanes actively participated during the 2010 elections. Eight out of ten Ivatans have cast their votes with a voter turnout of 85.28% (from a total of 10,480 registered voters). “Exercising their right to vote ensures that their voice can be heard even if they come from a faraway island,” according to COMELEC spokesperson James Jimenez.

In an interview with GMA News Online, political analyst Ramon Casiple of the Institute for Political and Economic Reform said that patronage system may also be a factor why voter turnout is high in these areas. “Land owner-tenant relationship is most often observed on election day -– when voters show their utang na loob by voting,” he said. 

Vote-Poor Provinces Voter Turnout (2010 Elections)

Province No. of Registered Voters Voter Turnout *National turnout: 74.99%


BATANES 10,480    85.28%  above national turnout*
CAMIGUIN   58,021   84.56% above national turnout*
SIQUIJOR 64,804    86.58% above national turnout*
DINAGAT ISLANDS 65,345 69.72% below national turnout*
APAYAO 66,283   76.34% above national turnout*

Source: GMA News Research based on COMELEC data

Although the combined number of voters of the top five vote-poor provinces is less than any of the vote-rich province, most of these vote-poor provinces have higher voter turnouts than the national average of 74.99%.

Daily grind in Batanes
Daily grind in Batanes

A New Hope

29-year-old Ryan has never missed voting during an election. It is a right he exercises as a citizen who dreams of a better life in a remote island. Coming from a small province often hit by typhoons, there is little opportunity to make a living and Ivatans rely on their local government for job generation.

The election season does not only signal a new hope, it also means additional jobs for the Ivatans. According to an Ivatan who refused to be named, many locals had their fair share of casual and contractual jobs during the campaign season. Some would work as errand boys for a local politician and could earn P4,000 every month.

As Batanes gears for the campaign season, more Ivatans get hired for work.  Senior citizens are now hired to sweep the streets for two to three hours each day for extra income.

But these jobs are only temporary and are only good for two to three months. “Kulang ang trababo kasi sa tuwing malapit ang elekyon lang merong ginhawa sa mga Ivatan. Swerte ka lang kung nanalo pulitiko mo at sa termino niya maiwan kang may work, (Employment opportunities are lacking because it is only during the election period when Ivatans feel progress),” he said.

Ryan hopes that with a new administration, more jobs and livelihood will be generated in Batanes. He believes that the local government can start with revitalizing and reinforcing the local tourism in the island without sacrificing the natural beauty of their culture and heritage. “Eco-tourism is the answer. We want a leader who understands eco-tourism. We don’t want hotels in Batanes, homestay dapat. Tourism is good but it should be controlled as well,” Ryan said.

Currently, the Batanes Cultural Heritage Preservation Group has forwarded a petition via change.org to stop the construction of a 100-room hotel in Batanes for tourism.

The month of May brings new opportunities for the Ivatans: a chance to showcase the beauty of the island to curious tourists, a chance to earn a living, and a chance to change their small town for the better.

Gateway to the Pacific Ocean
Gateway to the Pacific Ocean

[Entry 122, The SubSelfie Blog]

About the Author:

Hon Sophia Balod

Hon Sophia Balod is a storyteller. She is currently a News Producer of special reports and features for Balitanghali, Saksi, and State of the Nation with Jessica Soho. She is also a media fellow of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism for Basic and Advanced Investigative Reporting. Journalism 2010, UP Diliman. Read more of her articles here.


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