May 11, 2010

Reflections on the First Automated Election in the Philippines

Few people can say that they are first time voters, and at the same time, poll watched as a citizen arm. I was volunteered under the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) by my cousin since she’s one of the heads there.

I went there at 6am for the initializing of the PCOS machine and briefing of Standard Operating Procedures, and got home at 11pm just in time to write this paper. I am physically and mentally drained because of the stresses that comes with the scorching weather, instructing the people, making sure they have the necessary information and just staying there – observing the unpreparedness (and sometimes just plain stupidity) of the voters and the election committee. Yes it was exhausting, but as cliché as it may sound, it was your sense of nationalism that keeps everyone going, and it’s very infectious. Everybody was empowered.

The good thing about being a PPCRV poll watcher volunteer is that you have firsthand information on what’s happening in the precincts. I was assigned in Manila with 711 voters registered, although only 514 people turned up, probably because the lines were too long and the heat was unbearable. It’s relatively a good turn out since compared to other countries. Only 3 ballots were rejected due to human error.

You get to see all the failed contingency plans of Smartmatic or COMELEC: there are only 5 modems for 32 precincts, the thermal paper (used for printing) is not enough – some teachers were going room to room asking for extra papers, there’s only one representative from Smartmatic and unfortunately, he’s emotionally unstable because he cried during the climax of the canvassing according to other PPCRV poll watchers. It’s perfectly understandable from my point of view because I’d do the same.

A lot of unauthorized persons are going in or out of the official polling precincts. The setting is very unprofessional: voters would bring their kids, babies would cry and the Smartmatic machine almost got unplugged because a kid tripped in the power line.

The downside of being a poll watcher is that you can’t watch the local news. You won’t be able to know the national situation because you’re only confined in your assigned precinct. It’s just now that I’m able to hear news of the violence and dishonesty in far flung provinces. Frustration of helplessness and stress are not good combinations, so it’s hard to take in all these desperate attempts of officials to secure a position in the government. Can it be avoided? I don’t think so. It’s part of elections in a third world country, that’s why it’s very interesting to watch what will happen in the British parliamentary election later this week.

It’s also interesting to take note of the experiences of the teachers. The printing and signing of the 22 national electoral returns and another 22 local returns was the only part that consumed most of their time because it’s a very tedious process signing and putting their thumb mark on every return. Because of this long process, I took the opportunity to ask most of them the difference between the elections then and this automated election. They said that even though the voting process was longer, before it only took them until 3pm, at least the post voting processes are faster – this means less time for cheating to happen.

I almost didn’t feel my voting process because I’m done with everything in less than ten minutes. I went in my assigned room to vote and find out that there is no line, probably because everyone voted earlier. I know who I’m going to vote for – someone with the correct vision for the country, someone who has chosen the right people for the best presidency. I voted for legislators who have the potential to exercise and protect the vision of my chosen president.

The highlight of my whole voting experience came when a woman followed by my PPRCV head went inside our prescient seconds before it closed. It was around 7:10pm and by this time, everyone is expected to start with the post voting rights. She drove to three schools with her two kids looking for the right precinct where her name was registered. Apparently it was due to some COMELEC glitches. My fellow poll watchers refused to allow her because she’s 10 minutes late. She delivered an oration of a lifetime with passion that would put Dick Gordon to shame. She’s very eloquent and that moved the people to allow her. Besides, she was in the vicinity - 50 meters around the polling area.

The passion of that woman is something that everyone should see, it’s infectious! I wanted to tell her how I feel after she voted but there were too many people clustered. She taught me how important a single vote can be. I used to think that a single vote won’t matter compared to the thousands being counted. But because of her, I appreciated all the shading I did earlier and how important democracy is not only for groups of people, but as individuals. For most people, this is their only direct participation in the running of the government and they’ll do whatever it takes just to preserve this right. I now hope that people in my generation would realize how important this act – that may range for 5 hours or even down to less than 10 mins. However long it may be, it will be pivotal to the next six years of our country.

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