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Through the Looking Glass

Titilaok May 12,2013 0 Comments

Words by: Claudio Sanchez

Supporters of Aguinaldo paid off the participants of their convention to cast their vote in favor of Aguinaldo, the first president

Philippine Elections – A Closer Look
Elections in the Philippines usually have three qualities, festive and colorful like its many fiestas, controversial and headline-grabbing like its celebrities, and dirty like its history. Many candidates build themselves up as the greatest thing to ever happen to the country; the fabled hero destined to grant them salvation from the cold fingers of poverty… only if you vote them because they can’t do all of that without the grand machine of the Philippine Government working for them. Mudslinging is the norm and overly optimistic promises are the SOP. Violence has also become an election staple – it’s during this time that crime rates spike. Each candidate hires a crew to assist the voters and as well as to look out for cheaters who were hired by other candidates to manipulate the result of the election. Cheating has sadly become an election tradition.

All tension between parties would escalate and reach its tipping point on election day.

A quick history lesson would show us that electoral fraud was already there during the birth of the Philippine Republic – the 1897 Tejeros Convention. Allegedly, supporters of Aguinaldo paid off the participants of the said convention to cast their vote in favor of Aguinaldo, our first president. Quite riveting stuff. Despite being the first republic in Asia, The Philippines has not evolved much when it comes to the election process. What first started off as a simple piece of paper and a padlocked box has evolved into a symbol of power. A remnant of an archaic system that is riddled with holes just waiting to be abused.

It’s been 116 years since the first election and not much has changed since then: People flock to the precincts, put their votes into a box along with their hopes and dreams for themselves and the nation, the boxes will be then taken to the COMELEC for counting and tallying. Just 3 steps and a whole lot chances for “accidents” to take place. These accidents include but are not limited to: power outages, fights, ballot boxes missing, kidnappings, etc.

But it gets better.

It would then take two to three months (which technically feels like an eternity) before winners are proclaimed. And then add another 6 months or so because there is an 85% chance that a losing candidate would accuse the winning candidate of fraud.

A Dynamite Lit on Both Ends
It’s not just the “election fiesta” that poses a problem but the voting body as well. We, (by “we” I refer to the Filipino masses) have an annoyingly personalistic view of political leaders. The majority of the voting body rely on the personal appeal of candidates like his or her demeanor, looks, charisma and political heritage. Most voters pay no heed to the one actual thing they should be focusing on – party platforms.

How a candidate delivers a line (and how that certain candidate looks when delivering that line) poses more concern for the mass voters instead of tax reforms and regulations, how to EFFECTIVELY make education a priority again, and the like. You know, things that actually affect the nation.

The Silver Lining
US elections are a far cry compared to ours. While ours is in theory a depopulating tool, theirs is something worth emulating. I’m not saying that it is a paragon of electoral efficiency but it’s at least something worth looking into. And normally, the election season in the U.S. would only take around 6 months, here we have designate a whopping year and a half for it.

Fortunately, the government took steps to catch up to the industry standard and curb election-related shenanigans. Automated Elections debuted during the 2010 season. Despite the public’s initial skepticism on the efficiency and reliability of the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) Machines, they still pushed through with it. Each and every precinct would have a Precinct Count Optical Scan or PCOS machine. This machine would then gather all the votes and store it in a memory card. The data would then be sent via SMS using a SIM card installed on the machine to the main counting headquarters. From there, the votes would be counted, validated until a partial, official count can be publicly announced. Normally, it would take less than 24 hours before a winner is proclaimed.

This new system was finally adopted by the Philippine government in 2010 in hopes of a more dignified election process. But the transition process wasn’t as easy as initially perceived since many people were quite unfamiliar with it. And so, the COMELEC conducted a huge information drive to help people warm up to the new system. Advertisements related to the new voting system stormed the media en masse, which meant billions of pesos shelled out. Election time came and, as expected, problems showed up. Aside from the usual problem of vote-buying and violence, many of the PCOS machines failed. At least the elections went a lot more swiftly than the previous one. Some dailies even claimed that a large percentage of election-related violence was averted due to the new automated system.

Now here comes another election season and the return of the new and improved machines. The COMELEC assured the public that the election would be much smoother than the previous one.

The COMELEC has been preparing for the election a year before this campaign season even started. Many mistakes have been sorted out, which ultimately means that the solution to the problems of the last elections should already be solved. Should the new system fail again, not only will the credibility of this move towards a more peaceful election process be questioned, but more money will be coughed up to fix it yet again. In the end, the burning question would be “was it worth it?”

Everyone is keeping an eye on the elections because it is an essential process that we have to embrace for our nation’s future. Always remember that our votes are precious. It is the most basic building block of our nation that will not only dictate our future but the our children’s children as well. Or we can just throw it away and condemn ourselves to a life of mediocrity and poverty that we’re used to. The choice is yours.

Shade the circle of your future. Vote wisely.

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