While preparing to leave the house last Monday to go to Palma Gil Elementary School in Vito Cruz where I had been voting in the last 12 years, I tuned in to a local television station, which expectedly, had been doing a spirited update on the conduct of the elections.
If we were to go by the reports, the threat of total anarchy was hanging in the air and was about to break loose any moment. All reports from the field hewed closely to this spiel: “The conduct of the elections in this area has been peaceful so far, but there is fear that something sinister will happen soon.” Later in the day, this spiel would continue to be used but with a minor revision “The conduct of the elections was generally orderly and peaceful, but people fear that the canvassing will be marred by irregularity and chaos.”
I know that the media are simply performing their social role, but the preoccupation with the exceptions rather than the norm, the tendency to highlight the unusual and the sordid is getting to be tiring. It strikes me sometimes that media, particularly certain television personalities, deliberately search for these things. We’re just so absorbed with bad news and we like to flagellate ourselves every single opportunity we get. We like to point out just how corrupt, how disorderly, how awfully hopeless we are as a people.
One report said that throngs of voters at Palma Gil were experiencing difficulties finding their names on the voters’ list and their respective precincts. Thus, I braced for the worst and expected mayhem at my precinct.
What I did not expect was a fiesta. Outside Palma Gil, entire streets were festooned with all kinds of banners and posters hanging on every possible space. There was no need for voters to bring an umbrella, the decors were more than enough protection from the scorching sun. Even the streets were carpeted with posters and these were not simply strewn but painstakingly glued on the pavement. It was the perfect finale to the madcap campaign: Voters stepping on the grinning faces of candidates. And it felt good.
Why we insist that it is illegal to distribute sample ballots is beyond me since we seem helpless in preventing it anyway. As I walked to the gate of the school, I received at least 18 sample ballots. Perhaps the rumors were true after all. There was junking of candidates as many of the sample ballots contained a hodgepodge of candidates from across the political divide. The street was ankle deep with discarded sample ballots so if the Commission on Elections really wanted proof that these sample ballots existed, truckloads of proof was readily available for the taking.
I was prepared for the worst and half-expected pandemonium at my precinct. I figured I could take a leaf from the television people and write about how everything that could go wrong went wrong. To my surprise (and disappointment), voting was a breeze. I easily found my assigned precinct. There was no queue. There was no need to search for my name. The teachers were courteous, competent, and very efficient although I noted that more indelible ink than necessary was used on my finger. Did the teacher suspect me for a flying voter?
I was done in less than 10 minutes so I decided to hang around and observe the overall conduct of the elections. Yes, there were a number of people who had difficulty finding their names and their precincts but upon closer observation, these were mostly people who didn’t know their barangay numbers, or believe it or not, their addresses, to begin with. A few were people who haven’t voted in the last two elections and therefore were not familiar with the process.
Nevertheless, it is safe to say that contrary to what we have been conditioned to believe, this election was generally peaceful and orderly. Still, some improvements can be made among them:
First, a master list of all voters arranged alphabetically and posted in one location would have made the process a lot simpler for those who needed help finding their precincts. Unfortunately, the voters’ assistance helpdesks only had folders of voters classified according to precincts and these were not very helpful as manually searching for a name often involved going through several folders. Moreover, a single computer with a database would have speeded up the search process. It is so frustrating that in this day and age of computerization, we still haven’t found a way to harness the most basic use of technology to our advantage.
Second, despite our avowed claims to being a country that values democratic processes, it is frustrating to note that many voters simply lack knowledge about voting procedures. I noted that many voters were simply unaware of the procedures and the responsibilities incumbent on exercising this sacred right. There were voters who argued with the election registrars about the procedures, questioning the steps in the voting. I noted a few voters who insisted on being accompanied inside the precincts or who were obviously still being coached a few seconds before entering the precinct.
Third, it is very obvious that elections are a source of livelihood for a number of our fellow Filipinos. I do not begrudge them the opportunity of earning a few bucks during elections, but these so-called watchers clog the election processes. A few watchers during the casting of votes may be necessary, and definitely during the canvassing, but surely we don’t need hundreds of them swarming around the precincts.
At Palma Gil, the whole place looked like an infestation of ticks as a third of the people in the place were wearing red; they were obviously supporters and watchers of the Atienzas. These watchers impeded the process rather than aided it. They blocked the hallways and doors and contributed to the overall congestion. At the slightest provocation, such as when a voter complained that someone had already voted for him (it turned out he was mistaken, he was looking at another name) a whole caboodle immediately descended on the scene prompting the harassed teachers to give an impromptu lecture on the value of exercising restraint.
Fourth, if we want people to respect and put more value into the voting process, we have to create the conditions that make it so. In addition to the Jurassic procedures and processes, which is costly and clearly anti-environment (lots and lots of paper wasted) some of the precincts were clearly not conducive to voting. While going around Palma Gil, I noted that some precincts were located in places that belied the importance of the process. Some precincts were located under stairways and passageways or near a stinking public toilet.
In times like these, I wonder why we can’t use the facilities of the major colleges and universities. Imagine elections being conducted at the classrooms of De La Salle University, the University of the Philippines or the other major universities that have better facilities. Using the facilities of major colleges and universities would simplify the election process as the elections would be conducted at a few locations and supervision by the Commission on Elections would be a lot easier. These colleges make a big to-do about being socially responsible anyway so I might as well take them up on the challenge.
And finally, we can all make elections in this country more orderly and efficient if we all simply practice more responsibility. There is no substitute for preparation. With all the tools available such as a text messaging service which enabled people to be advised of their assigned precincts beforehand; and with all that heated discussion about the value of elections, one would think that people would be more prepared. Unfortunately, it does look like we treat elections the way we do fiestas. It’s anything goes.