Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Accountability and acceptance

This was my column on the date indicated above. This post is antedated.

Although Congress still has to convene to officially conduct the canvassing of votes for the top posts in the land, everyone has already accepted that Senator Benigno Aquino III is the new president of the republic. The official canvass will be a mere formality, a ceremonial task that quite frankly, seems already superfluous and unnecessary.

One of the unintended consequences of having immediate knowledge of the results of the elections due to automation was that it has rendered the official proclamation as anti-climactic. As a result, I am beginning to get the feeling—although I fervently hope that I will be proven wrong—that the euphoria will be short-lived and that this second Aquino administration will probably have a much shorter honeymoon.

Aquino still has to be proclaimed officially and yet this early we are already seeing a surge in demand for accountability, for an accounting for the promises made during elections. It doesn’t help of course that the infighting within the Aquino-Roxas camp had become public which seem to indicate that the euphoria had died down quickly even among those who fought hard for the victory to happen. I am one of those who thought that the “despedida party” for Kris Aquino on Facebook was really a joke but I also recognize that there was a subtle message being sent by the people who signed up for it: People will hound this administration to stick to the promises made during the campaign.

For one, Aquino will find it hard to ignore the promises he made during the campaign. In the past, people tended to forget the promises after the elections. Not this time around. There’s a record of everything said or promised during the campaign: Every single vow, every single assurance made— there is a clip of it somewhere in cyberspace or someone else’s hard disk ready to be picked from obscurity to be bandied publicly at the slightest provocation.

Already, people are keeping a very close watch at how the Aquino administration will ensure dominance over the House of Representatives. The assertion that the Liberal Party’s candidate for Speaker of the House is a shoo-in for the post because the president has control of the pork barrel funds is potentially controversial because we all know the pork barrel is the single most potent source of corruption in this country. If Aquino does use the pork barrel to entice congressmen to toe the line, then there goes the main platform of his candidacy. Let’s forget about the much-vaunted promise of a corrupt-free administration.

***

We know that elections in this country are not just about electing people into office. There are many social, cultural, and even psychological factors that attend elections in this country. In many cases, particularly at the local levels, elections are often about redeeming family pride or reclaiming a supposed legacy. I have heard of candidates running for office mainly to prove something personal as if elections were about validating one’s abilities. Of course we are all aware that many thought of the recent elections as some kind of a moral referendum—many reduced the issues to a choice between good and evil, between hope and despair.

Certain practices and attitudes are likewise brought to the fore during elections; some of them don’t really add up in the logic department but it is difficult to argue with deep-seated beliefs. For example, there’s this rather pervasive belief held by many at the grassroots level that receiving money from candidates does not necessarily translate into vote buying or represent corruption. A friend of mine who ran for public office in the last elections told me it was necessary to give “token” amounts to voters to show that he had resources of his own. Apparently, there are those who continue to cling to the belief that candidates who are already independently wealthy will no longer steal. There’s a lot of evidence to dispute this belief—we know of many politicians whose greed simply knows no bounds—but like I said, it’s difficult to argue with deep-seated beliefs.

A conventional wisdom that many subscribed to was that in this country, nobody loses in an election—candidates either won or were cheated. However, the relative success of the automation program may have already invalidated this observation. Election cheating and rigging of results have always been associated with the canvassing of the ballots. The longer the canvassing, the more opportunities for cheating—presumably as ballot boxes got swapped and official tallies and canvasses got altered. But given that technology had reduced human intervention to a minimum and that the barriers of time and distance have been eliminated, it was understandable that most people in this country have concluded that the results of the 2010 elections were accurate and that the general conduct was clean and honest.

Like many others, I too had many reservations about the automation program prior to May 10. But like I said in this space last week, I think there is very little reason to doubt the results of the elections.

Unfortunately, it seems some candidates have still to read clearly the writing on the wall. The three candidates who got the least number of votes—and who are now collectively referred to in many blogs as The Three Stooges—have been whining publicly about supposed irregularities in the elections. I feel bad for JC de los Reyes and Nicanor Perlas because both have struck me as sensible people. Their current actuations have reduced them to traditional politicians.

I recognize that everyone in this country, losing candidates in particular, have the right to question the results of an election. I am aware that De los Reyes, Perlas and Jajajajamby Madrigal have repeatedly stressed that they are flailing around, running after flash cards, and demanding a recount in many precincts supposedly because they want the real will of the people to be reflected in the results of the elections. However, there is a huge difference between proactively championing efforts to rid the system of kinks and bugs so that it works perfectly next time around and efforts to undermine the results because one thinks it failed to count a hundred votes or so in one’s favor. I understand the contention that every single vote is sacred and must therefore be appreciated for its genuine intent. However, democracy is essentially a numbers game. At the end of the day, 48 percent of the votes being cast for one candidate already speak volumes.

Besides, De los Reyes, Madrigal and Perlas seem oblivious to the fact that the results of the election are actually validated by tons of other empirical data: quite a number of pre-election surveys and a number of exit interviews. One has to be utterly dense not to recognize that had there been massive cheating in the last elections we would not have witnessed what we are currently seeing: Swift return to normalcy.

I am sure there are a lot of things that can stand improvement in the electoral system. We have three years to work on them. In the meantime, I think De los Reyes, Madrigal, and Perlas can take a leaf from Grace Padaca, Rissa Hontiveros Baraquel and the rest of the really deserving candidates who have accepted the results of the elections and submitted to the will of the people no matter how painful.


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