Monday, May 31, 2010

Some things never change

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

A realization that struck me like the proverbial ton of bricks last week as we witnessed how our senators and congressmen tried to make sense of our collective experience with automated elections, was that the more things change, the more they remain the same.

We may have put in place the technology—the machines, the processes, and the systems—that was supposed to have catapulted ourselves out of the Medieval Ages in terms of how voting and counting of votes were done in this country. But the sad reality is that the maturity of most of the electorate has remained abysmally low. In addition, there remain quite a number of politicians who continue to see elections merely as a power struggle that needs to be won at all costs. And to make matters worse, there are just too many hooligans and lowlife creatures in this country with absolutely no compunction about lying, cheating, and scamming people in exchange for today’s equivalent of a few pieces of silver.

As a result, we may have been able to speed up the actual voting process as well as the counting of votes but as we are beginning to realize quite painfully now, these did not necessarily mean that we have successfully improved the way we conduct elections in general in this country. Some things have remained the same.

For example, new forms of vote buying were supposed to have surfaced during the last elections. In the past, voters got paid in exchange for writing the names of specific candidates in the ballots; one received money for actually voting for someone. This time around, the modus operandi was that people got paid in exchange for not casting votes that would have favored another candidate. So technically speaking, the term vote buying no longer applied as there were no votes that were cast.

What about instances when voters were mature or principled enough not to accept money and still insisted on going to the precincts to brave the heat, the queues, the shoving, and the various aggravations just to be able to cast their votes? No problem; there were other people who were not as principled and accepted money to harass or prevent these voters from going to the precincts. We haven’t been able to invent a new term for this kind of election hooliganism but given the surfeit of creativity in this country—think koala bears, jejemons, and petal attraction—I am sure we will be able to come up with something catchy soon enough. Vote blocking, perhaps?

Identifying which voters were die-hard supporters of certain candidates was presumably made easier this time around, thanks to the inventors of that ubiquitous fashion accessory called a baller ID. Those bracelets were probably the one symbol that clearly illustrated how democracy is such a great equalizer; everyone wore one with pride—from wealthy matrons from Forbes Park to scavengers at the Payatas dumpsite. And lest we forget, branding was a distinct feature of the last campaign as candidates and their supporters appropriated for themselves certain colors—yellow for Noynoy Aquino, orange for Manny Villar and Joseph Estrada, green for Gibo Teodoro, red orange for Richard Gordon, yellow and green for Eddie Villanueva.

If this trend continues, candidates in future elections do not need to have posters with one’s name or smiling mug in them; they simply need to invest in tons and tons of ribbons and shirts in the color they have appropriated for themselves. Of course there is the possibility that we would run out of primary colors given the dizzying rate in which our politicians change loyalties and want to be identified distinctly from everyone else. So we would probably reach a point where we would have to come out with a law regulating the use of and specifying the processes for appropriating colors for campaign purposes.

We all expected that there would be attempts to cheat because there are simply too many politicians in this country who are so full of themselves they think certain elective positions are theirs by birthright. But what takes the cake for most dismaying development was the rise of con syndicates who came up with a new form of modus operandi to victimize and dupe candidates—they posed as individuals or groups with the capability to rig the results of the elections. Apparently, many candidates fell for the ruse. Naturally they lost. They are now flailing around, whining publicly under the guise of having a sudden albeit belated attack of patriotism and civic duty.

I have a problem with all these belated revelations of supposed large-scale and systemic manipulation of election results: No one has come forward with actual, verifiable proof to back up their fantastic stories. We’re all being made to believe that all of them—every single one of them—didn’t bite. But okay. Let’s pretend we live in an ideal world where politicians are clean and righteous. It’s still inconceivable that they simply listened to a sales pitch; that they didn’t even, at the very least, got curious enough to get proof about how it could have been done. If someone were asking for a billion pesos, it would stand to reason that one would demand proof that it could actually be done. A complicated operation like that would require the complicity of someone really high up in the Comelec so anyone with a functioning brain being offered such a deal would have required proof that the whole operation had the blessing of that Comelec official. Why hasn’t anyone come out with a name? As usual, we are all fascinated and engrossed on the static rather than on the actual message; we’re all suspending logic in exchange for the entertaining antics.

And of course, one real, undeniable, and scary proof that elections and politics in this country haven’t really changed at all was the glorious resurrection of Didagen Dilangalen in Congress. There he was last week on center stage once again at the first session of the joint committee tasked to canvass the votes for president and vice president. Dilangalen rose to national fame (or infamy, depending on which side of the political fence one is perched on) many years ago during that committee hearing called to discuss Joseph Estrada’s impeachment when he showcased more than a hundred ways of calling the attention of a presiding officer. All throughout that hearing, Dilangalen’s repeated outburst of “Mr. Chairman!” could be heard in the background like some grotesque musical score.

Dilangalen illustrated last week how one person could single-handedly delay proceedings simply by being a master in filibustering. Dilangalen opposed moves to open ballot boxes containing the various certificates of canvass without first resolving the many questions and issues raised related to the authenticity of the results of the automated elections. I agree that some form of guarantees need to be made about the integrity of the certificates of canvass, but if we are to resolve every single issue related to the elections—they’d be stuck in that hall for the next two years.

I am sure our senators and congressmen will initially try to humor Dilangalen by acceding to some of his requests but eventually, their patience will grow thin and practical considerations will prevail. I expect Dilangalen and company to start manifesting behaviors reminiscent of those displayed by politicians associated with Fernando Poe Jr.’s camp during the canvassing of the results of the 2004 elections. At that time, Senator Francis Pangilinan was roundly criticized for simply noting each question, objection or complaint related to the certificates of canvass. I am sure we’re in for a similar experience in the next few weeks. The more things change, the more they remain the same.

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