I don’t know what it is about us, but we seem to have the knack for turning a perfectly good thing into the worst that it can be, and not, perhaps, for any lack of good intentions, either.
Look at the “party-list system.” A supposed concession to the marginalized sectors that allows their organizations to be represented in Congress, it has been taken over by the very political class that marginalized them in the first place—the trapos.
And now come the automated elections, a fast count that all but eliminates cheating—but only its cruder ways, like ballot-box snatching, since, after all, the ballot box has been eliminated. It does not altogether eliminate cheating, which, technologically, thus apparently faster and more tidily, can still be done. Never mind that, since computerization costs an arm and a leg, it naturally raises suspicions of overpaying.
How could all this be happening on this president’s watch? I had hoped he’d have put in place a credible Commission on Elections (Comelec) when he left office. Indeed, he owes it to his mom, if not to us, his admitted bosses, to strengthen the democracy she helped restore, and the free vote on which it stands.
For a while, he seemed on the right track. He appointed a credible commissioner given not only his integrity and cause orientation, but also his profession: Gus Lagman had been a civil-society election watchdog and is one the founders of the country’s first schools of information technology, STI.
But the congressional Commission on Appointments thumbed him down, presumably because he was overqualified. I thought he was perfect for the job. What is this aversion to perfection?
Indeed, even his colleagues had to suffer him as an unconfirmed commissioner making sense and valid points, disputing both the offered price and technological claims of Smartmatic, the dealers of computerization.
Outside Comelec, Lagman soldiers on as watchdog and continues to make life difficult for his ex-future chairperson, Sixto Brillantes, who has been sounding less like the Comelec chair that he is than a Smartmatic publicist, and sometimes sounding like an over-aged brat.
Amid increasing challenge not only from Lagman but also from a wide segment of the knowledgeable public, information-technology experts included, he has threatened to resign, but only to some cozy ambassadorial post.
But even to low-tech people like me, it’s Lagman who makes better sense—if Brillantes makes any sense at all, for lately he has been making even lesser sense. Asked on TV, for instance, about the many glitches his PCOS machines, the new ballot boxes, showed when tested: “Aba, kung perfect ’yan, saka kayo magduda…hindi naman pwedeng perfect ’yan.”
As Miriam would say: Whah!
Meanwhile, PCOS imperfections continue to show, making my husband, who has been keeping score, manually, wonder, “at what point in the accumulation of imperfections are reason and logic finally restored to Brillantes.”
We certainly have come a long way from when elections were simpler and freer, and definitely not in any sense of achieving progress. Elections in the ’50s were the most exciting for my political family. Dad was a five-termer congressman from Manila’s business district, the second district (now third).
When the polls closed and the counting began, we would drive around from precinct to precinct and watch the trend. Before the night was over, Dad’s watchers would be back with the complete reports. Nobody disputed the local precinct tallies, not in Manila, not elsewhere. The tally was done, each vote posted on the board as it was read, under the keen eyes of watchers from the major parties, which received a copy each of the official tally.
I remember Dad’s thrill after every effortless victory, which he liked to describe in the words of Matt Monroe’s hit song, “Walked away again, kiddo.”
It was impossible—well, nearly, if you like—to cheat at the precinct level then, and also now, as Gus Lagman himself believes, and that’s why he suggests keeping the vote manual, at least at the precincts; there, it doesn’t need to be speeded up by computers, and a hard standard in a retraceable process serves as a validator of the final official vote.
But the Comelec objects, saying any manual voting violates the election automation law, which says that the Comelec “is authorized to automate the voting, counting, transmission and canvassing of the votes.”
Lagman has a plainly reasonable reply, one ridiculous in its oversight. The operative word is “authorized,” he says, and offers this analogy: “I am authorized to drive a car but I am not mandated to do so.”
“How lawyers can misinterpret this is something I fail to understand,” he says, and adds, “Mahirap kasi gisingin ang nagtutulug-tulugan.”
A curious affliction for which, I’m afraid, there is no cure.