POSTSCRIPT / May 11, 2004 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Winners & losers alike must heed the message

HOME PRECINCT: It seems the more exciting things always happen to other people. But seeing what some voters had to go through just to participate in yesterday’s elections, most of us should consider ourselves lucky.

Most of us did not have to waste hours waiting for the opening of precincts whose paraphernalia arrived late, or to jostle with sweaty crowds scanning list after list to locate our names and precincts, or to get shot on the way to performing a patriotic duty.

It was around noon when my brother Reny and I walked to our precinct in Mabalacat, Pampanga. There was a slight drizzle, but to us outdoor people used to the elements, that was no problem.

The usual hometown crowd was around. Posters and bunting marked the site, but at a respectful distance from the precinct. Kids had fun handing out sample ballots, watchers of candidates stood around, huh, watching, sometimes offering to help locate one’s precinct.

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USELESS BORLOLOY: There was really no need for us to scan the voters lists stapled on the wall. We had checked days ago and knew in advance exactly where to go. Besides, the poll precinct team headed by chairman Rowena T. Brozo made everything light and easy.

In case the Commission on Elections is interested, its “www.findprecinct.com” Internet facility for electronically locating one’s precinct is a bit way off in our case. From cyberspace, FindPrecinct reported erroneously that my precinct was 0439A. On the ground it was actually 0339A.

There were 30 blanks to fill on the ballot from the president to the party list and down to the last councilor. But having brought along a codigo, with our senatorial choices already arranged alphabetically, we were done with it in less than 10 minutes.

And, paging the Comelec again, the indelible ink meant to thwart flying voters was washable. Somebody made oodles of money again.

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MISSED CHANCE: The early partial unofficial results being beamed on TV show the main candidates bunched pretty much together. Note the three modifiers (“early,” “partial,” “unofficial”) that reporters have to insert as an escape clause if/when they fumble on the run.

The bunching up of the front runners in the presidential race stokes anew fears that no one would be able to claim a majority win as the votes would be scattered among too many candidates.

The early election figures that we have seen as we write this are statistically insignificant. They are not yet an indication of how the final score will play out much later.

But we cannot resist the temptation to make some tentative observations. One is that had Fernando Poe Jr. and Panfilo Lacson merged their forces, the opposition could have handily swamped Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Their need for unity was so obvious that opposition leaders looked stupid not forcing Poe and Lacson into a political marriage of convenience if their common objective was to stop Ms Arroyo from creeping up from behind.

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HAPHAZARD PREPARATION: Another item that sticks out is the Comelec’s utter, almost criminal, lack of preparedness.

National elections do not just drop unannounced from the sky. They are as regular and as predictable as the sunrise.

We know well in advance when the next national elections will be. We know how many voters are likely to cast their ballots, and what the physical requirements will be for the entire exercise.

It is the same thing, btw, with the opening of classes. We know exactly how many rooms, chairs and books we have and how many more we will need. Without getting up from our desks, we know how many children will enroll every year and can plan accordingly.

Yet when the seasonal elections, as it is with enrollment, come around, the people in charge jump around in anguish like a ton of bricks fell on them from nowhere.

The confusing listing/non-listing of voters is a management failure that no amount of explanation can cover up. It is actually just a clerical chore that does not require genius, but it keeps recurring.

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HARASSED TEACHERS: In both situations — election and enrollment time — our schoolteachers happen to be caught on center stage, playing the role of fall guy, when the curtain rises.

You must have seen it yesterday, and wept.

Many teachers had to be up as early as 1 a.m. for the 7 a.m. start of voting. Some of them were not given the needed election paraphernalia early enough, but they are luckier than those who were not given any materials at all.

A number of them were told the Comelec had run out of forms. So the poor teachers had to dig into their pockets and buy manila paper (if there was still time and if the stores were open deep in the night) and draw or improvise election forms that fat contractors had been paid millions to print.

Still, these harassed teachers may think of themselves as lucky, considering that a few of their co-workers had gotten killed holding on to ballot boxes being snatched by thugs of politicians.

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MANAGER NEEDED: Article IX of the Constitution mandates that the majority of the seven-member Comelec must be lawyers. Majority refers to the chairman and at least three of the six commissioners.

Without meaning to question the competence of the lawyers on board, we think there must be a provision for ensuring that the Comelec is run by a professional manager.

Even if the chairman happens to be an excellent manager himself, the commission must have an operations man, a kind of managing director who is not coterminous with the chairman or the president under whose term he was contracted.

We should also discard the idea that the Comelec must be bipartisan (maybe to make it look fair in the eyes of contending politicians?) The commission was never meant to be bipartisan, but nonpartisan.

As for money, as long as the Comelec is given the budget allocation it proposes, it does not have much reason to complain about fund flow. The Constitution provides it with fiscal independence, meaning money is automatically released without its having to beg for it.

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KEY POINTS: In the next few days, there will be the usual analysis of the election results.

As we get into that exercise, there are some points we want to underscore:

  1. We must heed whatever message the electorate wanted to convey through the ballot. If we look hard enough, not blinded by partisan prejudice, we will discern the people’s message.
  2. The loser must concede with grace and not retreat back to his cave firing recklessly in the general direction of the winner. Stray bullets kill.
  3. For his part, the winner must be magnanimous in victory and reach out to all sectors.

Our country has suffered enough.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 11, 2004)

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