POSTSCRIPT / May 11, 2010 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Whoever the winner is, let us rally around him

CLARK FIELD — Despite our being a nation of procrastinators who dash to the finish line only at the last minute, it seems that by and large we have survived yesterday’s experience with a computerized gizmo touted to speed up the vote count a zillion times.

The elections saw some candidates and campaigners getting shot, the usual thugs vandalizing or running off with the counting machines, some PCOS (a new word added to our vocabulary) units conking out or rejecting ballots — but sweating voters still stood in line to be part of that historic first semi-automated election in this country.

(Let’s stop calling it an “automated” election. It was not. Only the counting of the votes and the transmission of the scores were automatic. The rest of the multi-stage process still followed the old mano-mano system that has made Philippine elections interesting.)

Having gone around Metro Manila polling precincts after voting in the province, I am ready to believe the estimate of Chairman Jose Melo of the Commission on Elections that as many as 85 percent of some 50.7 million registered voters performed their duty.

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NEGATIVE BENT: The official figures are not yet out, but overall, the Filipino already looks like a winner in that computerized test of democracy at work. Complaining under his breath and soaked in sweat in the summer heat — but suffused with optimism — the Filipino voter emerges a victor.

Until late yesterday, the TV and radio coverage of the elections was still generally focused on what went wrong. Good news is no news.

The defective memory cards that had test runs spewing wrong scores days ago had been replaced, but commentators stuck to doomsday scenarios, hinting at an automated “dagdag-bawas” cheating spree having been thwarted.

Many of us have grown tired of such negative talk. I am inclined to relate the glitches more to our habit of procrastinating, of doing things at the last minute, and our “puede na yan” attitude of mediocrity.

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PROCRASTINATION: All the technical and administrative problems that erupted on our way to Election Day could have been detected and solved in advance had we stuck to the timetable that included pre-testing, reprogramming and validating.

But, as we are wont to do, we put off doing things on schedule, pushing deadlines farther back till we lose buffer time for adjustments.

What else can we expect when the Comelec removed integrity-assurance features of the PCOS system after it squandered time and opportunity to do timely testing and corrections? What can we expect after they delayed pre-testing and discovered defective memory cards only three days before the elections?

Still, many of us are willing to grant that these hitches were not part of a grand plot to cheat. Until criminal intent is proved, we can take them as the bitter fruits of procrastination and administrative failure.

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DELAY RISKY: Except for the isolated areas where there was failure of elections for varied reasons, we can continue moving forward to a national canvass and declaring the winners of the positions of president and vice president once we reach a statistical threshold for victory.

When the winning threshold is reached based on the PCOS count monitored by all stakeholders, including the participating political parties, the presumptive winners should be declared without further delay.

Delaying the proclamation of the winners for president and vice president is fraught with risks, considering the virulence of the hate propaganda that had marked the campaign.

No room should be left for possible tampering of the results by last-minute maneuvers. Post-election fraud will only deepen the bitterness.

The semi-automated election system was put in place precisely to speed up the count, so the nation should be told the results in three to four days. Let us not play with fire by keeping the proclamation hanging.

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MAJORITY WIN: Considering the politics of hate that ran through the campaign — I hope I am wrong — whoever wins will have a hard time uniting the contending camps and binding the wounds before he can even talk of carrying out a national program of government.

This problem can be mitigated if the winner scores a technical knockout – which is the equivalent of his garnering a clear majority of the votes.

A majority win — meaning a score of 50-percent-plus-1of the votes – will carry him through the humps of opposition protests and obstructionism.

In a nine-cornered presidential fight with three strong contenders, scoring a majority win is a tough assignment. But let us hope that when the final count comes in, we will see a majority president –making it easier for the nation to move forward.

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WHAT NOW?: One lesson from yesterday’s elections is that the Comelec, on whose shoulders falls the heavy burden of managing the elections, cannot do the job alone.

Aside from the other government agencies that it has deputized, the most important co-operator is the public at large. It helps when the electorate is patient and supportive.

Partisanship and corruption in the poll body, which some quarters suspect but have not proved, erode public confidence in it. If warranted by evidence, charges should be pursued until the guilty parties are purged and punished.

It is imperative that we also revisit the scandalous capers of the Abalos Comelec. What ever happened to the celebrated cases — some also involving computerized voting paraphernalia — related to the 2004 elections?

In this year’s elections, there are indications that some aspects of the preparations have been attended by administrative lapses, if not criminal acts. Do we forget about them if the polls turn out reasonably successful?

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 11, 2010)

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