Brains and brawns

MANILA, Philippines—It is said that two things are indispensable in running a country: brains and brawns; right and might; legitimacy and power. Leaders must not only use brains; they must also flex brawns. Understandably then, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo wants to be judged right and to have the might to enforce her perceived right.

All figured out? So, to secure legitimacy, she carefully chose all her appointees to the Supreme Court who, she hopes, would validate her stay, come what may. To assure that armed power would back her hope, she just named a loyalty-tested chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines—Lt. Gen. Delfin Bangit—who, as chief of her Presidential Security Group, repulsed at least three military attempts to oust her.

To widen her legal umbrella, her allies want her to appoint a friendly chief justice when Reynato S. Puno retires on May 17, never mind if the Constitution bars her from doing so. Sue her, the Palace dares. After all, the Constitution is what the Supreme Court says it is. Then, after an incumbent justice is named chief, a new Supreme Court vacancy will open up, thereby giving her the opportunity to name another member of the Court.

Verily, she now has the lethal combination: the Supreme Court to validate her wants and the AFP to enforce her will. Brains and brawns; right and might; legitimacy and power. She has it all figured out.

After 20 years at the helm, Ferdinand Marcos thought he had it all figured out too: a compliant Supreme Court, a pandering Batasang Pambansa, a captured Commission on Elections and a loyal AFP under Fabian Ver. So he confidently called for a snap election in 1986.

What he failed to figure out was people power ignited by a recalcitrant secretary of national defense (Juan Ponce Enrile), a psywar expert (Fidel V. Ramos), a charismatic man of God (Jaime Cardinal Sin), and a rising icon of democracy (Cory Aquino). They proved that brains and brawns are not enough. The people’s trust is as essential, if not more.

Prolonging her stay. In past columns, I outlined how GMA can prolong her stay. To repeat briefly, in a tight presidential contest, a failure of election in just 10 percent of the nation will result in a failure to proclaim a new president because, legally, when the uncounted ballots exceed the margin of the leading presidential candidate over the second placer, no one would be proclaimed winner.

Is this really possible? Yes, very possible. The latest SWS survey shows almost a dead heat between Noynoy Aquino and Manny Villar. And our media are replete with reports of fumbling, delays and glitches in the automated election preparations.

There is jurisprudence (like Señeres vs. Comelec, April 16, 2009) saying that an incumbent shall remain in power until the new official is proclaimed and assumes office. Since precedents favor her continued stay, her smart lawyers can justify a GMA holdover.

Even Philippine National Police Chief Jesus Verzosa’s courageous stance against a holdover is subject, according to him, to the Supreme Court’s final verdict. Indeed, it is the Court that, in a crunch, can validate her stay and the AFP that can enforce her sway.

In this seemingly well-crafted script, how will our people react to a skewed election, a failure to proclaim the new president, and the prospect of GMA’s indefinite stay? Will our people trust GMA? Is she barnstorming the nation to win the people’s trust?
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Logistics of ballot delivery. To answer my earlier columns, the Commission on Elections advised me not to worry about the correct delivery of the correct ballots to the correct precincts at the correct time. Wrote Comelec’s James Jimenez, “Ballot delivery parcels will be marked with bar codes. This will allow the Comelec to track the progress of each parcel as it gets shipped through various checkpoints to its final destination…”

Well and good. Bar codes, if properly monitored with global position devices, can track packages. But the question is, are the courier companies that are yet to be appointed, equipped with this system? Equally important, the logistics of ballot delivery refers not merely to physical transport. It includes the following:

Ballot printing. The names of all candidates for all positions in all towns must be printed correctly. Excluded candidates will skew the election because they cannot be voted for. Belatedly, Comelec admitted that its printing machines would not finish the needed 50 million ballots; thus it is procuring one more printer. But this will not solve the omission of the names of the candidates and other printing errors; no time left to double check them.

Packaging and handling. The ballots are being packed in black boxes. For better handling, the boxes should have been grouped and colored according to destination. Wrapping is important: if moisture enters the packing, there would be problems in the machine reading of the ballots.

Stacking and shaking. In the Smartmatic warehouse, the boxes are being stacked too high, compressing the ones on the bottom and damaging the vacuum packing. Too, the shaking and tumbling of the boxes in the delivery vehicles as they pass rough roads could affect ballot readability. They could be waylaid too.

I can write on and on boringly. My point is that logistics is not simple and can cause failed election in several places because of non-delivery, mis-delivery or wrongful delivery. With less than two months to go, does Comelec have time to attend to these vital minutiae?

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