Back to manual; a pleasant dialogue

MANILA, Philippines—The barangay (village) polls on Monday, Oct. 25 (declared a non-working national holiday) will be conducted manually. No PCOS machines. No pre-printed ballots. No ultra violet security marks. No Source Code. No SysTest Labs. No compact flash (CF) cards. No five-hour queues. No random manual audit. No automated glitches and hitches. Just plain, old-fashioned manual election.

Logistical nightmare. Originally, I was hoping to see an automated barangay election so the difficulties and bugs in the last presidential derby could be eliminated. I thought that this was the time and occasion to perfect the automated system so that come the 2013 senatorial and local polls, our people would be more confident in using the new system. But upon further reflection, I now think that the coming poll is better held manually. Why?

First, an automated barangay election would be a horrible logistical nightmare. There are more than 42,000 barangay all over the country. Each of them will elect one barangay chairman (or punong barangay), seven barangay kagawad, one Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) chairman and seven SK kagawad, or a total of 16 officials per village. Hence, about 672,000 (42,000 x 16) barangay and SK officials will be elected. At an average of two candidates per position, there would be 1,344,000 candidates!

To automate this poll means that Comelec must print 42,000 different kinds of ballots, which must be delivered to 42,000 different barangay. Note that each barangay would have a different set of candidates. This means also there would be 42,000 different calibrations for the CF cards.

Since the ballots must be printed in advance, the list of candidates will have to be finalized two months before and the certificates of candidacy filed three months before elections. Further, once the certificates of candidacy are filed, the candidates would be known and would have to prepare for a long and expensive campaign.

Second. Congress appropriated only P3 billion for the race. This is not enough to finance an automated election considering the need to buy or lease PCOS machines, print special ballots and deliver all of them on time to the 42,000 barangay. Note that, with the use of leased PCOS, the last automated polls cost a hefty P7.2 billion.

No deferment. For a while, the barangay polls were in jeopardy of being deferred. Several lawmakers who represent the majority in Congress met with President Aquino. They were selling him their plan to postpone the village vote to coincide with the 2013 senatorial and local race. Reasoning that there was no urgency to hold the polls now, they added that their proposal would save billions for our cash-strapped treasury.

But the President refused to go along, saying that all elective officials must undergo periodic scrutiny by our people. Budget Secretary Butch Abad explained that the lawmakers risked a presidential veto if they persisted on their plan. Comelec Chair Jose A. R. Melo, who was present, adverted to the impracticability of adding 16 new barangay slots to the already long automated ballot for the 2013 electoral exercise.

I remember there was a similar clamor for a deferment of the barangay derby scheduled on May 12, 1997. But the Supreme Court in “David v. Comelec” (April 8, 1997) unanimously scuttled it as a “subtle but nonetheless self-serving proposition to lengthen governance without a mandate from the governed. In a democracy, elected leaders can legally and morally justify their reign only by obtaining the voluntary consent of the electorate.”

Pleasant and friendly dialogue. SSS Chairman Johnny Santos and his charming wife Mila hosted a private, intimate dinner at their Valle Verde home on Oct 2. In attendance, aside from Leni and me, were some power personalities, including Finance Secretary Cesar (and Cory) Purisima, Budget Secretary Butch (and Rep. Dina) Abad, Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman, PCGG Chairman Andy (and Trisha) Bautista, and former Defense Secretary Nonong (and Charito) Cruz. Mightily present with his decade-long experience as executive, justice and labor secretary plus another decade-long Senate service was Sen. Frank Drilon who came with his wife Mila.

They picked my mind on the many controversies facing the P-Noy regime, like the Hong Kong hostage crisis, the crucial cases pending in the Supreme Court (impeachment of the Ombudsman, constitutionality of the Truth Commission, validity of President Macapagal-Arroyo’s midnight appointments), the public-private partnership program, the reproductive health bills, etc.

On the last item, I opined that—as I wrote in this space on the next day, Oct. 3—the best option was a dialogue with the Church. While I recognized the wide gap between the opposing sides, I thought that the issues could still be resolved peacefully. I am happy that there was unanimity in toning down the noisy debate and in avoiding a grisly confrontation. I am even happier that a few days ago, a “pleasant” and “friendly” dialogue was held between President Aquino and the leaders of the CBCP, with an agreement to continue discussions.

As a footnote, may I add that I chatted with the papal nuncio, Archbishop Edward Joseph Adams, during the Spanish National Day reception last Oct. 12. While he, as the envoy of the Vatican state, was careful not to comment on purely internal affairs of the Philippines, the genteel nuncio—in his other capacity as the liaison of the Pope with the Filipino Catholics—noted the lay leaders’ engaging inputs on the sanctity of life.

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