The post-election period is of many things — grudging, irregularities, media hyping, protests, and celebration. Today, however, the major current has shifted toward electoral stability, improvement and reforms.
As in all elections, many groups and formations want to steal the attention of the public while all eyes watch the election results. As such, “glitches” or perceived anomalies in the voting process and insinuations of “something happening” are irresistible material for reporters.
The tendency is consequently to mistake the trees from the forest. While “many” are overwhelmingly focusing on problems encountered by the VCMs, the ballot papers, markers & SD cards, others capitalized on the existence of cheating, violence, and vote buying.
Beyond the problems encountered, the conduct of the 2019 mid-term elections was by and large peaceful, orderly, and fast. There was less election related violence compared to the past elections. Also a significant development is the COMELEC’s full control of the automated election system limiting Smartmatic to technical support functions.
Regarding technical problems, the more relevant question begs to be asked: Of the total 87,851 voting precincts, how many VCMs, ballot papers, markers, and SD cards malfunctioned and how many were addressed? Did all these glitches affect the counting of the votes?
It is thus incredible to undermine the whole electoral process by virtue of these technical difficulties. We should not forget the so-called random manual audit and the counterchecking of election returns by the PPCRV that could ultimately verify the election results. There are also the suspicions of fraud or cheating that have been brandished by critics. However, no one until now has categorically declared that there was such.
Remarkably, the transmission of results was speedy. Less than 24 hours after the voting precincts were closed, more than 70% of the results had already been transmitted. The transmission times during the 2010 and 2016 elections were a far cry. We should likewise recall the misery and tumultuous times during period of manual elections when we had to wait for weeks for official election results were canvassed and even longer for winners to be proclaimed.
The fast transmission of results also enabled the Comelec to proclaim winners before the night ended. We all went about our normal business the next day without disruptions, no panic, and no destabilization. With the voters instantly getting a clear idea of who their next leaders are, many candidates have conceded. The sense of calmness, acceptance, and stability was pervasive, and the air was tranquil.
The malfunctioning of machines happened, but it was within the expected rate. While there is no given acceptable threshold, the estimate of 400 to 600 VCMs is still trifling to the total number of machines deployed nationwide. What is important is that they were replaced, voting continued, and there was no failure of elections. At any rate, the malfunctions were related to third party supplied accessories and other components such as SD Cards, and markers that caused blotting to the ballot.
The technical glitches are thus minimal to dismiss or undermine the credibility of the automated election system. The Comelec also followed protocols after experiencing delay in the Transparency Server. And as soon as the Comelec En Banc issued a formal authorization, they immediately performed an assessment and resolved the issue.
Another important thing that we should all notice was the existence of less violence against Board of Election Inspectors. With the advent of the automated election system, the speedy transmission and consolidation of results made human intervention a non-factor and resulted in the safety of our teachers. Again, we can recall so many incidents of harassment and violence that have victimized countless teachers during the age of manual elections.
Today, there is no more going back to that slow, unreliable manual system where the cheating machinery of guns, goons and gold politics systematically manipulated elections and exposed the teachers to coercion and even physical harm. We can also recall how cheating was very easy via dagdag-bawas, ballot switching, and ballot snatching.
The next practice that we should all combat is the massive vote-buying perpetrated by traditional politicians. Aside from burying further the marginalized and poor electorate into the tomb of disempowerment, the practice of vote buying has likewise perpetuated dynastic political families. In turn, these dynasts perpetuate a patronage culture to maintain their grip on the poor electorate capturing an unbeatable plurality of the population. As for the Comelec, a more programmatic approach is needed to address this problem, which is to be anchored on institutional reforms that the government should likewise implement.
As we may have also observed, the members of new Senate are deemed to have a more challenging time ahead of them. Their actions and programs should not be blindly anchored on the administration’s agenda but should be attuned to the urgent concerns of the Filipinos. Regardless of party affiliation and political gratitude, they are in the outright position to demonstrate that we have an independent Senate
We, the Filipinos, are already in a different electoral timeline. While vote buying and cheating are important concerns that should not be overlooked, it is imperative for the Comelec to discern from the last three election cycles the lessons that are critical to the improvement of the AES. It is only through this improvement can we continually upgrade the credibility of Philippine elections.
Prof. Victor Andres “Dindo” C. Manhit is the founder and managing director of the Stratbase group and president of its policy think tank, the Albert del Rosario Institute for Strategic and International Studies (ADRi).