Filipinos can only stand back and watch in awe at how the Americans conduct their successful Presidential election. Less than a day after the US Presidential election, the winner could be declared without a hitch and without much contention from the losing candidate. Months of campaigning from both candidates come to an abrupt halt as soon as the winner is announced. It is back to work for everyone in the White House.
The ease with which the US election sailed by so smoothly is not even because they have a computerized voting system. For many decades, US elections have always come and gone with hardly any drama. It’s just another walk in the park for people who follow a system that works. In relative terms, there’s hardly any cheating that would cause the sorts of delays that could put entire institutions in doubt.
In contrast, even the Philippines’ very first computerized election in 2010 was fraught with allegations of fraudulent activities as reported by some of the members of the local and international community who participated and observed the election.
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As mentioned in my previous article immediately after the 2010 election, foreign observers concluded that there was massive cheating involved in the first ever-automated Presidential election. Apart from the problems encountered with the machines, there were other elements whose presence was questionable considering they should not have been in the polling stations in the first place. Observers witnessed a chaotic scene with strong military presence and lots of instances of intimidation in and around the polling stations.
One international observer who was assigned at the Pampanga and Tarlac region even specifically mentioned that intimidation was rampant in Hacienda Luisita, the hometown of President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino. These were observations made by outsiders who are completely unbiased. It is incomprehensible why our public officials allow these things to happen. This is why until now there are still some people who question the legitimacy of President BS Aquino’s win.
The following is a summary of their observation all throughout the country:
Serious and systematic irregularities:
– Vote buying
– People lining up outside the candidate’s house waiting to receive cash or goods
– There was no privacy in the polling stations
– People could see what the voter is writing
– The ballot sheet could not be folded to cover the information
– There were voters who were not stamped with indelible ink
– There were voters who were stamped with ink before voting
– There were people taking pictures and videos of voters for intimidation purposes
– Police and military presence was strong.
Despite reports of massive election fraud, majority of Filipinos don’t seem inclined to do or don’t even want to know anything about them. The Commissions on Elections (Comelec) and President BS Aquino’s media cohorts were quick to declare the election a success. They wanted everyone to think that the first automated voting system delivered as expected and that Aquino’s win was a decisive one.
Unfortunately, we will never know the truth. Filipinos will always be in the dark as to what truly happened because they chose to ignore boring details. Filipinos have this tendency to just listen to what the Philippine media is telling them. The Filipino people’s preference for turning a blind eye to impropriety is what’s preventing our country from moving forward. It is turning the Philippines into a nation of cheaters. The irony is that we cry foul after a bad deed is done but we ignore the deed as it transpires. It seems we don’t want the inconvenience of having to deal with the fallout of reporting a crime in progress.
We don’t even have protection for whistleblowers. Instead of commending people for their bravery in coming forward, Filipinos turn against the whistleblowers, making them look like they are making mountains out of molehills. People who are seen supporting the whistleblowers are considered “sore losers”. This discourages people from doing the right thing. Vigilance against crime is what will actually foster an environment of trust in our society. If we know that illegal activities are not tolerated, we can be assured that people will be honest with their day-to-day activities.
Sadly, we shun people who go out on a limb to expose corruption or any form of malpractice, but what we need to do is to help promote a society in which it is possible to speak out without reprisal about corruption, dangers to the public and environment, and other vital social issues. Until we change the way we think and do things collectively as a people, we will never have a smooth election like the Americans.
Here are some of the lessons I learned during the 2010 election that could help us in the 2013 Senatorial election and even the 2016 Presidential election:
1. Campaign platforms
No one comes up with a credible platform during elections because voters don’t care about platforms. They cared about Noynoy’s love life and what he does in his spare time.
Voters were also smitten with the “Aquino Legacy” and are convinced that Noynoy will continue whatever it is they think that Ninoy or Cory could have achieved but for whatever reason did not. The voters don’t even have a clue what a platform is. You have to wonder now how they plan to evaluate how Noynoy sticks to his campaign promises during his term of office.
Lesson learned: Most Filipino voters are star-struck ignoramuses. If you want to run for the presidency in 2016, get an image makeover or try to appear “good” and “humble”.
2. Surveys and Polling firms
Some Filipinos were dumb enough to think that if a candidate is popular, it means that he should be voted in as president. The fact of the matter is, candidates with a lot funds can hire polling firms and publish reports when it is favorable to them. It was also reported that polling firms conducting the surveys in 2010 were closely linked to the presidential candidate leading the polls. Likewise, despite the number of candidates allowed to run, people were actually just choosing between two candidates.
Lesson learned: Next election, call for more transparency around poll survey questionnaires; clamor for more polling firms to conduct surveys and be vigilant and critical of Media’s interpretation of the poll results.
3. Media Bias
Noynoy Aquino was given more exposure by prominent media outlets like the Philippine Daily Inquirer during the campaign period. It didn’t matter how trivial the news was; Noynoy Aquino was always on the front page. Broadcast networks such as ABS-CBN also helped expose Noynoy to the masa through shows that flagged the “Aquino Legacy”.
Lesson learned: Media outlets owned and operated by members of the Philippine oligarchy will give more exposure to whoever presidential candidate offers concessions they can benefit from.
4. Religious endorsements
A week before Election Day, the leader of Iglesia ni Cristo announced that they will be endorsing presidential candidate Noynoy Aquino. It has been said that this religious group actually waits for the last minute before announcing their endorsement because they want to ensure that whoever they endorse actually wins — presumably with the aim of making a few deals with the president once in office. It was also said that Noynoy’s party was secretly courting that leader’s guarantee that the INC votes will be in their favor.
Lesson learned: The endorsement of religious leaders depends on which candidate is popular; religious leaders can make or break a presidential aspirant; Filipinos will vote for whoever their religious leaders instruct them to vote for.
5. Election Day thugs and vote buying
It seems that all of the above exercise with the possible exception of item number four will have no bearing on Election Day to the majority of voters because of the presence of thugs in the polling stations. As previously mentioned, police and military personnel who have no business being in polling stations and who are under the payroll of candidates, hang around to intimidate voters. If the Police and the military themselves are involved in this illegal behavior, to whom can the voters report the irregularity to?
The illegal activity called vote buying involves the buyer and the seller. They both are accountable for their actions. In this case, both parties won’t be willing to report each other because they both benefit from the activity. Unfortunately, the voter who sells his vote will only benefit in the short term.
Lesson learned: As long as irregularities like this happens on Election Day, any efforts at educating the voters will just go down the drain.
6. Automated Machines
It turns out that automated machines are not foolproof. Reports abound of machines malfunctioning, machines found kept in someone’s shed, the discrepancies in time lapsed, and allegations of malicious software installed in the machine itself.
Lesson learned: Filipinos cannot be trusted with both manual and automated election. Filipinos are very resourceful at finding a way to cheat.
Lastly, here is the bottom-line: Filipinos are ultimately to blame for allowing fraudulent activities to happen. Politicians will keep trying to get away with cheating but it is up to us to decide if we will let them.
In life, things are not always what they seem.