By Menchu Aquino Sarmiento
In voter education webinars about the May 9 elections, Retired COMELEC Commissioner Rowena Guanzon has assured us of the integrity of the Vote Counting Machines (VCM). That is, assuming these are in good working order. Former NAMFREL Executive Director and Board Member Telibert Laoc reminds us concerned citizens that VCM have been in storage for years, and not in climate-controlled, dust-free environments. Some VCM might be nearly a decade-old and the company in charge of deciding which VCM goes where, is owned by Dennis Uy.
Imagine what might go wrong deep within a VCM’s gajillion internal parts even while in transit or at the polling place itself. On May 9, if a ballot fails on the first try to go smoothly inside a VCM, several more attempts are made, under the official poll watchers’ and the Electoral Board’s watchful eyes. Should all attempts to feed the ballot inside the supposedly failsafe VCM fail, such ballots slated for manual counting by human hands are then set aside for manual counting. Now what if something happens to those ballots meanwhile? Remember all those horror stories of ballots dumped by remote rural roads or even in swamps from the 2019 mid-term elections, where not a single Opposition candidate made it? There was an inexplicable 7 hour power interruption back then. A vote for a single candidate can be invalidated, by simply shading another circle.
Concepcion “Chit” Asis, the Regional Chair of the PPVR (People Power Volunteers for Reform) CARAGA Assembly calls the conditions of the coming elections “formidable.” In her words, we must contend with “a COMELEC dominated by Pres. Duterte’s cronies. . . the notorious dagdag bawas operations; retail cheating like vote buying before and during election day; the alleged pre-shading of some ballots discovered in the overseas early voting; and the lack of confidence in the transport of election paraphernalia such as ballot boxes, election returns by the company of a Duterte crony. . . This environment makes election day a truly challenging and fearful day.”
Those of us who have been so masigasig with out H2H in the last month, must continue to reach out and follow through, by helping our newly converted and other Kakampink friends in less accessible areas to get to their precincts to vote, and also to get home again. We also have to support our political party’s two (2) official poll watchers inside every clustered precinct, by providing them with:
Food and drink for at least 15 hours—official poll watchers have to be at the precinct by 5 am, before these open to voters, in order to conduct pre-testing and opening of ballots, then they must stay past the poll closing at 7 pm for the printing and transmission of results;
Cellular communication such as data for WiFi access and power banks to ensure they can document any concerning events and immediately report these to the political party HQ.
Ideally, every clustered precinct should have a BANTAY BALOTA VOLUNTEER CENTER [BBVC] with a help desk or tent, around 30 minutes distant from the actual polling place. BBVC volunteers must also have adequate food and drinks, access to lavatory facilities, cellular communication, a charging station for mobile devices, COVID-protection supplies, paper and writing materials. There should be a sign announcing the new extended pandemic voting hours are from 6 am to 7 pm, that voters don’t need a vaccination card (an ID will do) and that ballots should be filled up privately. BBVC volunteers would help ensure there are no untoward goings-on (intimidation, vote-buying in cash or in kind) near the precinct. They may give neutrally colored masks and hand sanitizer to prospective voters who might need these, and guide PWDs or senior citizens and other members of the physically vulnerable sector to the Accessible Polling Place located on the precinct’s ground floor. Managing the lines is essential so as not to discourage voters with overly prolonged queuing times.
Our efforts in the last six months will all be for nothing if the elections are not peaceful and orderly. In the end, we have to make our votes count. #IpanaloNa10Ito.
Menchu Aquino Sarmiento is an award-winning writer and a social concerns advocate. IRL (In Real Life) are short verbal pagmumuni-muni, the essay equivalent of fast fiction--but in real life. She really wants more Filipinos to care, and to do something legal and non-violent about it, preferably together, so that we act more like a civilized country, a mature democracy.