Politics as usual
The twice-postponed barangay elections, in tandem with the Sangguniang Kabataan vote, drew millions of voters in 42,000 barangays to over 177,000 voting precincts on Monday — and it was business, or politics, as usual.
The National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections offered an unofficial and partial assessment: “Generally it’s been
peaceful,” Namfrel secretary general Eric Alvia said on election day, but noted that the “same old problems” associated with manual voting had once again reared their ugly heads: missing names from the voters’ rolls, vote buying, vote selling.
The Legal Network for Truthful Elections, or Lente, had its own list: “Vote buying and vote selling, unlawful entry of candidates in polling places, illegal voting through flying voters, unlawful electioneering and violent disturbances.”
On top of these, other conditions hindered the voting process, Lente said in a statement. “Limited accessibility of polling places, resulting in difficulty in voting for persons with disabilities, senior citizens, and heavily pregnant women, were prevalent in various areas in the country.”
Other problems: untold tons of election paraphernalia turned trash littering the streets. Tension between rival poll watchers. And election-related violence.
The day after the elections, Director General Oscar Albayalde, the chief of the Philippine National Police, told reporters: “Generally, kung titingnan natin yung (if we look at the) election as a whole, it is generally peaceful compared to the 2013 elections.” The official police tally lists 35 people killed in 47 incidents of violence since April 14.
In sum, it was a “normal” election day in the Philippines. The official turnout rate has not yet been announced, and early indications suggest that many voters (including those aged 15 to 17 years, voting for SK candidates alone) decided not to brave the summer heat and the clustered precincts confusion. Still, it is undeniable that not only did millions of voters troop to the polls; over 1 million candidates vied for over 600,000 seats at stake.
The atmosphere outside many voting centers was raucous and festive, as usual; some politicians skirted Commission on Elections regulations on electioneering, as usual; many voters complained about the use of indelible ink to mark those who had already voted, as usual. There were upsets and sweeps; there were expected victories and nail-biting vote counts.
In all, and except for the unusual circumstance of the President of the Philippines failing to vote, the May 14 elections were a healthy sign of a vigorous democratic culture.
That’s the glass-is-half-full perspective. The glass-is-half-empty view begins with the realization that these grassroots-level elections had been twice postponed — and were the subject of another intense if belated and incoherent attempt at a third postponement.
Very few voters would accept the idea of a congressman or a mayor staying in office two years longer than their official term, and rightly so.
The idea that it was all right to postpone the barangay elections is enabled by those same politicians’ low regard for the grassroots, their conception of barangay governance as pretend or amateur politics.
This is completely wrongheaded, and it is good that the attempt to postpone the barangay elections a third time failed.
Barangay councils have real responsibilities; a barangay chair and a kagawad now receive a monthly salary based largely on the barangay’s revenue, and have the duty to decide on hyper-local issues, such as garbage collection schedules and security patrols at night, that impact on individual households.
This is real power, albeit modest and on a very low scale. And this is why people have killed and died for barangay positions.
The half-empty view sees that 35 persons perished in possible election-related violence; that is 35 too many.
Also, on election day PNP Chief Albayalde said the number of deaths in the last barangay elections, in 2013, stood at 33. Doesn’t that mean that the May 14 elections were not in fact more peaceful than the last barangay vote?
Millions of voters went out to vote; they all deserve better.
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