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Grace notes and observations

opinion / Columnists
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Grace notes and observations

Accompanying a niece and a fellow researcher who wanted to observe Monday’s elections “in the flesh,” we caught the final minutes of voting at Nemesio Yabut Elementary School in Guadalupe, Makati.

Contrary to pronouncements that school grounds and other voting venues should be free from the messy accouterments of a campaign, the entrance and driveway was littered with flyers and sample ballots, while banners and posters festooned the gates and walls. The litter was everywhere, too, inside the school building, although the long lines and crowds had dissipated by then.

The boards of election inspectors and watchers were gracious and accommodating in every classroom we came to visit. They accommodated every question we put to them, even if they were still in the process of collating the data requested of them by the Commission on Elections, even as stragglers were still lining up and waiting for their ballots.

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One BEI chair I spoke to admitted that their vote-counting machine had stopped for a brief 15 minutes during the day, but Smartmatic technicians were soon able to get it started. Other than this, the process seemed to go smoothly. Some little observations:

It was amusing how adults tried to fit their backsides into the minuscule wooden seats of the Grade 1 pupils in one classroom, and I could only pray none of these broke under the weight of the voters.

I was filled with admiration for the “watchers,” too. The teachers were there as part of their duty, heroic and valiant. The watchers, though, were doing their part as conscripted “troops” of their political parties or chosen candidates. They were temporary hires and beholden to their patrons. But they were carrying out their duties in full cooperation with the teachers by their side. They carried out their roles eagerly, no matter if this was observing the ballots being fed into the machines or even administering the indelible ink. If democracy is won only at the price of eternal vigilance, then the “watchers” are democracy’s front-line troops.

* * *

Our visiting observers were amused no end by the conduct of the campaign, pointing to posters that to them seemed absurd or comical. Joel “Tesdaman” Villanueva was singled out for using the help extended by the government agency he had supervision over as if it was his own personal accomplishment. They were astounded when I asked if they had seen the posters of Sen. Grace Poe with the “ghostly” images of her father and mother framing her.

But the signs that roused the most laughter were plain billboards proclaiming that a public works project was “not a project of the City of Makati” but rather of the Department of Public Works and Highways. I speculated that perhaps it had to do with the ban on public works projects at the last phase of the campaign period, to prevent these from being used for electioneering.

The focus of their research is on local elections in this country, but the overall view of the national voting was perhaps, for them, a means of placing a broader context to the narrower and parochial concerns in the places they’re studying. I wonder what conclusions they arrive at?

* * *

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Even as I write this and chase my deadline, Rep. Leni Robredo is addressing a press conference. While previous ones have featured losing candidates conceding to their opponents, including Robredo’s “principal” former secretary Mar Roxas, the congresswoman’s address was meant to encourage her supporters as all of them watch and guard her narrow lead over Sen. Bongbong Marcos.

Certainly, it has been a remarkable journey for this widow and reluctant politician. Someone observed that should Leni prevail in the end, she and Duterte would make up a “team of neophytes” in national politics. Concededly, both of them have national experience, since the Davao mayor had previously served as a congressman, a post where he was vocally unhappy and even “bored” with. Much of their experience in public service has focused mainly on local concerns, and I am sure it will be a daunting challenge to “grow into” the stature of a national figure, tackling complex problems, with no simple solutions.

From the start, people had given her little chance of making it. Indeed, her party leaders had approached others for the position of Roxas’ running mate, including Poe. Leni seemed to be the last desperate choice, a compromise candidate banking on good memories left by her late husband. That she is soon to be “a heartbeat away” from the presidency seems serendipitous. It would be a shameful waste if she were to be sidelined and shunted aside by Duterte followers still bitter from the campaign.

* * *

Finally, a grace note for Mar Roxas who gave a generous concession speech despite what must have been a stinging defeat.

He once told a group of media women that his “ideal” job would be to buy and manage a coffee shop and wine bar in New York, where he spent many years as an investment banker. As such, he said, he would be happy serving and entertaining members of the public, making friends, perhaps creating a warm and welcoming place even for strangers.

It was a surprising and, indeed, a strange admission for someone who has been steeped in politics and public service for decades now. But he does deserve this time away from the limelight, and this space for recovery and, yes, reconciliation with the fate dealt him in the course of his lifelong striving to serve the Republic and its people.

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TAGS: Elections 2016, Grace Poe, Joel Villanueva, leni robredo, Mar Roxas, Tesdaman
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