Night and Day
Even for a scandal-crazy society such as ours, where good news is swept under the rug and controversies are celebrated, we have been too unkind to the Comelec, causing them nothing but grief for their tireless work of modernizing our elections. Unkinder still have we been to Smartmatic, the provider of the automation technology, and to the technology itself, or the Automated Election Systems (AES) as it is known.
I wish people knew what absolute train wreck Philippine elections were before automation. Harrowing images from the darkest days of manual elections still haunt me to this day — teachers laboring 18 hours to manually count ballots, canvassers taking 40 days to determine the final tally, thugs snatching ballot boxes at gunpoint, and operators regularly subverting the people’s will and installing fake winners.
That is why, for all the bad press it gets, -as all elections in the world- I am one of those who behold the automated system as a deus ex machina that saved Philippine elections.
Speed and accuracy, the hallmarks of automation, confer on the whole process a level of credibility that rapidly de-escalates political tensions and brings about a sense of stability that investors love. With all automated elections, results are known a few hours after the polls close. There is indeed something both calming and exciting about being able to know your rightfully elected leaders within a few hours.
The Philippine Peso climbed 10% immediately after the country’s first nationwide automated elections in 2010, where the Filipinos were stunned, pleasantly, to know their new president two hours after polls closed — a first in our history. A few days after the 2016 elections, the Philippine Stock Exchange index posted a gain of 221 points, buoyed by the euphoria from the peaceful elections.
The beneficial effects of automated elections go beyond the speed and the economic — the AFP and PNP have benefited greatly from automated elections as well, as incidents of poll-related violence have dramatically gone down since the country started automating its elections.
Teachers who used to be in the crosshairs of violence suddenly felt safer. With the counting and transmission done electronically, human intervention was suddenly a non-factor.
Automation has also significantly shored up the public’s perception of Comelec. Where it once had a dismal trust rating during the darkest days of manual elections, its credibility and satisfaction rating shot up to a high of 74% immediately after the successful automated elections of 2010. After the 2022 polls, it soared to a record 84% a long way from the benighted days of “Hello Garci.”
Repeated random manual audits and parallel counts by the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting have established beyond doubt that the electronic count is 100% accurate, a concept wholly alien to the messy and chaotic hand count.
But perhaps the most noteworthy of all, an overwhelming 90% of Filipino voters want future elections to be automated. This high level of acceptance and confidence seems to suggest a certain irreversibility in the mindset of the electorate, where a return to manual elections or even an experimentation with the Frankenstein hybrid system would be viewed as problematic, even dangerous.
After all these benefits, what really gnaws at my anxieties is the fact that those election deniers who had made a career out of subverting the technology, and even the Comelec itself, are now leading the same Comelec who is about to start a bidding process for a more modern technology. Doesn’t anybody see the unfortunate irony in this? How are they now suddenly expected to give a fair assessment of the automated system and uphold its beneficent effects on Philippine society after being its archenemies for years?
We’ve come so far and learned so many lessons since our wide-eyed foray into electronic voting systems 13 years ago. It’s time to take stock of all the gains we’ve achieved and vigilantly watch whether Comelec’s most recent actions and the bidding process that is going to start this week will continue to build on these wins or destroy them.
Time to challenge China’s “dangerous cat and mouse game” in Ayungin
Was the water cannon used by Chinese Coast Guard around Ayungin and Scarborough shoals last weekend considered an “armed attack”? This was the lingering question of Filipinos riled by the continued bullying and harassment, this time, rammed and cannoned supply ship Unaiza Mae1 whose passengers included AFP Chief Gen. Romeo Brawner who witnessed the harrowing event. The main point, of course, is it enough to trigger the 1951 US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty?
Today, the US embassy called recent Chinese actions as inconsistent with international law and are latest repeated threats to the status quo in the South China Sea, directly threatening regional peace and security. It said China has undertaken unwarranted interference in lawful Philippine maritime operations. The US reaffirms that an armed attack on Philippine public vessels, aircraft and armed forces -including those of its Coast Guard in the South China Sea would invoke US Mutual Defense Commitments. In October, US Pres. Joe Biden said this is their iron clad commitment”.
To analysts, China is aggressively playing its border strategy of “dangerous cat and mouse game” in the high seas during status quo. They do this against Taiwan, India, Vietnam, Japan and Malaysia. They will not allow mediation (seek bilateral talks but are actually drawn-out and meaningless talks) and will continue to violate the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ayungin, Scarborough shoals, Pagasa and Kalayaan Islands (walls of militia ships ) . They use our own Filipino politicians to scare us of possible war (‘the Duterte line) , use local media to start debate and influence our people on the Chinese lines, strengthen social media influences via TikTok, and Chinese-owned online shopping networks such as Shoppee, Lazada, Shein to instill Pinoy dependency and exploit their weaknesses. Amid these disinformation and saber rattling, China continues its expansionism , thru sea and land grabbing and build more artificial islands (military outposts) in the disputed seas.
Now, will they be stopped in asserting their imaginary nine dash line ? I am eager to see what happens if the Philippine Navy and Coast Guard stop using private boats and use its own landing vessels to directly implement the regular rotation resupply mission to Ayungin ? Will Chinese ships watercannon or ram our Philippine Coast Guard or Navy ships and allow that incident to trigger the RP US Mutual Defense Treaty? Personally, I believe, that China will not. But of course, others will contradict.
With AFP chief Gen.Romeo Brawner personally experiencing the recent ramming and water cannon, I think it is about time we test US Pres. Joe Biden’s “iron clad” commitment. Deploy our Coast Guard and Navy ships in these Chinese cat and mouse games asap in Ayungin and Scarborough shoals.