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We can’t believe our luck

I was busy working on a column earlier this year when representatives of the Antipolo Commission on Elections office came to our village to register voters who had not yet filed their biometrics or personal data to qualify them to vote in 2016. My husband and son trooped to our clubhouse instead, urging me to try to catch up with the procedure which they described as relatively “painless.”

My husband volunteered to accompany me to the Comelec offices in the city later that week so that I, too, could register, but somehow the opportunity eluded me. Until one recent day when I got a “final notice” from the local Comelec about my need to register anew. Since I had no previous commitment that day, I readily agreed to drive all the way to Antipolo city proper to register.

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It took some time to find the Comelec headquarters which were housed in a building behind a small mall. Upon entering the hall, I thought we had wandered by mistake into a shopping center, as the ground floor had been taken over by a tiangge or makeshift marketplace of dusters and household implements.

We climbed to the second floor and had to negotiate our way through a cramped corridor which also fronted, aside from the Comelec offices on one end, the local Bureau of Internal Revenue and the city licenses office. The hall was lined with benches and plastic chairs on which were seated students in school uniforms and men who looked like your regular tambay.

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But, much to my surprise, after filling out an information sheet precariously balanced on my lap, the procedure for gathering my biometrics—fingerprints and photo—went relatively smoothly. There were no long lines (the hubby and I arrived early in the afternoon), and the personnel were brisk and efficient.

One lady, who seemed to be in charge, even took a look at my form and remarked that they had already established a precinct in our village, which meant we would no longer have to endure the heat and congestion at a nearby public elementary school. She knew her stuff, I conceded.

In about half-an-hour, I had completed my registration. I was given a small slip of paper which would serve as my “receipt,” but no one wanted to commit to how long I would have to wait for my Comelec ID to be issued. The hubby shrugged and said he’d been waiting for months for his ID, about as long as he’d been waiting for his plastic driver’s license. I suppose, having survived the dreaded biometrics registration, a long wait for an ID is no biggie. Be thankful for small favors.

* * *

Anyway, having been duly registered as a qualified voter for 2016 and beyond, I feel I’m now qualified to discuss our election procedures, which we’ll all be intimately acquainted with come May next year.

Guest at yesterday’s Bulong Pulungan sa Sofitel was Cesar Flores, the Venezuelan representative of Smartmatic in the Philippines, to explain several “issues” that the company has been embroiled in ever since it was selected by Comelec as the provider of the PCOS (precinct count optical scan) machines. The PCOS collects, validates and counts the ballots cast in our national elections.

He may lie low for much of the year, but the minute our attention is turned to approaching elections, Flores and Smartmatic suddenly land in the bull’s eye for news reports, gossip, speculations and even accusations of manipulation or connivance.

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Does any other country where Smartmatic operates give him as much trouble and heat as the Philippines? Flores shakes his head. “No, none. In some countries, like in Belgium, people don’t even care how the voting is done. But I suppose it’s also a function of electoral maturity. The voters trust their election authorities completely.”

So what is Flores saying? That Filipino voters are, uhmm, immature? Or that the Comelec and other election officials—including our overworked public school teachers—have yet to earn the complete trust of the populace?

I remember soon after the 2010 polls, when most everybody couldn’t believe how quickly the results of voting for national positions were released. Suddenly, there no longer was any agonizing wait for the winners to emerge, and it seemed we couldn’t believe our own eyes and ears!

Maybe that’s why doubts about the integrity and efficiency of the voting system still linger. We still can’t believe our luck, or rather, we can’t believe that the almost mythical “clean and honest elections” mantra could ever come true.

* * *

“We are very concerned,” admits Flores about the delays in the approval of the contract to refurbish the existing PCOS machines. They may wait for another week, he adds, but after that, they will have no choice but to back away from the contract.

The country has only nine months to go before voters troop to the polls, he reminds, and it would be “too risky to start refurbishment at this late date.”

But Flores stands foursquare behind the integrity of the system that the country adopted when it opted for automated elections through the use of the PCOS machines. Despite protests and court cases galore, he says, none of the accusers have so far come up with clear and incontrovertible evidence of connivance or manipulation of the voting process and counting results.

He offers the media a video of no less than US President Barack Obama voting with a PCOS machine and later praising the efficiency and reliability of the system. “If the machines could be used for cheating, don’t you think the Secret Service would have jumped in and prevented him from using it?”

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TAGS: 2016 Elections, Antipolo, biometrics, Cesar Flores, Comelec, Smartmatic
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