The line was short, but the wait was a long one. Voting first thing in the morning didn’t make much difference in the face of a PCOS machine that had yet to prove itself easy to navigate for anyone in that room.
A public elementary schoolroom, that is already by default filled, not just with the three-member Board of Election Inspectors (BEI), but with pollwatcher after pollwatcher, mostly ones with IDs from the larger local and national political parties.
It is everything and hot in that room, with nary an electric fan. It is old and decrepit. It is crowded. Most everyone in that room is there to guard votes, yes. But it is all ultimately uncalled for.
That is getting ahead of the story. I should’ve known the moment I saw that my barangay cluster 428A belonged to Precinct 123.
Na-wan-tu-tri ako, we like to say in Filipino.That is naloko, nagoyo. Pretty much like these elections.
You know it as you walk down the street you grew up in and find that the same names, exactly the same names, are running for local government positions. Their posters fill the allotted space for campaign materials; their pretty made-up faces litter the empty walls and gates you pass.
You know it the moment you sit down, look at that ballot, and find that the list of senatorial candidates is made up of mostly old names. And you cringe, because while we might imagine some of them to have some track record or other, and while some might seem worthy of a vote, you know too well that the dynasty might be the worst form of corruption that our political system cradles. Know how local governance has turned into a family affair, and imagine how much more corrupt it will become once these names are in the higher echelons of power.
You know it the moment you see the number of partylist organizations you might choose from. Only the stupid would think that this list is about the underrepresented and marginalized, when you’ve got everything from an electric cooperatives’ partylist that seeks to promote the rights of consumers, to one that is about the province of Bikol which already has 16 congressional seats divided across its six provinces. From one that is about being anti-crime and anti-terrorism, to another based solely on the members of a group being rooted in the Eastern Visayas.
Seriously. We’ve crapped on the partylist system like no one else has; the dynasty has done it on our government and politics, but we like to deny that as problematic.
It is precinct 123 everywhere.
And in this particular Precinct 123, in the middle of Mandaluyong, it was also about the fact of every PCOS machine, across five different classrooms, all not working.
That is, the members of the BEI, scratching their heads over how to work this machine. They look at it with fear, like it’s going to break down at the wrong press of a button. There are too many pollwatchers surrounding that machine, the teachers that make up the BEI are confused, as they are apologetic, as they are embarrassed.
They scream for the IT person, someone whom no one could name, they just know what she looks like, they say. She arrives and she doesn’t know what to do eithera bout the fact that the members of the BEI had tested the machine by putting in a blank ballot. They freaked out that the machine then said a vote had been cast, congratulations!
No on knew what to do. You ask: but isn’t it as simple as taking note of the fact that one ballot was used to test the machine, a ballot that had no vote at all? The answer was apparently, yes.
And you get on with the voting process, only to find that one teacher has to man six different folders, one for each cluster that will vote in Precinct 123. That same teacher has to cater to two lines, one that magically appears for senior citizens, right beside yours, that’s been there since 6:30 am.
The teacher right beside the PCOS Machine is in charge of the ballots. You shade the few choices that you have. You give that same teacher your shaded ballot, and she signs it. She then tells you to feed it into the machine.
Around you a crowd grows: the line might be organized, but the system isn’t. You have to go through this crowd and fall in line again to get some indelible ink on your finger. The lady in charge of that asks if you’ve already voted—presuming you’d be honest—as she looks for your name on another list, that you also need to sign.
You’re finally out of there, followed by your cousin who, while he was in line for indelible ink, was given another ballot. After he had already voted.
It is all very third world, and I say that with all compassion for the public school teachers who are nothing but oppressed by an electoral process that subjects them to this kind of thankless work. I say it with the acknowledgment that there is technology that is difficult to learn, and technology that is just beyond us.
I say it with a sense of how technology is always used against those who do not understand it, even more so how it is used against those who would rather not ask questions. There is no sense in pretending that this was an election that was credible, when we do not understand those PCOS machines, when its source code and CF cards didn’t go through credible testing, when IT experts have yet to say these machines are tamper-proof.
I say it with a sense of how it is the machinery of dynasty politics that wins elections.
Candidates do not win by virtue of their track record, or their promises. They win because of the machinery behind their campaigns. The masses vote for them with very little information to work on, they are made to think they have no choice.
And this is really what you realize as you walk through your forlorn neighborhood public school to vote. There is nothing here that tells you that it would be impossible to cheat in these elections, questionable PCOS machines or not. In fact you already know you’ve been cheated the moment you see those names on that ballot, the moment the first count is out on TV, the moment you find that there is no new name, or new person, who is even close to winning any position, local and national.
In this country, only the delusional would think of election results as the voice of the people. Because before people are even given a voice, they are given the capacity to think, they are given the capability to be critical. This is not the voice of the people. This is the voice of a people who are used merely as pawns and audience of politics that is run by the dynasty. This is the voice of the people who only know darkness, live it every day, and think governance is about that bright light of a dole-out, few and far between as it is.
Until we arm our people with a better sense of options, and possibilities, and hope for and in government, given the electoral process?
We’ve got nothing but election-fail, Pilipinas. Nothing but.