Three bits of news caught this writer’s eye last week, all with more than just momentary social impact: the reportedly slow count of the just-tested Precinct Automated Tallying System (PaTaS), the slower Philippine growth forecasts from credit rating agencies, and the American Supreme Court slim majority ruling compelling all US states to allow same-sex marriage.
First, PaTaS: one newspaper headlined the slow pace of counting, as if speed were the big issue in considering alternatives to the current Precinct Count Optical Scan. In fact, the main concern about PCOS is lack of transparency leading to easy manipulation. Its critics point out that it is impossible for all but the computer-savvy to personally verify if votes are being counted correctly.
So any comparison between PaTaS and PCOS must put paramount value on transparency. The key question has to be: Which system allows ordinary Filipinos to check for themselves if the votes they cast were correctly counted, and the tallies accurately transmitted and tabulated?
Speed is desirable, too, but never at the cost of transparency and accuracy, which are inseparably linked. Plainly, if all but computer experts cannot tell if an automated system is properly canvassing votes, then verifying accuracy is left to geeks.
That deprives the people of direct knowledge and control of the elections — a fundamental failing, whatever may be the velocity of counting. So did the German Supreme Court rule in 2009 in disallowing its own automated canvassing system after several years of use.
Thus, it behooves Commission on Elections Chairman Andres Bautista and his fellow Comelec commissioners to choose a system for transparency and accuracy, first and foremost, not speed. Better two days of counting which Filipinos themselves can validate with their own eyes, than a few minutes of tallying whose accuracy we can only accept on faith.
For truth in elections, there’s nothing better than seeing and checking the count with one’s own naked, unschooled eye.
Why growth might not speed up
Moody’s Investor Service and Fitch Ratings, two leading international credit rating agencies, both saw difficulties in speeding up the economy after the disappointing 5.2 percent first-quarter growth in gross domestic product from a year ago. As in the halving of GDP growth in 2011, the main culprit was government underspending, which both agencies believed may have trouble accelerating.
Moody’s is due to publish this week its revised growth projection, in light of the economic slowdown in January-March, despite the boost from sharply lower oil prices. Both Moody’s and Fitch said even the government’s minimum target of 7 percent would be hard to reach.
“The government’s ambitious growth target may be difficult to achieve in the absence of more effective budget execution,” Moody’s explained a week ago. President Benigno Aquino 3rd met the Cabinet recently and gave marching orders to speed up spending. But Fitch saw continued problems and, it said, “does not expect a significant pick-up in public investment as bottlenecks remain with respect to disbursement of public funds.”
Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. also lamented underspending, especially in infrastructure. Public works expenditures dropped 11 percent in the first quarter, falling to P68.5 billion from P77 billion a year before.
That decline is from state spending levels which were already unimpressive even after efforts to speed up spending in 2012 and 2013, including the unconstitutional P150-billion Disbursement Acceleration Program. Despite DAP, government expenditures contributed less than one percentage point to the GDP growth rate in those years.
Will Aquino’s spending push get results? Getting agencies to move faster after five years of slacking off seems difficult. Likely to further distract, if not disable agencies, is the need to fend off rising opposition and media criticism as elections approach, with Vice-President Jejomar Binay, just resigned from the Cabinet, now firing on all cylinders.
Plus the spate of concerns raised by the Commission on Audit about more and more contracts by Cabinet departments, from the P25-billion South Korean fighter purchase by National Defense and the Philippine Air Force (reported in this newspaper last week) to the gargantuan trillion-peso contingent liabilities taken on by the state, mainly for the Aquino administration’s public-private partnership projects.
It’s hard enough speeding up after years of slow spending. To do that while fending off mounting criticism and exposes, seems near-impossible. And that’s not counting the constraints on construction during the rainy season, plus the constitutional ban on public works in months before and after elections next May.
Let’s just hope the world doesn’t tip into recession again, and Aquino has to repeat his predecessor’s feat of accelerating public spending to sustain GDP growth amid the 2008-09 global slump. He wouldn’t be able to do it.
Uncle Sam allows same-sex marriages
Despite being a devoted Catholic, this writer will not go over the Church’s objections to the US Supreme Court ruling, by a 5-4 majority, barring state governments from refusing to recognize same-sex marriages contracted in other states in America. That means any gay or lesbian couple who marry in jurisdictions allowing the union, would gain recognition and enjoy marital privileges all over the US. Our colleague Kit Tatad has pretty much summed up the Catholic perspective yesterday.
Opponents of same-sex marriage also deplored its victory in a recent referendum in Ireland, among the most Catholic of countries and once a source of missionaries for the world. And south of the US border, Catholic Mexico has quietly removed all restrictions on same-sex marriage.
For all the alarm and surprise among religious objectors, this soul is not as shocked or despondent. After all, once the US Supreme Court and countless governments legalized the murder of unborn children over the past decades, allowing any other moral outrages cannot be more wrenching that allowing abortion.
At the same time, the High Court ruling, like other state and political acts, do not affect heaven’s moral judgment. Believers must still espouse and live divine truth and law, whatever humanity’s flawed institutions declare. So help us God.