Love in the time of elections
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(First published in the February 12, 2013 issue of Manila Standard Today)
Last Friday’s “Sabay sa Bayan: the 2013 Senatorial Forum” (of which the Ateneo School of Government was a co-organizer) was quite interesting, Whatever our opinion, positive or negative, of our political leaders, many do have noble intentions for seeking and winning their post. It can be as grand as the respective principles that guide Bayan Muna’s Rep. Teddy Casiño one of my favorite candidates) and Ang Kapatiran’s JC de los Reyes, or the legislative agendas of the Liberal Party’s Bam Aquino (whose candidacy I enthusiastically support) or UNA’s Ernesto Maceda; as personal as the Grace Poe- Llamanzares inspired by her father, Fernando Poe, Jr., to serve her land of birth (all personalities were also at Sabay sa Bayan). Love of country is a strong motivation and it comes in different forms.
It is good to reflect on this love this week when we celebrate Valentine’s Day. (Once again, I owe the title to this column to the Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel Love in the Time of Cholera.) Even Ninoy Aquino, who “had fallen in love with the same woman three times”, to cite his touching poem to his wife Corazon Aquino, also loved his country enough to meet both fate and history, and in that same love poem acknowledge how Cory reaffirmed his love for country in its (and his) darkest hour. In that love, one man’s death changed the course of Philippine history. At every juncture of that history, we see men and women of such love give sweat and blood to establish the very country we live in today. Such love carrying our Philippine heroes through their respective trials, as it now must carry us through our present trials of Philippine democracy, latest of all the midterm elections coming in May.
Again, complaints have been raised about the use of Smartmatic precinct count optical scan machines for the elections. These are admittedly legitimate complaints, in particular the necessity to verify its source code software—and the disputes of election watchers with the Commission on Elections on this, on glitches during the dry run, and the Commission’s management of election automation, in general. Disputes enough to raise, once more, demands to return to the manual counting of votes: raised both by Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes, Jr. as an “either-or” ultimatum, and by his critics as the “lesser of two evils” compared to PCOS-based automated elections.
I would not return to the manual count; those who advocate it wholly over a PCOS election understate the historical threats that came with it: last-minute proclamations, local political lords being able to bribe or threaten the local counters into “dagdag-bawas”, the protracted counting giving such cheating attempts a greater chance of success. To subject our people to this scenario, once more, is to punish them for their love of country just because of fear. But neither am I understating the risks with automation, in particular the accountability of the operating software in order to ensure an honest count. The accountability of the electoral mechanism is always a requirement; it is not, and should not be reduced to an “either-or” ultimatum to force other people’s hands.
A loving relationship requires mutual trust, respect, and openness; long years of marriage of many couples can attest to that. And the same remains true for our love of country, and some of our peoples’ love-hate relationship with the PCOS elections. The mutual frustration displayed at the congressional hearing with Chairman Brillantes (which led to his “ultimatum”) a few days ago isn’t healthy either for elections or for country. Even as we must never let our guard down against electoral abuse and malfeasance, stakeholders must also display a gesture of trust, given and returned, to earn each other’s confidence as partners in clean, honest elections. Comelec, in particular, must be given the chance to quickly address the glitches and concerns arising from using the PCOS machines; to clear the air with its critics about discrepancies in procurement and management, and apply the necessary correction; and to ensure the meaningful and open participation of poll watchers in the management of the midterm (and future) elections. Some may say time is too short for all these; all the more reason to sit down how and establish a consensus on ensuring trustworthy, credible elections with what we have.
“Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth,” said Saint Paul of the greatest of the virtues, “It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” With all the controversies, inefficiencies, and suspicions, it may seem like a long road to the mid-term elections, and to sitting down the 16th Congress of the Republic of the Philippines. But it is a road well-trod and well-taken. As any honorable person patiently bears the machinations and tribulations of the electoral exercise and governance, we too can patiently bear with the trials and challenges of a still fragile automated electoral process, and our messy democracy, ensure both their successes, and see this process through.
Eagle Eyes is Dean Tony La Viña's column in Manila Standard Today.