I woke up yesterday to the sound of constant whining. On almost every a.m. radio talk show, the commentators were having a field day with voter registration. They were reading text messages from disgruntled people, they were taking calls from irate voters-to-be, and they were editorializing with glee.
And then the COMELEC Chairman came on the air with Ted Failon. He – Abalos – tried to explain that if applicants for registration can’t be accommodated, they only have themselves to blame. It was a factual statement that Failon managed to project as a verbal shrug of the shoulders; and he went to town on it, replaying that snippet of his conversation with Abalos over and over.
The most mentioned flashpoint was Quezon City. Anyone who has seen a map of NCR will understand why QC in particular would present as such a challenge: the dang place is HUGE! The 2nd district in particular is one big mutha.
So, concerned that alot of the news was being based on the gripings of crowds already dismayed and angry, I decided that I had to go see for myself whether the complaints had any basis, and if there were any, to see if I could help in anyway. I rounded up several people and off we puttered towards QC.
Once there, the sight that greeted us was awesome. The COMELEC offices in the QC City Hall complex is a fair distance away from the City Hall itself, situated behind and to the right of the Hall of Justice. People were lined up all along that long driveway from the main Hall to the cluster of COMELEC offices, right up to the dinky alleyway that led into the ‘compound’ formed by the u-shaped cluster of COMELEC offices. And because the path off the driveway and leading up to the compound had something of a gentle upslope, having a crowd of people there meant that, from the driveway, it almost looked like a mountain of heads.
As I threaded my way through the crowd and into the COMELEC offices, I noticed two things: First, those within the ‘compound’ of the COMELEC were all standing quietly in line, holding on to their application forms, and were being processed smoothly. Second, those outside the compound were angry, frustrated, and generally unruly.
Whe I finally spoke with the election officers, I learned that the bulk of the crowds massed outside the compound were from District 2. Now district 2 is huge. It includes Culiat, Commonwealth, and Payatas – large barangays all – and at that moment, it felt like all the potential voters from there were storming the gates of the COMELEC. Intimidating is the word that springs to mind.
I also found out that the EO of district 2 had already given out priority numbers to about 600 people who were scheduled to be processed over the next two days or until december 31. The processing of those with priority numbers was proceeding pretty smoothly. The problem was with those who weren’t given priority numbers – basically those who arrived only yesterday (however early they arrived).
So, to make this easier, I’m gonna identify two groups. Those with priority numbers, who I will call (imaginatively) priority registrants, and those without – the late registrants.
< Priority Registrants
< Late registrants
It was the late registrants who were doing most of the complaining. However, i was able to explain to them why they were in that pickle. Alot of the explaining had to do with gently reminding them that they should have come earlier. I was expecting them to complain about lack of knowledge, but I guess they only complain about that to non-COMELEC observers. I mean, I went up and down the line and every single one I rebuked (mostly gently) about being deadline-beaters never raised a peep about ‘not knowing.’
I also had to deal with the rumor that we had run out of forms. As it turned out, that rumor started when someone said that late registrants could not be given forms yet. In the mood that the crowd was in, it wasn’t long before that statement morphed into ‘wala na raw forms.’
The truth is, there were enough forms. They just weren’t being distributed willy-nilly, the way alot of people – and alot of commentators – wanted. In order to recieve a form, the applicant has to first present his identification requirements. This step is necessary to ensure that the forms are given only to those who ought to have them. The principal issue being addressed by this procedure is that alot of unscruplous types may be out to take advantage of the last minute rush in order to slip in their stooges. While there are mechanisms to discover these people later on in the registration process, it is more prudent to prevent the pollution of the list of voters at the earliest stages possible. As it happened, COMELEC officials were able to turn away people who were trying to register where they ought not to.
Anyway, once the crowd understood the system of priorities being implemented, they quieted down and – for the most part – accepted the long wait, and no one complained about the ‘lack’ of forms again.
Later that afternoon, a COMELEC order came down instructing field officials to accomodate everyone still within the vicinity at the close of registration hours. Well, that made a lot of people happy. And after some more scuffling and complaining, we managed to calm the crowd enough for them to get into orderly queues, patiently waiting for their turn to submit their registration requirements.
The priority registrants had complaints too, make no mistake about it. Mostly, they griped about how long the process of registration was taking. But after the EOs explained the nuts and bolts to them, they were pretty cooperative.
So, in hindsight, the major cause of the disturbances was that the late registrants kept trying to muscle in on the priority registrants, and kept getting turned back. With the size of the crowds, and the long wait, and the fact that most COMELEC officers were busy processing priority registrants, it was inevitable that the mood eventually soured.
However, with a whole lot of explaining to the crowds, and a timely order from top-management, the COMELEC people of QC were eventually able to mollify the crowds and, by the time I left that night, the crowds had gone home and the whole place was quiet again.