Archive for the ‘Commentary’ Category

Poverty and Elections
October 14, 2008

It’s like love and marriage, only malignant.

Poverty and elections are inextricably linked to each other in a perverse sort of equilibrium. Poverty drives people to sell their votes, thereby ensuring that those who buy votes actually have a much greater chance of winning elections. And because those who buy votes are intrinsically corrupt, you can expect that their term as elected officials will probably just worsen the plight of the voters, thereby increasing the number of voters willing to commoditize their right of suffrage, increasing also the number of corrupt politicians in power.

I get dizzy just thinking about it.

One of the most difficult challenges facing the COMELEC is how to break this cycle of commoditization (that’s how I call it, so my apologies to whoever has a better term for the problem).

It is very tempting to say that the COMELEC should go after root causes and that the ultimate solution to vote buying is to eradicate poverty. But that would be stupid. Whole governments have dedicated themselves to the eradication of poverty, but still the problems persist. It would be ridiculous to imagine that the COMELEC can do any better in terms of making people not poor.

This, of course, does not mean that government should stop trying to address the problem of poverty. It’s just that, while government is butting its head against that brick wall, the COMELEC needs to be more creative in addressing vote-buying as a specific consequence of poverty.

  • For instance, we should push for stiffer penalties for candidates – winning or losing – who fail to file expenditure reports.That’s a no-brainer I suppose.
  • We could also probably ask the Commission on Audit to embed a team of government auditors in each campaign to monitor expenditures – not for the purpose of allowing or disallowing anything but simply to ensure that all expenditures are properly reported.
  • And government books, in particular, should be closely audited – ideally by private auditors – during the campaign season to ensure that public funds are not misused.

Apart from these and other innovations, we should perhaps also be suggesting ways to ensure that vote-buying is counter-acted by private citizens. Although still mostly in the realm of the possible – albeit probably not even doable by the COMELEC – these might help:

A performance tracking system – a system by which the performance of elected officials is monitored in such terms of laws passed (if a legislator), innovations and improvements introduced, or income generated for his jurisdiction. Maybe a law should be passed making periodic audited reports to constituencies mandatory. That way, elected officials have to actually show that they’re walking the walk.

Anti-Choice Lists – A performance tracking system sounds good. However, this will only really work if people cared enough about good politicians to actively campaign against bad ones – especially those who do nothing but spout populist rhetoric designed to get maximum votes through stop-gap measures, all at the expense of sound policies.I mean, think about it. In every campaign, you only ever see people campaigning for this and that candidate, and always in glowing terms. Rarely do you see negative campaigns. Of course contending politicians won’t do negative campaigns – especially not in a country where commercials are always for your product versus X and Y – but why can’t concerned citizens just band together and say, “look at this guy’s record! don’t vote for him!” Come to that, despite the awesome freedom of the internet, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a blog slam any particular candidate. Most political blogs come up with their own list of choices. I think the time has come for a list of anti-choices, with or without the benefit of a performance tracking system.

While this does not directly address the problem of poverty, it does have the potential to throw a monkeywrench into the machinery of politicians whose only way into power is through the exploitation of the poor via vote buying.

And sting operations where private persons masquerade as voters to receive vote-buying money while filming the whole transaction via a hidden camera. I have reservations about the admissibility of that sort of evidence in court, but properly done, sting operations can at least shame a corrupt candidate back under whatever rock he crawled out from under.

Poverty is a serious issue, and not just in the obvious ways. The persistence of poverty and the ease with which poverty can be exploited unbalances elections, predisposing to the adoption of populist policies that only worsen the plight of the poor.

At the end of the day, mitigating the effect of poverty on elections is not the COMELEC’s responsibility alone. It is a shared burden; and despite everything that may be suggested today or in the future, for many of us the work still begins with simply refusing the money.


August 30, 2008

One of the major complaints raised by the Anfrel observers in the last ARMM elections – the one that used those DREs and OMRs? – was that there were some underaged voters.

I tried to explain the reality of the registration situation in the ARMM; quite in vain, I suppose. Still, this report from the Inquirer really says it all.

DAVAO CITY – A big number of unregistered Filipinos, or those who have no birth certificates comes from Mindanao, an official of the National Statistics Office (NSO) said Thursday.

Carmelita Ericta, NSO administrator, said 10.62 million people from Mindanao, or 12 percent of the 88.57 million people included in the 2007 population census were not registered with local civil registrars (LCRs).

This is what we’ve been saying all along.There are many cases where parents bring their kids in for registration and swear up and down – some of them on the Quran even – that their kid is of legal age. Without birth certificates to go by, how can the election officer effectively contradict the parent? And the way I see it, it is far better to err on the side of enfranchisement than risk disenfranchising someone.

But of course, in the eyes of the hyper-critical, this has got to be a COMELEC failing. Totally unfair, I should say. It gets worse when the hyper-critical turn out to also have just enough knowledge to convincingly over-generalize about the value of cleaning up the voters list.

Don’t get me wrong: a clean list is essential. What is wrong is the assertion that a clean list is a condition sine qua non for clean elections. For one thing, the list is never very clean for long.

Under the law, the clean up of the list is a continuing preoccupation of the COMELEC. But the law also says that a certain number of days prior to an election, the list has to be locked down – no more changes or alterations made as a general rule. Now, even if you were to assume that the list was 100% clean on the day of the cut-off, it would be unreasonable to assume that the list would stay clean until election day. The only way for the list to remain pristine is if, on the cut-off day, people stopped dying, getting married, going to jail, changing residences, and so on. But of course, life doesn’t stop just because the list has been locked down. And so, seconds ater the lock down, the list starts getting dirty and inaccurate again. Deaths are no longer reported, for instance, and it’s not impossible for someone to look at the list on election day and see the name of a dead relative on there. Guess what the headlines will say the day after.

Read more?


Sarmiento on Erap
January 3, 2008

Commissioner Rene V. Sarmiento has attracted some flak for saying that he thinks former President Joseph Estrada is Constitutionally barred from running for President in 2010. There are those who say that Sarmiento had pre-judged the case.

I think it needs to be pointed out that Sarmiento was one of the authors of the 1987 Constitution. Because of that, I think he has a unique perspective into this whole scenario, quite apart from his being a COMELEC Commissioner. And I think it is in that context that his statement should be appreciated.

Hornet’s nest
August 10, 2007

The sentencing of Atty. Lintang Bedol seems to have stirred up a hornet’s nest. But, just so that people know what the whole thing really means, maybe a couple of clarifications would be in order:

First: Bedol was convicted and sentenced for indirect contempt only. Not for anything connected to the alleged cheating in Maguindanao, not even for losing the documents in his possession. The maximum penalty for indirect contempt is 6 months and a thousand peso fine.

As an aside, Atty. Sixto Brillantes claimed to be surprised that the maximum penalty was imposed.

“I was surprised that the Comelec gave him the maximum penalty because I thought he would only be reprimanded. I had said before that the Comelec cannot afford to impose a harsh punishment on Bedol because this guy can point to them. He knows so many things,” Brillantes said in a phone interview.

Well, I guess he was wrong. And following his penchant for supposition, I suppose the fact that such a ‘harsh punishment’ was meted out to Bedol only points to the COMELEC not being overly concerned about the ‘many things’ Bedol is supposed to know. Carrying that line of reasoning further, one could say that that points to the honest desire to really clear things up.

Second: Bedol was not convicted for cheating and so on, because the charges for those allegations are still being prepared. More to the point, Mayor Jejomar may have been a mite unfair when he said:

“The Comelec has again sorely missed the point, and failed to grab a rare opportunity to rehabilitate its image. The issue involving Lintang Bedol goes beyond contempt. It involves the integrity of the electoral process which, under the present leadership, has been tarnished by widespread involving officials of the poll body.”

“The Comelec’s trust rating has consistently been at the bottom, and yet when it was given the chance to redeem itself, the poll body fumbled,” he added.

He said instead of prosecuting Bedol for the alleged poll irregularities in Maguindanao, the Comelec chose to pursue the lighter offense of indirect contempt.

Binay also bewailed the failure of the poll body particularly chairman Benjamin Abalos to hold Bedol accountable for the disappearance of municipal certificates of canvass (COC) which he claimed got lost.

The indirect contempt case against Bedol is merely the first step, not the last. The resolution convicting Bedol actually says that further investigations will be pursued. If eventually found guilty, Bedol will be held accountable for the ‘alleged poll irregularities in Maguindanao,’ and he will be held accountable for ‘the disappearance of municipal certificates of canvass (COC) which he claimed got lost.’

Why, then, did the COMELEC tackle the contempt case first? Was it really a matter of a stung institutional pride? One could choose to look at it that way, of course, or one could open his eyes and look at the practical side of it: the contemptuous acts unfolded in full view of the public and were very clearly documented. So clearly documented, in fact, that there was no room for supposition: the evidence of the acts was there for everyone to see, and none of those acts were ambiguous. Hence, the case was able to be built up quickly.

In contrast, the case for cheating is not so easily laid. Investigations are on-going and witnesses are being talked to – all for the purpose of helping the case to be built up. The charges of election rigging are certainly serious enough for it to be in everyone’s interest that the process of case build up is done carefully and correctly, lest an early misstep (committed out of the desire to hastily bring Bedol up on charges) cost us the entire case down the road.  Prosecution, after all, isn’t about what’s obvious. It’s about what one can prove; and you can bet everything you have that Bedol will challenge every single allegation brought against him. Unfortunately, all these impatient calls for his immediate prosecution fail to take this into account – as if he would simply break down and confess all his sins once we bring him to ‘trial.’ If we go into that phase of the prosecution without properly preparing for it, we will lose the fight and no one will benefit from that. Save perhaps the fish that gets away.

Back to the PDI article now, for the NUJP‘s response to the possibility of a threat to press freedom.

Commenting on Ferrer’s statements, Jose Torres, chair of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, said the planned electoral sabotage case against the unnamed media persons was a case against press freedom.

“It is a threat to press freedom when government agencies start to threaten practicing journalists for being critical of policies. The threat alone is itself not limited to the concerned journalists, but involves press freedom,” Torres told the Inquirer.

I would agree with Mr. Torres, if the journalists were to be charged with electoral sabotage simply ‘for being critical of policies.’ But that isn’t the case.

Commissioner Nicodemo Ferrer was explicit that those who might be charged are those who manufacture “news” for the purpose of discrediting the COMELEC. There is a world of difference between simply criticizing the actions of the COMELEC and spreading false news meant to undermine the agency’s authority.  Obviously, we should not go after journalists who disagree with what we do however vociferously they may voice their criticism; but we need to call to account those who deliberately mislead the public by making up stories meant to destroy COMELEC credibility. Or, as some would be quick to point out, whatever is left of it. Now cue everyone else who says there is no credibility left to destroy; that’s arguable – especially since no one seems to be complaining that a vast majority of elected officials are now happily enjoying their offices – but even assuming that were true, would it then be acceptable to spread lies?

(Torres) added: “The Comelec should not blame the media for its failure during the elections, as proven by the Bedol and ‘Garci’ controversies. The media are only reporting what happened during the elections.”

We don’t blame the media.

Torres also said the public perception of the lack of credibility of the elections was real: “This has been going on for a long time, as evidenced by the cases filed by various political groups.”

Cases filed by political groups evidences lack of credibility of the elections?  Not necessarily inasmuch as the cases filed by people can just as easily be attributed to an inability to accept that they lost.

Teachers in the COMELEC
January 31, 2007

The Alliance of Concerned Teachers today swamped the COMELEC office, trying to wrest more concessions from the COMELEC. More compensation, more allowances, more hazard pay, more leave credits, more everything. It gave me the impression, more than anything else, of being in a soukh.

The law requires teachers to serve on the Boards of Election Inspectors, and last I checked, the law did not provide any bargaining power for either side. The COMELEC has no choice but to use teachers, and the teachers cannot hold the government to ransom. But that is what is happening even as I type this post.

I would like to ask these molders of men, what sort of example are they setting by condeming the COMELEC without proof or evidence? Are we teaching our youth how to judge books by their covers?

I would like to ask these hands that rock the cradles of our minds, what sort of example are they setting by shirking their lawful duty? Are we teaching our youth to be evaders of responsibility? Has the highest good become what is convenient? Is this what our students are learning in schools.

I would like to ask these noble teachers, what sort of example they think they are setting by trying to twist the COMELEC’s arm by raising fists and filling the air with their strident, whining, voices.

PPCRV can’t quick-count yet
January 28, 2007

Just for the purpose of laying to rest all the speculation flying around about the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting’s accreditation with the COMELEC: the PPCRV can only conduct a vote-watch and voter education. It cannot conduct a quick count.

The reason for this is that they do not have any sort of track record for this kind of endeavor. They have never quiuck-counted before. So, the COMELEC en banc has said that PPCRV will not be accredited for a quick count yet, and has directed PPCRV to submit its plans for the quick count and to prove that those plans are fool proof.

A thimbleful of time
January 27, 2007

The COMELEC has taken the firm position that the pilot testing mandated by the Automated Election System Law  recently signed by the President can no longer be implemented for lack of time.  Despite being personally committed to automation, I am forced to agree.

So much to do and only a thimbleful of time to do it in

First off, there are only about four months left before elections. During that time, there is the unavoidable procurement-
development-and-testing-certification progression that must be considered. Procurement alone takes more than six months , and development and testing certification can easily take another 8-10 months. But considering the peculiar circumstances of the COMELEC, that’s not even all.

The new law – RA 9369 – is technology neutral, which means it doesn’t advocate the use of any one kind of election tech. This means that before we can do anything, we must first decide what tech to use: either optical mark reader technology (OMR) or direct recording electronic (DRE – like Diebold).  That decision has not even been made yet, and it really isn’t as simple as tossing a coing.

The COMELEC makes that decision on the basis of the recommendation of the Advisory Council. And how long does that Council have to make the choice? The law doesn’t say, meaning the Council can take as long as it wants to. Even with the gorundwork we laid long before the AES law even darkened the President’s door,  the choice remains hard to make. But assuming that the choice of tech is made as early as Monday the 29th, the next step that must be taken is the drawing up of the Terms of Reference and the specifications for the automated election system. How long will that take? In 2004, it took a dedicated team of experts nearly 18 months to complete the spec-sheet, what with all the arguments and the debates and the COMELEC insisting on statutory requirements that, often, did not make any sort of sense to the experts. Can we crash all that preparation time into 4 months?

Even assuming that we are able to squeeze TOR preparation into four months, that leaves us with the rest of the procurement-development-and-testing-certification processes to make  time for. If we want all these things to fit within the window we now have, I suppose we have to squeeze TOR preparation into even less time, say 2 months.  But what good would that do – apart from probably giving rise to a whole boatload of errors? Procurement alone takes more than 6 months. We asked the legislators to include, in the law, the authority for the COMELEC to undergo facilitated bidding, i.e., a short-cut version of the canonical bidding process. But that wasn’t done. So, we’re stuck with traditional bidding which, did I mention this before? takes more than six months.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that we can simply lease the equipment necessary. Does leasing erase the need for making the technology choice? No, absolutely not. Does leasing eliminate the need to draft the TOR and the spec-sheet? No. The Philippine electoral system is pretty damned close to unique as makes no neffermind. This means that whatever system may be available for rent will still have to undergo a great deal of customization to make it useful here. And in order to do that, you have to be able to define what the Philippine electoral system’s specific requirements are, hence the spec-sheet.

Learning curve

But for the moment and for the sake of argument, let’s assume that all of that has been packed neatly into the 4-month implementation period, what does the law itself have to say about any other requirements? It says that there should be a stakeholder education program in place and functioning 6 months before election day. Let’s break that down.

Stakeholders refers to voters and political players and the media and NGOs. The law says that 6 months before the elections, all these people need to be comfortable enough with the system that they can at least use it with reasonable confidence. Is this mandatory, i.e., something that the law says must be done? The law isn’t clear on that but from the point of view of ensuring the success of the exercise, this voter ed requirement must be considered mandatory.

Voters who are not comfortable with the system may refuse to use it and thus be disenfranchised.

If they are uncomfortable but still decide to use it, they will take time. The very technical working group (TWG) that helped draft the AES bill conducted a time and motion study that showed that – even with a voting machine that was supposedly a no-brainer – most subjects took up to fifteen minutes to finish voting. Do the math. At one voter per quarter hour, you have 4 voters per hour. In a ten-hour voting day, that’s 40 voters. 40 voters in a precinct that includes at least 200 voters.  The end tally would then be 40 voters voted, 160 voters disenfranchised.

Political players who do not understand the system will fear it, distrust it, and reject it’s results if unfavorable. That’s pretty self-evident, isn’t it? The same goes with the media and the NGOs. Net result: widespread rejection of the system leading to the further undermining of the electoral process.

Still think the voter ed requirement might not be mandatory?

If they can do it, why can’t we?

According to some people, these requirements aren’t all that mandatory considering that the system can be potentially very easy to learn, as proven by the fact that people in America and other places can do it.  I call that the Cranberry argument. Remember the Cranberries? They sang songs like Linger and Zombie. Well, their first album was everybody else  is doing it so why can’t we? And at it’s core, this argument is really just an appeal to public emotion – national pride and all that. Nothing wrong with national pride, but can the fate of an election really be made to rest on an emotional response (unfortunately, I have been accused of having a low opinion of Filipinos for simply rejecting this fallacy; for insisting that tech-savviness is not uniform across the country, much less between America and the Philippines. We have our brilliant sons and daughters who can excel in the first world, but are we all so brilliant? Even America has its share of unsophisticates and morons)?

Well, it shouldn’t. There should be more cogent reasons to justify rushing into this 2.6 billion peso project than patriotism. And so far, no such reasons have been forthcoming. Instead, the proponents of automation in 2007 keep on repeating the same old mantras:

If they can do it, why can’t we. (because they’ve been doing it longer than we have? because they’re so technologically advanced over there that having only a dial-up connection to the internet is considered de-humanizing?)

We must automate now because we are being outstripped by other countries. (like America? Venezuela? Brazil? Riiiiiiiiight.  They send people into space, fill their swimming pools with oil, and lend their name to a personal hygiene procedure that has become a cultural phenomenon, and we’re worried that they’re outstripping us with their voting tech. Nice.)

We must never believe people who say that something is impossible to do. (try jumping off a roof, buddy. Who knows. You might actually do the impossible and fly – in the interest of fairness, and for those keeping count, this is called a strawman fallacy. Funny, tho.)

Playing the blame game

And finally, one of the main reasons the COMELEC is very hesitant to rush into automation is because the consequences of failure far outweigh whatever benefits may be derived from automating.

Proponents of automation in 2007 say that the COMELEC should not be afraid of failure, and that if the COMELEC is doing the right thing, it won’t allow failure as an option, and that if failure comes despite sunny optimism, the COMELEC leadership should just resign for having botched the job.

Well, the COMELEC does not dread the possibility of failure as much as it dreads the effects of failure; and

While saying things like ‘failure is not an option’ may be good for rallying the troops, remember only that King Canute once tried to boost his ego by telling the tide not to rise only to end up looking the fool; and finally,

Seriously, what would resignation do when the elections have already failed?  Will resignation erase the shambles brought about by undue haste? Will people accept responsibility and not just tar and feather the COMELEC for failing in something that, despite COMELEC protest, they insisted should be done?

January 21, 2007

Now seems as good a time as any to talk about the campaign period heading our way at breakneck speed. More specifically, let me talk about premature campaigning and political broadcast adverts.

Premature Campaigning

We’ve been all over the news and though very few seem willing to verbalize it, the perception I guess is that the COMELEC is ducking it’s responsibility to control the seemingly uncontrollable urge of politicians to plaster the town with their faces and cheesy grins. Copping out, is how Jarius Bondoc called it, I think.

While I can see exactly why the COMELEC cannot legally compel these jokers to tear down their posters, much less stop them from putting up new ones before they file their certificates of candidacy, I always had difficulty accepting that there was nothing we could do.

Things came to a head for me several days ago when I read three different news stories about how three different people had brazenly declared that they would run for office. These three people, not surprisingly, are among the people whose faces I see all over the place, grinning benevolently at all the little people … la-dee-da. When I read that they had announced to all and sundry that they would be throwing their hats into the ring (not really a big surprise), I immediately got the urge to tear down their posters and smack them upside their heads.

The reason the COMELEC hasn’t been going after these people is that they aren’t officially candidates yet, them not having filed their certificates of candidacy. However, a certificate of candidacy is really nothing more than a categorical declaration that the person filing it will seek public office. To my mind, standing is some plaza or sitting in some coffee shop knowing full well that everyone’s eyes and ears are on you, and announcing that you will be running for office is just as categorical a declaration as filing a COC. Therefore, I reasoned, a person who has performed this ‘constructive’ filing of a COC should already be subject to the rules that apply to candidates; the actual filing of the COC then, would just be a formality.

If the rule were otherwise (which, tragically, it is) then these worthies who have declared their intention to run can very easily circumvent the campaign rules by refusing to file their COCs til the very last day (12 Feb for Senators and PL; 30 Mar for everyone else) and embarking on a poster orgy in the meantime. Libreng kampanya taken to absurd lengths. As I said, I have a big-ass problem with that.

But then again, the law may suck, but it is the law. So, legally – TECHNICALLY – these worthies are still beyond our reach. However, I think that where the law so obviously fails, we ought to take the bull by the horns and get creative – of course without violating the law ourselves.

My proposal, therefore, is this: the COMELEC should ask every politician who has gone on record – with the media, mostly – as intending to run should immediately take down his posters and refrain from putting up new ones until the start of the election period. I’m thinking shame campaign (which might not work since the success of a shame campaign is predicated on the subject of the campaign having the capacity for shame), or it’s slightly more politically correct cousin, a campaign of moral suasion.

However, considering the need for the COMELEC to remain strictly neutral, it would be exceedingly difficult to conduct such a shame campaign while maintaining the kind of objectivity we need to preserve. The solution, I think, lies with the youth and advocacy groups. After all, these pols are just courting votes. Think of it as an exercise in consumer power.

When people stop buying a product – or protest enough about a product – the manufacturers slow down. If the protest continues long enough, the manufacturer just ups and stops making the product altogether. Maybe we can do the same. Maybe we can tell these pols that their circumvention of the law will lose them votes. Maybe that sort of thing will knock some sense into them.

I don’t know how well this plan will work – from a distance, it sounds naive, even to me – but short of amending the law, there really isn’t much we can do.

Political Broadcast Adverts

My other pet peeve. There’s this law (RA 9006) that says candidates can have a maximum of 120 minutes worth of political TV broadcast advertising. Now, this has always been interpreted to mean an aggregate of 120 minutes worth of adverts on all channels. Now there is a school of thought that believes the COMELEC ought to interpret it to mean a maximum of 120 minutes worth per station.

SO, under the traditional interpretation, the equation would be [120 divided by (number of tv stations)]. Lets call this the ‘aggregate’ interpretation. Under the other – let’s call it ‘liberal’ – interpretation the expression would be [120 per station].

Now, the reason the COMELEC prefers the aggregate rule is that it prevents the moneyed politico from overwhelming the poorer politico with TV ads, and forces the moneyed politico into more or less the same footing as the poor guy.

Think of it this way. Politician A has 15 million clams to spend, and B has only 10. TV ads costs 5 million each. A good ground campaign also costs 5 million. Under the liberal rule, A can buy two ads and still have money left over for a good ground campaign; whereas B can afford only one ad and a good ground campaign. Even taking for granted that these two pols stayed within the spending limits, it is clear that without the cap provided by the aggregate rule, Politico A can easily clobber B by simply spending more on TV ads than B can ever hope to match.

But, adherents of the liberal rule argue, even if politico A can only spend 5 million on TV ads, he’d still have twice as much money for a ground campaign than B does. True enough, but what they forget is that with a ground campaign, lack of money can be made up for by good connections and the kindness of strangers. The same can’t be said of TV advertising where the bottom line is always money – the cost of an advert. So, under the aggregate rule, B has a far better chance of matching A’s campaign since A is forced to spend more money on the ground campaign; money which B can match for effect with better connections and better campaign strategies.

Flustered by this argument, the adherents of the liberal rule shift their attack to: “but it is the COMELEC’s duty to make sure that the public’s right to be informed is protected, and mass media is the best way of keeping the public informed.” The implication, of course, is that the COMELEC should make sure that candidates are allowed to make practically unlimited used of broadcast because that’s the best way to promote themselves; and that if the aggregate rule were to be followed, we would be depriving the candidate of access to that most powerful of media: TV.

Nonsense. The overarching mandate of the COMELEC is not to ensure that politicos get access to the best possible means to promote themselves, but to guarantee that no candidate gets an undue advantage over another. In fact,if you want to pursue that to its logical end, the COMELEC should make sure that financial resources should not be allowed to be the deciding factor in the effectivity of a campaign – to do so would be tantamount to tilting the scales in favor of the rich, and that would be practically imposing a property requirement for candidacy.

But what about the people’s right to be informed? The people’s right to be informed can be served even without politicians flooding the airwaves with their political messages. Seriously. I don’t know where these people get off insinuating that TV is the only way to inform the people.

And as for the candidate’s right to use his money to his greatest advantage, sure, he has that right. But that right is by no means absolute. That right is subject to reasonable regulation, meant to achieve a legitimate end. And that is exactly what the aggregate rule: a reasonable regulation – because it merely limits access to broadcast advertising without oppresively eliminating all access meant to achieve a legitimate end – a level playing field for those who can afford, and those who can hardly afford.

The other side
January 6, 2007

Here at the office, we’ve been cracking our heads thinking of ways to defeat apathy among voters and boost the turn-out numbers for 2007. We’ve been at it for some time now and, while there are some good ideas on the table, there are no great ones. And then someone stood up and said, “why bother?”

You could hear a pin drop in the room. Then he said it again. “Why bother? No one sees the effect of their vote, so why do we keep trying to sell them a concept we can’t even make them see? And any way, these people don’t care about voting, they care more about their cars and their trips to the mall and their acne.” We all laughed and drowned out this heresy in a fit of hysterical giggling.

But the question and the mini-rant intrigued me since I have asked it myself often enough. When it’s dark and I’m sure no one is around to hear the heretical rhetorical question, I also ask myself ‘why bother.’ And whenever I do, I feel like I’ve crossed over to some sort of other side where lives the anti-thesis of COMELEC.

So, when that question was finally verbalized in my office, I decided that I wasn’t the only one with the heretical thought. Now, I could have taken a page from Rome and tried to burn the heresy out of my people, but a good stake is so hard to come by these days, and the stench lasts for days and days. Easier, I thought, to just confront the demon and understand the nature of the question “Why bother?”

Like a true son of the information age, I dove into the internet for some help in my quest to comprehend the other side, and came up with this article, The Other Campaign.

Reading it made me realize the absurdity of the doubts I had begun entertaining about our efforts to encourage people to vote. The apathy, the disinterest, that we have been bitching about is no excuse not to do it; the apathy and the disinterest is, in fact, the very reason to do what we’re doing.The apathy and distrust of the voter doesn’t really harm the electoral system itself. After all, elections will be held regardless of how low the turn-out is, or how empty the polling places are; in fact, barring a total boycott of elections, even the most depressingly low turnout at the polls will be good enough to install Senators, Members of the House of Representatives, Governors, Mayors, and a whole bunch of Council Members.

So poll turn-out isn’t the true reason for a get-out-the-vote campaign. What truly matters is the apathy and the disinterest that, if not broken, will screw up our future something fierce.W e need to encourage people – the youth especially – to vote because if we don’t then we will be party to allowing an entire generation of Filipinos to continue thinking that the world revolves around them, their cars, and their sybaritic lives. To encourage them to vote is to deliver a kick in the ass to shock the them out of their self-absorption.

Our get-the-vote-out campaign has to hammer it into the skulls of the lazy and indifferent that even they are part of a bigger whole, and that even they should be responsible for the society they live in. Our campaign needs to drive home the truth that we all need to concerned enough about issues like poverty, corruption, and criminality to do something about it, no matter how intangible each individual’s effect on the problem may be. Our efforts have to focus on getting people to care about something other than themselves.

We should avoid propagating trite messages designed to make people feel all warm and fuzzy about voting. The EID campaign must be grounded in the actual events of the times – as harsh and visceral as necessary – and not dwell only on motherhood and peach mango pie. We need to expose voters to issues that matter; we need to teach them how to break the conditioning they have been receiving from both sides of the political divide; we need to remind people that, while the elections in 2007 are a prime opportunity to hold politicians to account, the polls shouldn’t be overly simplified to signify only a legitimate overthrowing of a disliked president, or the defeat of people branded as ‘obstructionists’ and ‘destabilizers.’ We need to get voters to think and think for themselves.

And most importantly, in order to do all of this, we must keep in mind that the message is sometimes only as believable as the messenger. We must give the public a credible guarantee that these polls will be clean and transparent; that though it may not be perfect, those who are out to rig it or manipulate it will be caught and punished. When that guarantee is in place, people will come to vote – even the lazy idiots.

Learning to deal
December 28, 2006

When will people start taking responsibility for their actions?

For almost two years, first-time voters have been whining and griping about politicians, beating their chests about how they’re gonna chase politicians out of office in 2007, and making all the right noises about how important it is to exercise the right of suffrage. And yet, for all of that, many of them wait until the very last week to register.

And now they say they’re surprised at how long the queues are, and frustrated with the pace of registration. Makes you want to scream really.

First of all, they wouldn’t have to suffer the long queues if only they had gotten off their lazy behinds and registered sooner. I mean, fair is fair.  Late registrants can’t be blaming the COMELEC now when it was they who made the decision to delay listing up. If the attitude taken by first-time voters toward voter registration were applied to school enrollment, the streets would be littered with out-of-school youths.

Second, a slower pace of processing is the price you pay for thoroughness. People – politicians especially – can’t possibly expect the COMELEC to just let applicants zip past them without a thorough review of their bona fides and their application forms. That would unnecessarily compromise the layers of security we’ve built in to prevent the pollution of our lists of voters. Just like in an airport: you may not be carrying a bomb but you still have to take your shoes off, man. And if that security procedure slows you down, DEAL WITH IT.