THE LONG VIEW
MANILA, Philippines — In parliamentary procedure, a vote is a “division of the house,” and since January, the country has been basically conducting a gigantic division. Everyone, from the candidates to the voters, has had to take sides — and every question has three sides: for, against, and abstain. Last Monday, the voters did their part, voting for or against the candidates. And since Tuesday, the political operators have been busy figuring out which verdicts at the polls are so massive they can’t be altered. Those verdicts they might as well leave alone. But as for the verdicts that can still be tinkered with, it’s now open season for them to produce results different from reality.
It’s really a problem of stages. The counting of votes was done simultaneously for national and local positions. By now, most local races have been announced, though the formal proclamation of winners might take a little more time. There are exceptions, of course. As I was writing this, a report came: Canvassing has been stopped in the towns of Guagua, Porac, Apalit, Lubao, Floridablanca, Candaba and Arayat, which can only mean Fr. Ed Panlilio’s votes are in peril.
The national votes, however — which we can presume were fairly counted up to the precinct level — are being processed further: on the municipal, then provincial, and finally national, levels. There’s a saying that you don’t want to see how a sausage is made; you don’t want to see how the votes are processed after the precinct count. And the political operators don’t want anyone to see the sausage-making process, either. “Dagdag-bawas” [vote-padding and vote-shaving] is like adulterating meat products: extenders, offal and so forth make for an unappetizing mix. If you let the public watch sausage-making, a public health alarm could ensue.
The Heckle and Jeckle of the Palace, Tonypet Albano and Romulo Macalintal, had to go out and try to convince the public of an alternate reality. The media counts, they said, were biased in favor of Metro Manila, which is traditionally pro-opposition.
But the volunteers from the AMA and STI computer schools were quick to take exception to this; and the election watchdog group Namfrel for its part said the media counts weren’t very different from their own figures, which they had sourced from the provinces of Ilocos Norte, La Union, Pangasinan, Cagayan, Kalinga, Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, Tarlac, Batangas, Laguna, Marinduque, Quezon, Rizal, Albay and Catanduanes in Luzon; Iloilo, Negros Oriental, Leyte, Samar and Southern Leyte in the Visayas; and Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Bukidnon, Lanao del Norte, Misamis Occidental, Davao del Sur, Davao Oriental, North and South Cotabato, Maguindanao, Agusan del Norte and Agusan del Sur in Mindanao.
Heckle and Jeckle then tried to head off the impact of Pulse Asia’s national exit poll, pointing to the National Capital Region results as, again, indicative of Metro Manila’s anti-administration sympathies. “What about Cebu?” Tonypet asked. What about Cebu, indeed? I asked a media colleague there and his reply was, “of those I’ve heard in radio or submitted from the field, I’m getting the impression many opposition candidates are doing well, particularly Chiz.” That was Tuesday afternoon; but as the Inquirer reported yesterday, Cebu, Iloilo, Negros Oriental, Negros Occidental, Iloilo, Capiz, Antique, Leyte and Eastern Samar had opposition votes remarkable enough to suggest Visayas voters weren’t about to be ordered around. And from Davao came news that Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte broke ranks with Prospero Nograles, which might affect the “deliverables” in his area.
Since 2005, our country has been divided, with every means to resolve that division ending up being foiled. Even last Monday’s exercise, we all too quickly forget, almost didn’t happen. If we accept the strengthening of the peso and the stock market as signs of confidence in the country, the boost only goes to show how useful elections are. We were all given the opportunity (except for the disenfranchised, of whom there were, sadly, many; the unable to register, particularly heavy among the youth; and the unconcerned here and abroad) to peacefully express our opinions by means of the ballot. The Senate race, for one, will serve to show where public opinion really lies.
The House of Representatives, too, though on the whole a captive chamber, also had its fair share of interesting fights, from Garci to Pacquiao, to Dato and Mikey Arroyo; as did several gubernatorial races, starting with Pampanga province. Whoever comes out the winner in these races can claim something no official has been able to claim since 2004: a mandate. And we can only hope that, on the whole, most mandates are accepted by the constituents who voted, if not by the losing candidates themselves.
The question remains whether a combination of media scrutiny (local and foreign) and public vigilance (from foreign observers to poll watchers and quick-count volunteers) will be enough to thwart the efforts of electoral manipulators. It seems, for now, that all the energy and resources used up in the Charter change movement of last year, plus the cannibalizing of the administration’s Lakas-CMD Party by the administration’s Kampi Party, and the behind-the-scenes bickering within the administration (not to mention the crucial absence of the President’s husband from the “scene” at crunch time), took its toll on the administration’s ability to roll out its machinery and the “command vote.”
But even if these factors hold true, a crucial test remains. Who will render judgment on the elections? Who will determine whether, on the whole, they were credible or not? For a time, I feared that the institutions we tend to rely on to do that — the Catholic Church hierarchy, civil society, watchdog groups like Namfrel and the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting — might not be up to the job. Maybe, just maybe, they will be.