As technical anomalies surfaced during the national elections, Filipino voters bore the brunt of the Commission on Election’s inefficiencies.
By DOMINIC V. GUTOMAN and AIRA MARIE E. SIGUENZA
MANILA — Thousands of Filipino voters waited in the long queue and stayed in the voting precinct for hours and even a day, just to cast their votes amid the several anomalies they encountered in the last May 9 national elections.
The Commission on Elections (Comelec) on the same day, said that these technical anomalies were just “minor issues” of the elections. However, the Comelec refused to heed the call of the voters to extend the voting hours, prompting the people to stay in the precinct beyond the 7 p.m. deadline just to cast their votes.
Bulatlat documented such reports in Krus na Ligas Elementary School, Corazon Aquino Elementary School, and Teachers Village East, among others.
Joella Reyes, a voter from Jaen, Nueva Ecija, narrated that the vote-counting machine (VCM) in her precinct malfunctioned, prompting her to wait for more than 12 hours to cast her vote.
She arrived at Pinanggaan Elementary School by 7 a.m. and she was only able to successfully register her vote around 8 p.m.
For her, waiting in the lines for hours is no problem. However, she asserted that the malfunction incident is “more than a slight inconvenience but an anomaly” that Comelec needs to resolve immediately.
The general protocol from the Commission on Elections (Comelec) is either to leave their answered ballots to the election officers or wait until the technical issues are resolved. However, the waiting hours became dehumanizing for voters, as some reportedly waited for more than eight hours.
“It made me distrust Comelec, especially when they announced that we had to either wait until a new machine comes without giving an exact time frame or entrust our ballots to others which shouldn’t even be an option,” Reyes said.
This case is not an isolated incident for Reyes. Angelo* and his family were voters from barangay Holy Spirit, Quezon City. Their cluster group had also encountered a VCM malfunction, prompting them to wait for more than 14 hours to register their vote.
They arrived at the precinct by 7:40 a.m. but stayed until 10 p.m. As they received no updates about the replacement VCM while the counting of votes proceeded on the national television, they felt like the only feasible option was to sign the waiver and left their ballots to the election officers.
Just when people thought that these incidents could not get any worse, some voters slept in the voting precincts until May 10, just to personally feed their ballots into the machine. One of them is Miks Padilla, 63, a development anthropologist, together with her mother and her first-time voter daughter.
Padilla arrived at her precinct at 7:30 a.m. but due to the corrupted SD cards, they were left with no choice but to wait in uncertainty.
“I had to wait for 26 hours and 28 minutes just to successfully cast my vote,” said Padilla.
She also added that the tedious process has prompted some of the voters, particularly senior citizens, to go home right before the technical issue was resolved. “They have to take their maintenance meds and they are already tired from waiting since more than 24 hours already passed.”
The common denominator of these experiences was uncertainty and disorganization. All of them shared that the overall process remained sloppy.
“There is an inherent feeling to be cautious. This feeling has pushed us to exhaust all means to guard our votes and personally witness how it would register to the system,” Padilla added.
Securing the vote
“Twenty-one hours to register my vote for the nation. However, this situation is not reasonable,” Tey Lopez, 39, an urban poor advocate said.
Amid the inconvenience and very long hours of waiting, voters such as Lopez and Padilla find the need to stay in their polling precincts to wait for the replacement of VCMs and secure their votes.
Padilla shared that almost hundred registered voters in North Susana Clubhouse in Quezon City stayed in the night of May 9 until early morning because they were agitated and worried about their votes.
“While waiting, those who remained in the precinct shared their thoughts on what was happening. Some shared that they would rather tear their ballot rather than have it substituted with other already filled-up ballots, while others would rather have their signatures canceled in the voters’ list if they weren’t able to vote. However, we had a consensus to stay and secure our ballots,” Padilla shared.
The same determination was observed by voters in Krus Na Ligas Elementary School where Lopez voted. He expressed his frustration over the defective SD cards and VCMs that delayed their voting process extensively.
“We spent so much money on this. The government had three years to prepare, but why did the election process go wrong? Then the Comelec will say that everything is under control?,” Lopez expressed.
In the thick of bottled up emotions due to election irregularities, Lopez had positive takeaways from his experience. One of which is the enthusiasm of his fellow voters, where the majority are youth, to stay and exercise their right to vote.
He also shared how almost 90 percent of them voted for candidates who are not corrupt such as the opposition Robredo-Pangilinan and senatorial candidates Neri Colmenares, Elmer Labog, and Chel Diokno.
“I am proud that I am part of this historic election, and I did not side with thieves and corrupt officials. Amid the tactics of those claiming to be in power, I bet my conscience on those who are deserving — for the compassionate, for the patriotic,” said Lopez.
The fight is not over
As someone who experienced Martial Law under the regime of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Padilla is perturbed that another Marcos will return to the government. When Martial Law was declared, Padilla was still a high school student.
She recalled joining the progressive organization Lipunang Pangkasaysayan, known as LIKAS, in her college years then eventually becoming a development worker in several non-governmental organizations such as Task Force Detainees of the Philippines where she documented cases, visited the victims of Martial Law, and helped communities to access social services.
Her husband, Sevino Garcia Padilla, was also a long-time political detainee along with human rights lawyer and activist Neri Colmenares.
“The situation is very dire right now and it looks like another Martial Law, however, there are differences in the situation before and now. I would like to remain hopeful. We need to struggle and find ways on how to continue more effectively,” said Padilla.
After the partial and unofficial results of the Philippine elections were released, thousands of citizens all across the country expressed their sentiments and objections to the anomalies and election fraud.
Election watchdog Kontra Daya has already reported 577 cases of machine failures, 152 reports of illegal campaigning, 109 reports of vote buying and 66 reports of red tagging despite the commission’s statements that these issues are just minor incidents.
Several progressive organizations staged a protest day after the May 9 elections in front of the Commission on Elections to express their dismay. Aside from this, they have organized a three-day program through the Kampuhan ng Mamamayan Laban sa Dayaan with activities such as educational discussions, storytelling, community kitchen, mural making, chalk art session, solidarity gigs, among others.
Adverse to these protests, Mayor Isko Moreno immediately signed a memorandum that prevents physical demonstrations without permit from the Manila City Hall. However, progressives reiterated the section 15 of Batas Pambansa 880, which states that protests in Freedom Parks, like in Liwasang Bonifacio, are exempted from the need to secure prior permits.
As of this writing, physical demonstrations are to be expected in line with the election anomalies and Marcos-Duterte return.
“In what direction should we go now? We gathered unity and hope from the election campaigns. We should express indignation on what is happening in our country, conduct protests against the return of dictatorship and against the failure of Comelec and Smartmatic, and against the rotten system in our society,” Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Secretary General Renato Jr. Reyes said. (RVO)