Thursday, May 6, 2010


The old Chinese curse "May you live in interesting times" is certainly ringing true in the Philippines these days.  As national election day draws near (Monday, May 10) several factors come into play that make this occasion one of the most significant such events in the nation's history.

One is that this election will be the first in this country to use automated vote counting. On the face of it, electronic ballots could reduce if not eliminate the rampant cheating that accompanies elections here, not to mention an improved efficiency and time in tabulating the ballots.  But in order for all that to happen, the voting machines have to work properly. And that isn't happening. In a recent trial run, they malfunctioned.

In addition, the President of the Philippines, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who allegedly cheated her way into office in 2004 may be using the error-prone voting machines as an excuse to postpone elections and hold on to her power, which many people feared she would do. All she needed was a pretext, and she may have found it.  If she does take advantage of this situation, it could result in "no-el" (no election).

At this time there is an ongoing attempt to repair the problem that caused the trial run glitch in the machines (replacement of faulty compact flash memory cards) but it seems questionable that they will be up and properly running in time for Monday as there are 76,000 computers affected. But even if the replacement is completed on time and Comelec (Commission on Elections) proceeds with the balloting that then misfires during the voting-or if other unforeseen problems crop up on election day, that could lead to another scenario: failure of election.  This would also occur if the voters cast their ballots but the devices break down in the process of counting the votes themselves.   

And of course it's way too late to fall back on a manual vote.

In the unlikely the event that the election does come off without a hitch, in my opinion the winner will be Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino,who among the numerous candidates is the apparent  front runner.  Aquino is  the son of the beloved late former President of the Philippines, Corazon"Cory" Aquino and the martyred Senator Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino, Jr. who was assassinated during the martial law era of President Ferdinand Marcos, possibly at the latter's behest.

But a clean election even if automated is not a slam dunk if the computers accept the ballots but aren't tamper proof.  Skullduggery and dirty tricks run rampant in political campaigning here.  Rumors and gossip likewise flourish.  One such story that I heard today  is that there is supposedly a plot afoot by Arroyo and her allies including  the head of the Department of National Defense and a former President  to sabotage the election  with the assistance of a computer expert who will hack the voting computer system in favor of Aquino's rival, Manny Villar. One thing about innuendo and rumors in the Philippines like this one is that they are often so outlandish that they could very well be true.

Of course as an alien, I can't vote.  So why should I care about any of this?  Because the implications of a botched  election are considerable for everybody living in this country, citizen or otherwise. The scenarios are almost endless, including civil unrest,  instability and / or the possibility of a military takeover. In turn the accompanying fallout  for the public could range  from minor inconvenience to complete chaos.

There will be foreign observers on hand to monitor the election proceedings, but in the end I don't think that they can second-guess the ingenious tactics that seen and unseen forces may well use to manipulate this event. That degree of awareness  takes a deep understanding of the Philippine culture and mindset that these poll watchers may not possess.

At any rate, right now life goes on. And if somehow, the election goes smoothly, there will be a new leader but probably little social  and political change at least for now.  However, an uneventful election itself  in the Philippines would be a watershed event and maybe even the beginning of a transformation  towards a better society.

But if things don't go well on Monday, then fasten your seat belts.  It's likely  to be a long, bumpy ride.

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