Election Day: Fueling the fast and the furious!

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elections at public schools all over the country

By Eva Callueng

One of our writers, Eva Callueng, writes about her experience as a PPCRV volunteer in Quezon City in the elections last May 10.

The COMELEC’s efforts towards poll automation received a variety of comments and criticism both from the national and international arena. The comments were mostly negative, and this created a mixed sense of fear and excitement. The system was feared to be yet another tool to perpetuate election fraud, and yet the whole country was excited because for the first time, the PCOS machines will read, count, tally, and transmit election results in record time. Not many people realize that poll automation was first done in ARMM (Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao) some years back, during the term of the controversial COMELEC Commissioner Benjamin Abalos.

In educating the public about the new election system, COMELEC really exerted major effort in assuring the Filipino people of the positive results this ‘change’ will bring. I remember how the various private and public sectors arranged Voter’s Education Forums and the like to update their constituents. One example is the RVOTE Forum of the Rotary Club of Palawan, where hundreds of students were the first ones in the whole island to touch, see, and feed sample ballots to the PCOS Machine. It was during the forums of RVOTE in different districts that I got the chance to meet people from COMELEC: Vicki Dulcero and Atty. Ferdinand Rafanan, who convinced the skeptical me, as well as the Rotaracts and Rotarians, to trust the system. While a lot of people have lost faith in the COMELEC due to numerous scandals of election fraud like “Hello Garci” and unexplained/undue costs of bidding contracts, there still are some people in the Commission who can be trusted and are sincere in their desire to uplift the lost stature of government institutions like them.

It is estimated that 75% of registered voters participated in the elections last May 10.

Left and right various media channels were full of criticism for COMELEC, especially during the days before the most awaited election. The two-day delay of testing and sealing of PCOS machines due to the re-configuration of CF Flash Cards aggravated fears that led to panic buying and cash withdrawals. SMS propaganda mostly with malicious content were passed from phone to phone.

I woke up early on May 9 to witness the Testing and Sealing in the Voting Center near my house. Volunteering for the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) gave me the opportunity to participate in ensuring the success of the elections. Minor problems were encountered, like unmatched CF cards and the static mode of the PCOS machine. Just as when you’re using a new mobile phone or some other gadget, the slow but deliberate moves of the Election Board in each room at Pinyahan Elementary School is justified.

The historic day of the country’s first automated elections had everyone excited, from candidates to the voters and BEIs, media people and volunteers as well as safe keepers. I asked our coordinator to assign me to the clustered precinct with the most number of voters; I was anticipating bullies and impatient people standing in line during the hottest hours of the day.

As early as 6:00 AM, people already were waiting in line to cast their vote. Our precinct officially opened at exactly 7:00am and gave way to the elderly, pregnant women, and PWDs in line to seat on the ‘express lane’. My fellow watchers helped maintain peace and order, as well as explaining diplomatically to the voters the procedure and the problems with identification data.

We tried many times to extend our patience to those who were complaining that they had been standing in line for an hour and that they still had to go to work, that they had to cook or finish something, etc. I would appeal to reason or pity, and I kept on saying that we needed their cooperation and patience as everyone was doing their part to make our elections peaceful and successful. It got to a point that I had to approach a bully who was complaining. He was shouting so loudly that the precincts next to our room were disturbed. I told him that if he didn’t stop I would call the safe keepers to prevent him from disturbing the whole process of polls. We had to be tough so that people would recognize that their selfish ways would not be tolerated. Not on that day, not in my precinct.

It was about 4:00pm when the bulk of voters started to disappear. People were arriving in smaller groups, which allowed the Election Board in our room to grab a snack or a drink. I was really concerned about them, so I often asked if they needed something or if they were feeling all right. Though I had only met them during the Testing and Sealing of the PCOS machines, I knew words of concern would make them realize that their efforts were truly appreciated.

The counting of votes was amazingly fast. We were as mesmerized as the senior citizens who were so happy as they read the “CONGRATULATIONS” note when they cast their ballot. We met no serious or alarming problem at all. We only got delayed because the modem being used for the transmission of results was being shared by at least five (5) precincts. The transmission was perfect and we waited for the Election Returns that should be handed to PPCRV watcher (as the legitimate citizen’s arm in every precinct). While I waited on the school’s stage with other PPCRV volunteers, my mother shared with me the experiences of other volunteers who helped people to find their clustered precincts.

My family left the school at approximately 4:30am with other volunteers. We already knew the results for our local elections before we went to sleep. But it looks like it’s still going to be a long time before we wake up to the results of the national elections.

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