Impressions on RP polls

Philippines Jun 1, 2010 at 2:59 pm
Community members in Payatas.                  PHOTO:  Joseph Smooke

Community members in Payatas. PHOTO: Joseph Smooke

I was wearing two hats during the People’s International Observers’ Mission (PIOM) events. The first was as a “foreign” observer just as shocked as others at the chaotic processes, violent incidents, voters’ struggles, and enduring communities’ hardships during the May 10 Philippine National Elections.

I was also surprised at the lengths people would go to vote, enduring lines, crowds, heat, hours of wait, and government-sourced nuisances. Many Filipinos persisted to cast their ballots and smiled, did thumbs up signs and exclaimed “Congratulations!” echoing the machines’ message after an intake of a vote. Images of the resilience of the Filipino people will remain in my and many observers’ minds.

Meeting with people living in Payatas and seeing Smokey Mountain in Tondo, which are the poorest, most densely populated communities in Manila, filled with people who find income from the dumpsites they live on or beside, was a life altering experience. While in Payatas, I was surprised how safe and welcome I felt, keenly aware of the advantages I have, and newly motivated to speak out on behalf of people who do not have access to the platforms I do. In Quezon City, there is a lookout point called “Empire” where one can see the dump, the gated Filinvest 1 community, nearby golf course, and high rises of Makati in one panorama. A complete view of Filipino society was laid before me because of PIOM I have not seen in the months living here.

The second hat I wore is that of a Balikbayan who has been in Manila since January covering the elections beat for a major daily newspaper and thus aware of the political circus leading up to the elections. Before the elections, there was a climate of fear as to how this first automated elections will turn out given all of the obvious ill preparedness of the people in charge.

People were excitedly anticipating the removal of Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. However, others realized a widespread failure of elections, due to problems with the new and suspect technology, was a possible scenario that could inextricably prolong her power. Fortunately, this worse case scenario did not happen. There was no widespread failure, despite all of the glaring negatives the observers documented.

These two perspectives, that of the foreigner and the local reporter, did not always coalesce. In the closing remarks at PIOM, Dr. Carol Araullo, chairperson of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) observed something I noticed also. “There seems to be a disconnect” between the observations of the PIOM and the poll bodies’ reports and the local media “who are saying this elections is an unqualified success… The government, Comelec, Smartmatic, even the candidates are heaving a sigh of relief and are saying ‘My God! We did it! We had an election!’” The celebratory tone of local reports in the days after the elections was in sharp contrast to observers’ impressions.

But since then, the foreign and local perspectives about the elections have grown closer. Beginning May 19, Congress began a Probe on allegations of massive fraud made possible through the elections technology, which is airing every day on TV. There’s been a call by teachers for more money because of their extraordinary efforts as election administrators. As of now, despite results coming in on the night of elections, no President Elect has been officially declared even with the significant lead by Benigno ‘Noy Noy’ Aquino III. Meanwhile, the anticipated future Vice-President is still unknown between Mar Roxas and Jejomar Binay.

The elements of whether you get elected or not still depends on “Guns, goons, gold and now glitches,” noted Araullo. Despite automation, the elections are still just the changing of the guard and the “rule that is basically still feudal and quite undemocratic.” Many sons and daughters of current and former leaders and incumbents have been elected, such ‘Bong Bong’ Marcos for Senator.

She continued, the “Real work begins after the elections” for the people and genuine people’s organizations to forward the agenda for change. They will “still be struggling hard” to uphold human rights and initiate land, social economic reforms that will really liberate people from poverty.

The foreign observers plan to share their findings with the public, media and politicians of their countries to help support the Filipino people’s calls for change, manifesting actions to the chant frequently voiced at PIOM: “Long live international solidarity!”