Commentary: Automation has landed
by Bong Pedalino
Maasin City (17 May) -- A full week after the first computerized elections in the country, it was back to normal in a not-so-normal way by which speed and accuracy delivered the will of the electorates.
Results are out sooner than expected, and what would have taken weeks to know was known in less than a week, that is, the winners for President, even though the ones for vice-president may still be up in the air because of a close vote.
You cannot hear the usual "I was cheated" line in a wholesale manner, although some losers point to some procedural irregularities; instead, the unusual took the place of the usual -- frontrunners who were convinced they were not lucky lost no time accepting defeat.
And winning Senators were already proclaimed, at least nine of them, the fastest on record, and Congress, sitting as the national board of canvassers for the position of President and Vice-President, seemed awestruck at how fast things are moving that they decided to convene a week earlier than their conventional schedule of May 31.
Now this has been the fruits of automation immediately a week after. But a week before May 10, a major glitch in the wrong configuration of the compact flash cards threatened to put the whole political exercise into nothing but down and chaos, with some challenging outright its conduct by calling for a postponement.
Alas, the final technical trouble has turned out as some sort of a blessing. Racing against time, all those involved so that the show called automated elections must go on labored hard and long: the teachers, the volunteers, the men in uniform -- they just did their work one step at a time, even as the loud opponents upped the tempo of their sarcastic belittling of the whole process.
When everything was over, critics, skeptics, and pessimists had no other recourse but concede defeat as well, like the losing candidates.
And those among us who had faith with automation down to the very end -- about a dozen of my past columns/commentaries on the subject were all in a positive mood amid a field of negativism and disbelief -- were all vindicated.
Indeed, automation has landed safely in our land, and in flying colors at that!
Having said that, though, let us face realities. Our experience with the first automation at the precincts was, well, chargeable to experience: congested polling places, long lines due to clogged processes in getting ballots, affixing signatures in voters' list, and feeding the shaded ballots in the PCOS.
Before the day was over, the deadline for voting was extended, from 6:00 to 7:00 pm, and beyond -- some precincts with 500 plus voters were still at it by 9 in the evening, with a little of only over 300 actually voted.
Many observers were one in saying that the culprit was the clustered precincts that were clustered too much. Maximum limit should be reduced to 500 voters per clustered precinct to lessen the traffic volume.
Another factor for the delay was the small, almost microscopic oval in which to shade the votes, and the pentelpen which blotted at the first contact with the official ballot, a reason many ballots were rejected.
All these shortcomings, however, are solvable, a matter of management, and can be better dealt with the next time around.
Furthermore, this charge to experience experiences had not in anminished the overall success in the conduct of automation; where before such idea was met with lukewarm and measured cooperation of doubtful so-called IT experts, now it has been widely praised as our way of catching up with the 21st century, lending credibility ? this is the most important -- in our electoral processes.
Soon, everything related to automation will be routine. And political stability every after elections will always taste so good.
LOCAL FRONT: Another benefit brought about by automation is patience and the quest to do away with shortcuts. I saw this unfolding when at least 18 erroneous flash cards in Southern Leyte province ? two for Maasin City -- had to be replaced days after the elections, so the votes can be electronically processed. Provincial Election Supervisor Atty. Antonio Gulay almost had to throw in the towel, but he persevered, by ordering his subordinate to personally get the replacement cards. City Comelec Officer Lawrence Gelsano also stood his ground, refusing to proclaim the winners until everything is finally in. We take our hats off to these two Comelec guys, and all the Comelec personnel nationwide, this time for a job well done.
ODDLY YOURS: Automation for elections in the Philippines was more than ten years in the making. In 1997, Republic Act 8436, or the Electoral Modernization Act, was passed, which called for the use of automated elections in the May 11, 1998 elections, but this was not implemented. Ten years later, in 2007, RA 8436 was amended by RA 9369, the Automated Elections System Law, which became the legal basis for the May 10, 2010 elections. In the span of three years, from 2007 to 2010, there were serious obstacles thrown in against the holding of a real automated polls, either legal, technical, or purely political grandstanding. That it is now part of history can be credited in part to the "Beat the Odds" slogan of the Arroyo administration since 2004, where the letter "a" stands for automated elections. (PIA-Southern Leyte) [top]