(Note: I wrote this last July 26, 2007. With the holding of the Barangay and SK elections yesterday, I'm not sure if the voter registration one or two months before it was equally chaotic as those three years ago.)
Last Saturday, July 21, the 6th day of the one-week Commission on Elections (COMELEC) registration period for the Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections this coming October, I applied for a transfer of my election registration record. I have changed residence to Makati City, that’s why. In Makati, the Comelec office is on the 2nd floor of the Makati Central Fire Station. The day before, I went there as it’s just walking distance from our place, inquired what are the requirements, saw the long lines of people wanting to register, and decided to come back the following day.
Saturday around 8am, I walked to the Makati Comelec office, and was turned off early by the long lines of people queuing. The tail was near Tiara Oriental hotel along Malugay st., straight to the central fire station, winding left and looping around the station, with the thickness of the line getting bigger or fatter as it approaches the tables of the Comelec personnel. I decided to come back late afternoon, as I have heard from the people there that those in the front have started queuing as early as 1 or 2 am that day!
And you know what those lines were all about? One line is just to submit a photo copy of any ID (preferably company ID) or other proof and testimony, showing that the applicant indeed lives in Makati. So this is what the people wanting to exercise their right to vote have to endure. First, spend several hours just to submit this ID photocopy or other proof; second, wait several hours more for his/her name to be called, so that a Comelec application FORM will be given to him/her. And third, after filling up the form, wait in line again for several hours to submit the said filled-up form! Can you imagine this very bureaucratic process? Long live the Comelec!
I came back around 2:30pm, the line was still long, though only about 1/6 of its length that morning, so I walked home again, and said I’ll come back after 2 hours, hoping that the line will become even shorter and thinner. Anyway, I was told that Comelec will work until there’s someone in the line. I came back around 4:30pm; the line indeed was shorter, but around the tables of Comelec personnel (or their deputized people), a thick mass of people were still there, probably about 6 to 10 people deep, depending on what lines they’re waiting. Two young ladies beside me were exasperatingly telling us newcomers that they’ve started queuing at 6am to submit their ID photocopy, and until almost 5pm, their names have not been called yet, meaning they did not have the registration form yet! Long live the Comelec again!
In fairness to the Comelec guys, all of them seemed to work hard and even looked harassed. It’s just that there are so few of them compared to the number of people wanting to register. One of them announced that for late-comers, we can leave our ID photocopy that day, and come back the following day and wait for our names to be called and get the registration form. Wow-wow! I said “Ok, this is government. Why not write down my observation with this unfolding bureaucratic procedure.” So I walked home again, and said I’ll go back in the afternoon the following day.
Sunday 2:30pm, I went back to the Makati Comelec again. If I thought the line the other day was bad, this day it’s worse! The line should be about 3x longer than yesterday’s at same hours. I surmised that many people who were not finished registering the other day despite waiting for 10 hours or more, have come back. I also suspected that perhaps some guys with some bad motives orchestrated to make the voter registration complicated and very disappointing, so that some people will be discouraged and go home instead of waiting many hours for those various lines. So I went home and decided to discard my plan to transfer my registration record.
At home, I started writing down initial drafts of this paper while the scenes and my disappointment were still fresh in my mind. Shortly before 5pm, curiousity prodded me out of nowhere to go back and try for the last time! I hurriedly changed clothes, and I was in line about 5:10pm. The lines were moving very slowly, but at least they’re shorter than they were 2-3 hours ago. Around 5:50pm, I noticed that the lines were moving rather fast and quick. By 6:15pm, I was done! My registration form + ID photocopy was received, and I was given a small piece of paper saying that I should come back on July 27 afternoon for the photograph for my Comelec ID. Yehey! I’m through with Comelec bureaucracy after 2days!
Before I went home, I tried to figure out why the sudden quickness in the lines for people submitting their Comelec registration form. My guess is that earlier that day, the Comelec guys were possibly checking the forms submitted by people if they filled up the right answers to some questions. I noticed for instance in my line, that some people cannot distinguish between “previous precinct, barangay, municipality/city and province” that he/she was registered, and their “current address, barangay, city, and province”. When they corrected their mistakes, their registration form was already dirty and had lots of erasures.
In our case, or in our line, the Comelec guys did not bother to check or see the forms submitted to them. They just received the papers, gave us that small paper stating when we should come back for photograph, done. Maybe they were thinking that they’ve been working in those registration tables for 7 days straight, even worked until late evening last Friday and Saturday nights, and there’s no way that they will want to work late on a Sunday night!
A few days after this experience and observation, I was still scratching my head why people have to waste at least 1 day of otherwise productive labor into unproductive hours of staying in line several times just to submit a Comelec registration form. I think this is related to the deliberate imposition of inefficiency why elections have not been computerized until the last May 2007 elections, until now. People who have the biggest motive to cheat have the biggest motive to delay or stop election computerization.