Friday, May 14, 2010

Automation and patience

(Note: this is the article I submitted for "People's Brigada News" last May 5, 2010)

The purpose of using computers and machines is mainly to speed up things. Speed up data inputting, speed up counting and computing, speed up release of results, and consequently, speed up official declaration of winners, in the case of elections.

Automation therefore, is to address impatience by many people. In the case of manual counting of votes as previously done in Philippine elections, candidates and voters alike were complaining that things were slow, and that the longer the time to officially declare winners, the bigger the suspicion of cheating and vote-rigging. So by using computers and machines, it is hoped that instead of waiting for one week to get the official winners, people will wait only a few hours or more than one day.

Currently, there are confusions, dispute and suspicions about the capability of the vote-counting machines and their back-up servers to really produce fast and unbiased, credible counting of ballots. There are three main factors for this.

One is on the ability of those machines to really count unbiasedly. The most recent testing in some cities, however, produced really false results. The Philippines never experienced a nationwide use of automated elections. So there are questions not only about the machines, but also about the election officials who will administer the machines during and after the election day.

Two is on the credibility of the institution that will administer the entire exercise, the Commission on Elections (COMELEC).

And three is the credibility of the current political administration which appointed the Commissioners at the Comelec, and have political control over the armed forces that will protect the sanctity of the electoral process, the police/PNP and the army.

For the elections to be considered as truthful and peaceful, all the three factors and institutions above should be credible. All of them. If one or two or all of them has/have little credibility, then public perception of the credibility of the results will be low or negative.

It is ironic therefore, that we have election automation and are being asked to remain patient at the same time. Automation is supposed to address impatience, but we now have to be patient with various questions hanging in the air.

The past two days, I passed by the barangay auditorium in Makati where I will vote this coming Monday. The counting machines are already inside, guarded 24 hours by one or two policemen and about two soldiers. Outside the auditorium are several civilians, they do not seem to be buddies as they are not talking to each other. I presume that they are supporters and watchers of certain candidates. Their job is most likely to guard the guards. And this already indicates the suspicion of the public of the credibility and independence of the armed forces to protect the sanctity of the ballot and the ballot counting machines.

If public perception of the independence of the state’s armed forces is low, then the leadership of these two institutions should exert extra effort to show their real independence.

This election, therefore, should be the best opportunity for the Comelec and the armed forces of the state to regain their credibility, to assert their independence from the political administration in power or from any other influential groups and political parties, to win public respect.

Meanwhile, the voting citizens should not put too much hope from their politicians as sort of their “savior”. The best saviors from social and economic problems are ourselves, our self-reliant and independent selves, our circle of friends and colleagues, and our voluntary organizations. We should learn not to be dependent on government and politicians’ dole out and special subsidies and favors, and we should learn to protect our individual freedom from heavy intervention, regulation and taxation by the same politicians that many voters hope will deliver them from misery.

So this coming Monday’s elections, let us support candidates who make the least promises of welfare and subsidies, who will not raise new taxes and fees, who will respect our individual liberty as self-reliant and proud parents or guardians who can raise industrious, responsible and law-abiding children and citizens.

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