"There is a saying in the Philippines that no one loses in elections, there are only winners and those that are cheated. Arguably the cheating has simply entered the digital age..."
How much effort did you put into voting? Did you even vote? Perhaps you strolled down to your polling station in your lunch hour, marked your X and left. It is unlikely you were too inconvenienced. In this respect at least UK democracy does not demand too much of us.
On 10 May this year, four days after the UK elections, the Philippines held their presidential elections. For the first time an automated system was used that aimed to speed up the election process (it had taken six weeks to announce Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as the winning Presidential candidate in 2004) and limit corruption and cheating in the voting process.
Filipinos were required to mark not one X but over 170 as they voted for a range of national government and local mayoral seats. As a member of the International People’s Observer Mission (in the Philippines, a broad based non-partisan group of 87 foreigners and Filipino hosts, I had a bird’s eye view of the election process on the ground.
Would you have waited up to 8 hours in temperatures averaging 37 degrees to vote? Would you have queued in the direct sun? That this is what many Filipinos did.
The new automated system was not fit for the purpose in terms of volume of voters, up to 1000 per PCOs (precinct count optical scan) machine, and the whole system backed up. In some voting precincts (schools) voters were waiting until midnight to vote, despite the fact that voting was meant to finish at 6.00pm. The 6.00pm sunset timing is important, as it is much easier to buy votes, harass people and generally wage a campaign of dirty tricks after dark.
Can you imagine sauntering down to your polling station and finding yourself in the middle of a shoot out? That is exactly what happened to the election monitors in Lanao del Sur in Mindanao. Would you ‘vote through the window’ if the price was right? That is, pick up your ballot paper, hand it out of the polling station window for someone else to fill in as they saw fit and then submit your votes?
One man we saw was in tears because of this, caught between hunger and integrity, he sold his vote. He said he felt ‘cursed’. However the long queues and the resolution to wait out the intolerable conditions are testament to the Filipinos commitment to the democratic process and civic duty.
Smartmatic, the company, who makes the PCOs machines issued full page self-congratulatory advertisements in the national press post election. They ignored the brown outs, papers jams, queues and technical failures that marred the election process. Smartmatic, was actually not so smart.
Meanwhile despite the seeming landslide presidential victory of Noynoy Aquino (son of martyr father Ninoy whose assassination in 1983 heralded the eventual ousting of dictator Marcos and revered President mother Cory), various interest groups are now preparing to contest the election results on the based of electronic cheating or what is now being called ‘Hocus PCOs’.
There is a saying in the Philippines that no one loses in elections, there are only winners and those that are cheated. Arguably the cheating has simply entered the digital age. This story is set to run and run.
Dr Pauline Eadie