After May automated polls, RP back to old, mad system

Posted at 10/25/2010 11:13 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Teachers in many towns and cities waited for hours on Sunday and then trudged in deep post-midnight darkness to meet the 2 p.m. schedule for the distribution of election paraphernalia on Monday.

By mid-day, however, frazzled members of the Boards of Election Tellers (BETs) were told to pack up and come back on Tuesday. The national government has declared a holiday for all public school students because more than 2,023 barangays across the country have yet to hold polls.

Earlier, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) postponed polls in 87 barangays in Isabela province. The directive came after typhoon Juan, this year’s strongest typhoon, laid waste to a large swathe of northern Luzon.

The typhoon, however, had little to do with delayed delivery of election paraphernalia in most of the Bicol region, Samar, and even suburban towns just south of Manila.

Nigel Dominique Miguel Noble of Camarines Sur asked why Bicol was hit bad by delays. “Hindi naman ito dinaanan ng bagyo. Nakalimutan ata ng Comelec na eleksyon na ngayong Lunes.” (We did not feel the typhoon. Perhaps the Comelec just forget all about Monday’s elections.)

In Bicol, Masbate province postponed elections in 551 villages; Albay, 321; Catanduanes, 315; and Sorsogon, 246.

Samar island did not have polls in 209 barangays. Elections also did not push through in 20 Capiz villages; Cagayan, 20; Pangsinan, 19; Nueva Vizcaya, 16; and, Tarlac and Aklan provinces with two barangays each.

Bayan Patroller Kristian Operio of Bani, Pangasinan said teachers were asked to get their election materials at 2 a.m.. By 9 a.m., the poll inspectors were antsy.

In Dagupan City, Gary Desoloc said teachers also lined up for their kits at 2 a.m., but had to wait till 10 a.m. to get these.

Tumauini, Isabela Bayan Patroller Harry Magno said tired teachers needed to rush through their preparations and then faced the wrath of voters when they tried to double check identities. “Kawawa kaming mga guro dito.”

In Cagayan de Oro City, Northern Mindanao, red tape was the culprit for the 6-hour wait of teachers at Bulua Central Elementary School, where Bayan Mo iPatrol Mo had set up its Bida Juan operations.

Election inspector Esperanza Valdez told BMPM that this year’s barangay polls were more disorganized than past ones.

Not a surprising outcome since the Comelec was just bidding out contracts to supply election material barely a week before elections.

The Comelec, which had just turned around its dirty reputation (former President Gloria Arroyo faced her gravest crisis after engaging in election management chats with a poll commissioner in 2004) because of the smooth, fast completion of the May 2010 synchronized polls, is back on the old, uncomfortable spotlight.

Poll officials, however, blame Congress, which initially toyed with the idea of postponing barangay polls, and old-fashioned technology for the delay in the production of election kits

President Benigno Aquino III expressed dismay at the turn of events. But he may have been wrong to call barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan polls a “simpler” exercise.

The manual process is porous, allowing insertions and substitutions at various points of the electoral system.

Barangay polls are also perfect turf for grudge matches that go back generations. Poll watchers are more hesitant about blowing the whistle because slights and imagined sins linger long among neighbors.

Add to that “reforms” that allow some barangays to rake in substantial sums, and it becomes easy to see why blood is shed for “just” a hyper-local post.

Benjie Oliveros of Bulatlat.com notes that “the barangay has control over substantial resources.

For example, the Kapit-Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan–Comprehensive and Intergrated Delivery of Social Services (KALAHI-CIDSS) program, which got a $140 million funding from the Millennium Challenge Corporation alone – the World Bank also funds the program – is being coursed through the barangay. The funds, amounting to around P450,000 to P500,000, are deposited directly to bank accounts of the barangay.”

The biggest prize, however, may come in 2013 when candidates for local and national positions will be begging on their knees for barangay leaders to carry them to victory. (With Cagayan de Oro, RNG)