Lest we forget, the way the elections were conducted yesterday deserves a thorough review. The end does not justify the means. Just because the election results are coming in “faster than expected” does not mean that we, the citizens and voters, should just let this injustice be done to us again.
I am talking about the four- to five-hour queues that we Filipinos had to endure, inside cramped public schools and basketball courts, in the heat of the unforgiving El Niño sun, just to be able to vote during the 2010 national and local elections. We need to get our act together, and demand that the public officials whose duty it is to ensure clean, honest, peaceful, and ORDERLY elections do their job properly.
I live in one of the most populated barangays in the country, Barangay Holy Spirit, near Commonwealth Avenue, Quezon City. My father and I used to be registered voters in our province, so yesterday we were first-time voters in this barangay. My mother had transferred her registration during the previous elections so she was assigned to a different precinct. As my parents are senior citizens, I had to accompany them separately.
Papa and I arrived at our polling place a little past 7 a.m. Doña Juana Elementary School was already packed. Following COMELEC public information campaign instructions, we immediately tried to get our voter number under our assigned precinct. Just looking for our precinct took us several minutes already. But it was early, and we were in good spirits.
We finally found the building where our clustered precinct was located. The precinct numbers were handwritten and displayed outside the classroom windows, not clearly visible, especially once people stood against them. After inquiring in vain from several people, the “chairman” of our clustered precinct finally told me where the end of the line was. I inquired about a senior citizen’s lane. She and her assistant let my father through an “express lane”, but both of them prevented me from joining him to vote. I felt their firm hands on my shoulders. They planted me at the end of the line and handed me a number – “62”. My father nodded at me and entered the classroom.
I watched Papa stand behind the line to be identified. Minutes seemed like hours, for the line was growing already and yet the movement inside the classroom was in slow-mo. I found out later from Papa that the people sitting behind the desk had to pore over four bundles of paper to locate each voter, as the papers were not labeled per precinct. He instructed them to at least identify which bunch referred to which precinct to save on time. It took my father thirty (30) minutes on the express lane.
It took me an hour after that before I saw the “CONGRATULATIONS” on the PCOS machine. During that hour I observed in utter frustration the lack of system in the whole voting process. There was nobody assigned to answer queries, so people arrived assuming they could vote immediately. I and the other voters in line patiently informed them to get a number, but several of them returned to the classroom door, unable to find the girl who was handing out the numbers. Ten (10) voters were allowed inside at a time, but it was a trickle compared to the hordes of voters coming in. Nobody was manning the line outside the classroom, so people had to stand when they could have sat down on the benches provided for the next 20 or so voters.
I heard the volunteers saying they were hungry. I saw senior citizens lining up, unaware that there was an “express lane” for them, for the sign was too small for them to read. People who could not find their precincts did not know where to ask for help. The PPCRV volunteer just shrugged his shoulders every time somebody from another precinct approached him. I wanted to tell him, “You could at least point them to the bulletin board location or someone they could ask to show them where to vote.” One lady was already in tears and looked for our chairman, saying she could not find her precinct and nobody would help her. I tried to help by assisting those with queries about their precinct location, maintaining the lines, and fanning my seat mates, but a volunteer without an ID could only do so much.
When it was finally my turn to vote, I saw some of the causes of the bottleneck inside. Voter identification was so slow, and the BEI did not seem to mind that there were 1,000 registered voters. I could see my picture on the first page of the bunch of papers labeled “1400D”, but I could not sign it yet because it was being used by those who had already voted to put their respective thumbprints on. There was, simply, no system. Everyone was taking their time, not conscious that almost two hours had already passed, and I was only voter no. 62.
The “ballot secrecy folders” were useless. First, the ballots were longer than the folders, so my seatmates could easily see whom I voted for. Inserting the ballot to the PCOS machine also exposed my votes to everyone, much like former President Erap’s blooper (a close-up of his ballot revealed that he “forgot” to shade his running-mate for VP, Binay). So much for ballot secrecy and sanctity. At least the PCOS machine accepted my ballot on the first try.
Finally, I was free to go home. I found my father, his sports shirt drenched in sweat, waiting for me. After we got home, I rested for a few minutes then went with her mother to our barangay covered court. Which is another story.
We arrived to witness snaking lines behind each clustered precinct. I approached the PPCRV people from our parish, and they let my mother through. I waited a few minutes, and noticed that nobody was leaving through the gate that Mama entered. I asked those who were standing outside the gate. One person said, “I have not seen anyone finish voting. Maybe they are all inside waiting for their turn.” Obviously that was one misinformed person. I could not find an official to talk to, so again, the PPCRV, who told me that the EXIT gate was outside.
I estimated another 30 minutes, similar to my father’s voting time, and then waited for Mama at the exit. The noonday sun had already appeared in full force and I felt I was going to faint at some point. I could already see the headlines and I did not want that to happen, so I kept on drinking water. Still no sign of my mother. It was doubly difficult to look for her because she was wearing yellow. By accident, she said. Obedient to her TV network, she also left behind her cell phones so I had no way of contacting her. I kept going back to the ENTRANCE to check if she exited that way. No such luck. I tried to find her through the maze of people inside the covered court, but it was futile. There were too many people. And I was too small. Like Zaccheus.
Finally I called up Papa at home, to check if Mama used a pay phone. He said he had not heard from her. We both worried that she had to wait very long for her turn. She was probably hungry, I thought, as I bought snacks from the vendors that let me rest under the shade of their colorful umbrellas. I asked another PPCRV volunteer what could have probably taken my mother so long, and he replied that there was some commotion inside because people did not want to fall in line properly. I looked through the grills separating me from the queues and said a silent prayer for all those trapped inside, who obviously had to forego lunch just to be able to vote.
I checked my phone again, which was buried underneath my bag to protect it from snatchers, and saw four missed calls from Papa and two text messages from my brother. I returned Papa’s call with a sinking feeling what it was about. True enough, Mama had found a pay phone and informed him that she had been waiting in Jollibee for the past hour. She could not find me at the ENTRANCE, where the brilliant people who told me to leave let her EXIT, so she assumed I was waiting for her at the Jollibee parking lot. She was never informed that there was a separate exit gate. She alternated between the entrance and parking, while I went back and forth the entrance and exit gates.
We went home tired, hungry, and thirsty. We could have found each other immediately had people given us consistent answers. At least the three of us were able to vote.
I saw in the news the number of people who fainted due to heat stroke and hunger and thirst, and I thanked God that nobody in my family suffered that much. I can’t help thinking nobody deserved that fate, and this government, which I work for, should do a better job at serving the people.
We have elected new people to public posts, whether we like them or not. Let’s work together to uplift the plight of our students, teachers, employees, and all Filipinos. The high voter turnout means that we all believe that it is time for change.