A win

Over the past three months, nearly all of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) resources and efforts have been directed at ensuring the success of the 2018 synchronized barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections. It gives me great satisfaction to say now that all the work bore good fruit.

On election day itself, all but less than a handful of the 177,565 polling precincts, distributed over 36,794 voting centers nationwide, opened on time. Those that did experience some last-minute hiccups—like poll watchers showing up with no identification cards—managed to get back on track quickly. Overall, not a single failure of elections was declared, ensuring that in all the 41,943 barangays where elections were held—elections were suspended in the city of Marawi, in the aftermath of the fighting there—voters were able to make their choices known. In contrast, the 2013 barangay elections had 130 failures of elections.

Very significantly, while the occasional scuffle did break out in a few places, election day was not marred by any significant violence. Throughout the election period, only seven violent incidents were confirmed to have been election-related; seven confirmed election-related violent incidents—or Ervis—which gave rise to a total of 13 confirmed deaths. While, of course, one would be one death too many, it is still noteworthy that in the 2013 barangay elections, there were a total of 33 confirmed election-related fatalities.

Vote buying remained a problem very much in evidence, as it is in every election. The significant difference this time around was the fact that many vote-buying operations were nipped in the bud as a result of cooperation between concerned citizens and local authorities, particularly the Philippine National Police. It seems to me that ever since the Comelec successfully unseated some high government officials for vote buying a few years back, the model for successful anti-vote buying operations has been steadily improving, thanks in no small part to the increase in the number of mobile video-recording devices, a.k.a. cell-phone cameras, and to heightened levels of voter vigilance and participatory zeal. At this point, it is difficult not to be optimistic about our chances at curbing vote buying significantly by 2019.

Of course, all this isn’t to say that the 2018 barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (BSKE) elections were all roses. Two very significant areas of concern stood out. The first has to do with voters claiming to be unable to find their names on the lists of voters.

As in every electoral exercise, the 2018 BSKE saw some people complaining that their names had vanished from the lists. Needless to say, many of these complaints made the news, but sadly with very little context. For context therefore: There are several reasons people might claim to not find their names on the lists—by far the most frequent reason is that they had been “deactivated”—election jargon for people whose voting records have been rendered dormant by their failure to vote in two successive elections—and were simply unaware of the fact.

The second most common reason is that the complainers might have simply not looked for their names in the proper places. In many instances, the people who complain do so after checking the list posted outside the precincts where they voted in the last elections. And then they give up, missing the chance to find out that maybe they’d been merely reassigned to a different voting precinct—which isn’t an uncommon occurrence.

And then, of course, there are the voter-denial operations launched by political operators. It is a documented fact that on election day, some unscrupulous characters loiter around the voting centers with fake lists of voters, waiting to ambush voters who haven’t declared allegiance to their patrons. Inevitably, these fake lists are populated with known supporters; everyone else is left off the list. In this way, some voters are mislead into believing that they are not going to be allowed to vote, thus increasing the chances of victory of some candidates.

Vote-buying and voter-denial operations notwithstanding, the 2018 barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections still went off largely without a hitch, and I’m going to enter this one in the books under the “Win” column. We, as a democratic society, needed this win. And, as a grunt in the Commission on Elections, I am very humbled for having played a small part in getting it.




Turning Points 2018
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The longest serving Spokesperson of the Commission on Elections, James Jimenez is the Director of that institution's Education and Information Department. He used to be the Chairperson of the student COMELEC of the University of Santo Tomas. He is a firm believer in the ability of social media to empower voters, and in the capacity of empowered voters to shape a better future.