Better next time

AS of this writing, the Senate just approved, on third reading, the Senate bill postponing the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections to May 2018. By now, Friday, it is quite possible that the President has already signed the postponement into law—a month and a day before the elections were originally scheduled after already having been previously postponed from October 2016.

By the time the Senate voted to pass the postponement measure, however, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) had already printed 26,189,091 ballots for the barangay elections and 1,761,764 ballots for the SK polls. Thus, for ballot printing alone, the cost so far has come up to at least P83.85 million. Figuring in salaries and other expenses, some estimates have placed the running total at close to P500 million.
Postponement, as it turns out, doesn’t come cheaply.

In any case, not all of that expense will be completely for naught. Even assuming that some of the printed ballots will inevitably be lost for any number of reasons, the bulk of it should still be intact eight months on, requiring only some administrative nimbleness from the Comelec to allow their use in May. One possible solution, barring any legal infirmity, is for the Comelec to pass a resolution to say all the ballots, dated October 23, 2017, should be considered dated May 2018 instead. If that happens, then I daresay it would be the first time that sort of thing will have been done on so large a scale, and all because there is a need to mitigate waste.

At this point, the most common question I encounter is why: Why were the elections postponed? I realize that the reasons given for the move—by everyone from the President to the legislators to the pundits—have been repeated far too often for that question to be anything but rhetorical. The people know why, and whether we agree is now beside the point. Now, with all these costs staring us in the face, perhaps the more relevant question is: why did it take so long?

As soon as the President expressed his desire to postpone the elections, the Comelec sounded the call for early resolution. Despite being mistaken by some quarters as pushing for postponement—and getting flak for it, to be honest—the Comelec kept pushing this conversation to the top of its talking points. Decide early, we asked, so that we don’t have to spend money on the preparations that needed to be undertaken.

We made a big deal of saying that printing had to start in late- July, arguing that the Comelec’s mandate to prepare for scheduled elections could not be ignored. And yet, even when we started printing a month late—in the latter part of August—the air was still thick with postponement talk, but remarkably thin on tangible action in the one sphere that mattered in this discussion: legislation. And so here we are, well within the second half of September, the public treasure lighter by close to half-a-billion pesos, only now seeing the concrete action everyone’s only ever talked about until far too recently.

I’m sure there will be shortage of rationalizations for why things had to turn out this way, but maybe—just maybe—we ought to do better next time.