The usual problems
By Jon Joaquin
Each election that is held successfully may be seen as proof that democracy is alive and well in the Philippines. After all, it is only during this process that we, the people, are able to give our direct voice on governance. The millions who patiently stood in line in less than ideal conditions – searing heat or pouring rain, dilapidated school buildings, power outages and even security threats – just to cast their votes must be congratulated for insisting on exercising their right. Despite the usual problems, we were able to make the wheels of democracy turn once more.
But it is these “usual problems” that we must finally deal with. Such problems have no place in a modern democracy, least of all in a country that has impressed the world because of the leaps and bounds it has made in the last three years. For while the Philippines has been getting major upgrades in terms of investment ratings, these economic gains are not being translated into giving better service to the people. The most readily visible evidence of this is the power crisis that has been besetting Mindanao this year – something the Aquino administration should have dealt with early in its term since it was the same problem it was criticizing the previous administration for. That it hardly took cognizance of the crisis even on an election year shows us what kind of commitment our government has, not just for Mindanao, but for the electoral process as well.
One other problem that was not just embarrassing but positively nerve-wracking was the inaccessibility of the Comelec website (www.comelec.gov.ph) starting May 10 and well into Election Day itself. It didn’t help that there were two conflicting explanations for the problem, which only showed how poorly the website was being handled. The poll body explained that it could simply not handle the volume of traffic as people tried to use its online precinct finder, but the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), which is hosting the site, said it was a victim of a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack from an unknown source. Either way, the disappearance of the site from the web makes it entirely believable that parties who have the resources and motive can easily sabotage the automated election.
Those who win this year must be made to pledge that the same issues will no longer hound the elections in 2016. They will have three years in which to do this, as each new set of political leaders have. Let’s see how committed they are to fair and honest elections.
Much is still said about the Filipino’s penchant for voting for candidates whose only qualifications are popularity and money. Allegedly, voters still get either hoodwinked or coerced into voting for crooks because they do not know any better or because their votes can be bought for a few hundred pesos. But while this is still true to some extent, recent elections have shown that our people are growing up and are making intelligent decisions about who they want to lead them. The past few elections have seen actors and celebrities actually losing their bids to people who are more qualified; indeed, President Benigno Aquino, himself, won despite the fact that his campaign was not as well-oiled or as moneyed as his nearest rivals. To be sure, traditional politicians still rule many parts of the country, but there is enough evidence to show that the Filipino is waking up and is making correct choices.
There is still much work to be done, however, and this is where the average, everyday, garden-variety Filipino comes in. Up to a few years ago, voter education had been the domain of organized groups, be it government, non-government organizations, people’s organizations or even grassroots movements. Now, with the growing prevalence of social networking, anyone with a computer or even a cell phone can do his or her part in educating other Filipinos on the workings of politics. People now have an alternate means to be educated about candidates and no longer have to rely on contrived and sanitized advertisements.
The numbers bear out how important social networking is to the elections. According to the country’s major telecommunications companies, up to 90 per cent of Filipinos have cell phones. Of this, up to 40 per cent own smartphones – phones that can access the Internet. That means up to 37 million people are reachable by social networking, and that does not count the number who can access the Internet on personal computers and laptops. Social networking cuts through economic, social, cultural and other classes, and so it is no exaggeration to say that the people now finally have something with which they can influence each other. The key is to make sure that this influence is positive. The devil is in the details, and so each voter – literally, every single one of us – needs to do his or her part in creating change for the country.
Jon Joaquin is the managing editor of the largest circulation newspaper in Mindanao, the Mindanao Daily Mirror in Davao City.