Back to reality

Michael Alan Hamlin

Posted on May 21, 2010

Not as many as expected turned out-somewhere between 70 and 75% of registered voters–but the 30-38 million Filipinos who voted in last week’s historic Philippine national election saw their votes counted in record time, and for more than half of them, before they went to bed. Despite the frustrations resulting from poor logistics management; the first nationwide application of a new technology, and teething problems for teachers manning the automated precincts, the Philippines found itself in the unique-and perhaps improbable-position of being praised internationally for conducting an efficient, fair, and transparent national election.

Counting was so fast that for the most part cheaters were left in a bewildered daze. Intimidation was apparent in traditional hot spots, but a wary military and police establishment appeared to be in no mood for trouble in the wake of the Maguindanao massacre in November that attracted international attention and severely pummeled the Philippines’ and the authorities’ already tarnished reputations. Vote buying was hard to curb, however, as evidenced along provincial roads leading to polling stations in Mindanao, Palawan, Bataan, and elsewhere.

It had an effect, too. Leading the pre-election surveys by approximately 70%, Palawan second district Rep. Abraham Khalil Mitra squeaked past his principal opponent for governor with just 54% of the vote. Mr. Mitra must still fight a questionable disqualification case filed against him by a determined opponent. Just days before the election, the Supreme Court temporarily set aside a Comelec order disqualifying him.

Mr. Mitra’s case shows that while automation can go a long way to alleviate dishonest behavior, it can’t eliminate a lot of dysfunctional behavior meant to undermine the democratic process-for a while we weren’t sure how many people voted since some precincts “disappeared” when local candidates allegedly confiscated election paraphernalia, including Flash memory cards. The Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting reported vote buying by individuals in government vehicles in Angeles City and similar incidents in Nueva Ecija, Aurora, Binangonan in Rizal, Mariveles in Bataan, and Marikina City in Metro Manila.

The New York Times correspondent Carlos H. Conde wrote on his blog that “en route to Tugaig, Barira town (in Mindanao), a candidate on a pickup stopped countless times to hand out money to people along the highway. Inside his untinted pickup, he had wads of money in his hand. At the Ibra Bulyog Elementary School, some voters complained that money was being given out in the lines going to the precinct.”

These crude, illegal acts seemed mostly intended to attempt to alter the outcome of local contests, with varying degrees of success, as Mr. Mitra’s example shows. In strife-torn and poverty-wracked Maguindanao, Buluan Vice Mayor Datu Ismael “Toto” Mangudadatu managed to defeat a candidate backed by the powerful Ampatuan clan which is said to be responsible for the massacre that claimed 57, including 32 journalists and Mr. Mangudadatu’s wife.

But in other places such as Bataan, political clans and their proxies were returned to office almost whole scale. Enrique T. Garcia, Jr. was re-elected governor of Bataan, and his son Jose Enrique S. Garcia III appears to have been elected mayor of Balanga City. A close associate of the Garcia clan, Jesse I. Concepcion, was elected mayor of Mariveles where the controversial Freeport of Bataan (FAB) is situated. Albert Raymond S. Garcia was re-elected to the House of Representatives, and Maria Angela S. Garcia was in a tight race for the province’s other House seat.

But why bring all this up now, on the heels of what was mostly a successful national election? There are at least two reasons. First, those that manipulated the system for their own interests aren’t going to stop now that the election is over. A case in point is the Freeport of Bataan, which Congress wrested from the Philippine Export Processing Zone last year and placed under the province’s control, ostensibly due to mismanagement. Investors in the zone like Steven Bobelock are concerned that with the elections over, the FAB board will raise fees and rents and look the other way when red tape complicates doing business.

Second, these flaws show that the new government does not have time to be distracted over who administers an oath of office and the reported wrestling for power between Kamag-anak and Hyatt 10. It will take at least a decade to fix education, enormous political will to build institutions, determined leadership to undertake and follow through with economic reforms, and tremendous goodwill and credibility to convince investors to create jobs here.

It’s back to reality; and, time to get down to creating a new one.

(Michael Alan Hamlin is the managing director of TeamAsia and a Manila-based author. His latest book is High Visibility: Transforming Your Personal and Professional Brand . Write him at mahamlin@teamasia.com and follow him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.). Copyright © 2010 Michael Alan Hamlin. All Rights Reserved.

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