In the province: Campaign 2010

Michael Alan Hamlin

Posted on May 5, 2010

In five days, up to 50,000 Filipinos will troop to polls to elect their president, vice president, and other national and local officials in the country’s first automated elections. The decibel level associated with the integrity of the computerized process and the transmission of votes has steadily increased in recent weeks after major business groups and other influential associations called for a parallel manual count to ensure accurate results.

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) unanimously rejected those calls, arguing that a manual vote would undermine the purpose of the automated elections by delaying the tally. In response, Senator Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” C. Aquino III (Liberal) warned that a failure of elections or attempts by the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to manipulate the outcome in favor of other presidential candidates could bring people back to the streets for yet another iteration of People Power.

That result is in fact a real possibility, but Mr. Aquino’s advisors made a potentially grievous error in pressuring their candidate to issue the warning. Mr. Aquino is running on a platform promising respect for and adherence to the rule of law. Threatening another round of extra-constitutional transition of power undermines that message at best, and makes the candidate vulnerable to charges that what he says and what he believes and what he will do are tragically misaligned.

Fortunately for Mr. Aquino, opinion polls suggest that his lead has become almost certainly insurmountable. While he can’t afford a major gaffe, persistent allegations of abuse of position and irregularities in his business dealings have taken a severe toll on the brand image of Mr. Aquino’s still apparent principal adversary, Senator Manuel “Manny” B. Villar (Nacionalista). Those allegations resonated as pundits and analysts questioned how Mr. Villar is funding a massive advertising and communications campaign.

At least that seems to be the thinking among a majority of voters I have talked to in the National Capital Region of Metro Manila. Because I regularly spend weekends in the province-Cavite, to be specific-I’ve had the chance to gain a first-hand albeit informal measure of political sentiment outside the highly urbanized capital. What I have seen there for the most part has been encouraging because it reveals a deep maturity among voters, the majority of whom are desperately poor or struggling to keep their financial heads above water.

If campaign posters were as reliable as professionally administered, truly scientific surveys, southeast Cavite would be a tight contest between former president Joseph “Erap” Ejercito Estrada (PMP) and Mr. Villar. The influentials in the municipality of Alfonso seem divided over which of the frontrunners they will support, while the average man and woman on the street question the number of sticky issues that dog Mr. Villar and wonder aloud if Mr. Aquino is ready for the job.

Although I believe strongly in the separation of church and state, I must confess that I found the pre-mass lectures presented by the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting of the St. John Nepomucene Parish to be clear, comprehensive, and effective in acquainting and preparing voters to cast their ballots electronically. An accompanying flyer reiterating the voting processes-prepared by Ateneo de Manila University with the support of the British Embassy-is handed out to parishioners, who seemed to hold onto them.

The foreman on our small farm approached us last weekend to inform us that he had been asked by one of the parties of the leading candidates to serve as a poll monitor, and was asking permission to accept the request. We quickly agreed, and he seemed to beam. It was not difficult to discern a sense of commitment to the assignment, and pride that he had been given an important responsibility.

When we asked how he assessed the candidates, our foreman gave an impressive summary of his take on the field. He doesn’t feel that either of the frontrunners has all the attributes he would like to see in his president, and frankly, he hasn’t yet made up his mind which candidate he’ll vote for May 10. My wife and I encouraged him to vote his conscience, and he left us lost in thought.

One of the things that struck me in this election is the self-righteousness of some candidates, and even more so, their supporters. Perhaps they picked this quality up from the U.S. election that brought President Barak Obama to power a year ago. That self-righteousness is enormously dismaying on multiple levels. But I am given some comfort that there are voters like my foreman who are carefully weighing the issues, and the candidates.

(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.).

1 Comment

  1. The day after I wrote this column, Comelec and Smartmatic–the manufacturer of the automated devices to be used in the vote–reported a massive firmware issue that makes it necessary to replace the Flash drives in 70,000 of the devices. Now, administration officials say it may be necessary to reschedule the elections. This mess promises to get messier.

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