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Dick Gordon, the COMELEC, and the Cost of Not Trusting One Another

File photo of the vote-counting machine issuing a receipt. Photo: InterAksyon.com

ne reason the Philippines is such a laggard compared to other nations is because Filipinos simply don't trust one another. And in a way, you really can't blame them because the country has more than its fair share of scams, swindles, rackets, and all manner of nefarious deeds perpetrated by Pinoys on fellow Pinoys.

In the Philippines, you start off as untrustworthy until you can prove yourself otherwise. For instance, if you're applying for a job, be sure to bring your NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) Clearance with you on your initial interview because you're a thief, swindler, rapist, terrorist, murderer, you-name-it—until your NBI Clearance certificate says otherwise.

Enter any building (public or private) and there's a security guard at the door ready to frisk you and look inside your bags just in case you're carrying stuff like C4 explosives, IEDs (improvised explosive devices), or worse. If you happen to be wearing a baseball cap, you need to doff it to prove that that there is no 9mm Glock hidden in it. Some Philippine banks ask you to keep your hat off while inside their bank so that their ceiling-mounted CCTV cameras get a clear view of your face should you decide to rob it.

Even homes are normally surrounded by high concrete walls topped with shards of broken glass. Windows have steel bars to keep the home's inhabitants "safe" and keep the riffraff, along with everyone else, out.

Mistrust is everywhere in the Philippines and convoluted, sometimes redundant systems have been put in place because of that mistrust: systems that slowdown commerce, by delaying individual transactions; and redundant procedures that increase paperwork, creating added work for everyone concerned. Those unnecessary steps easily cost the country billions of pesos in wasted time, lost revenue, and increased workload.

A prime example of this is former senator, and current senatorial candidate Richard "Dick" Gordon's demand that the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) provide each and every Filipino voter a receipt after they place their vote. This receipt will contain unique information that will indicate not just the time and place where the person voted but also who that person voted for. According to Gordon, this will allow the voter to verify if his or her vote was correctly counted or not. Gordon insists that it is also part of the country's automated election system law that he sponsored when he was in the Senate.  

To most foreigners, such a receipt for voting is a preposterous idea. All across the globe, voters walk into polling places with the presumption that the vote they will cast will be tallied correctly. There is never any need to go back to double check and see if your vote was counted correctly. Poll watchers and canvassers take care of that for you. As a voting citizen, your job is done after you turn in your ballot.

But not in the Philippines. Again, because Filipinos don't trust one another, a receipt must be given to each voter so they can make sure their vote was recorded correctly ('shouldn't trust those teachers and poll canvassers; they're likely all dishonest anyway).

Richard Gordon. Photo: pinoydailyjournals.com

So Gordon filed a petition with the Philippine Supreme Court to order the COMELEC to issue those receipts for the scheduled May 9 elections. The high court came out with a unanimous ruling on March 8, two months before election day, ordering the COMELEC to reconfigure all their voting machines to issue "voter verified paper audit trail" or VVPAT receipts.

Never mind that 60 days is an extremely short time to reconfigure thousands of voting machines scattered all across the country; never mind that the tens of thousands of rolls of thermal paper needed to print those receipts will have to be purchased through the slow and meticulous government procurement process; never mind that hundreds upon hundreds of man-hours will be needed to implement this change; none of that is Gordon's or the high court's concern. The fact that the COMELEC must now scramble to comply with this new requirement is COMELEC's  problem—and COMELEC's  alone.

The May 9 elections might end up being postponed, and corners might have to be cut in procuring additional paper supplies. Furthermore, reconfiguring thousands of voting machines may  cause some or many of them to fail.  Thus, the integrity of the upcoming election can no longer be guaranteed at the level it could have been prior to the March 8 ruling.

Such is life in this "Bizzaro" land we call the Philippines. Where the autocratic ruling class, e.g., Gordon and the SC justices, fail to see the big picture. For those folks, it's always "their way or the highway." And because no one trusts anyone, a preposterous voting receipt will have to be issued. The overall cost of the upcoming election will skyrocket, voting systems might be compromised, and in the end, the hapless Filipino people will pay many times over for an election that will either be delayed or compromised. Situations like these happen all the time in the Philippines, thanks to our lack of trust for one another. It's no wonder the country is currently where it's at—towards the bottom of the heap. Published 3/13/2016

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