No-frills Mar/Dangerous tally
FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas (The Philippine Star) - May 2, 2019 - 12:00am

They say age brings wisdom, and in the case of newly minted senior citizen Mar Roxas, it shows. It’s good to see a “new” Roxas emerging from his retirement to run again for the Senate in the upcoming midterm elections. While Roxas was not completely gone from the public eye (he shared his mountain climbing and camping adventures via his Facebook page) I was surprised to see a lighter and airier Roxas, especially his grinning from ear to ear as he and Korina are pictured with their twin babies. It seems semi-retirement served him well. 

Better still is his return to the palengke, which propelled him to take the top spot in the 2004 senatorial elections. Clad in light blue, with minimal fanfare and gimmicks, he does the rounds of the palengkes, where young and old know him by his old monicker “Mr. Palengke.” He is running on one of his strengths – Roxas is a Wharton-trained economist from the University of Pennsylvania – advocating for more jobs, lower prices of food, and better pay. 

 The economy is always a concern for everyone, as a healthy economy benefits the people. But Roxas isn’t going around talking to people about the gross domestic product or the debt to GDP ratio; he understands that the economy, for the ordinary Juan and Juana, means a stable job to support their family, adequate wages to meet their family’s needs and lower prices so that their hard-earned peso can be stretched longer. 

And one can’t deny that this is working, given that Roxas has consistently landed in the Magic 12 of the pre-election surveys. It would be good to have a pro-people economist back in the Senate, one who not only understands how laws should be crafted with citizens in mind, but one that also has the track record to back up his promises. 

Roxas is a strong advocate of repealing higher excise taxes on fuel and other petroleum products, blaming these taxes for the high prices of food and other essential commodities. Doing so will certainly ease the burden of the ordinary Filipino. 

Despite being incessantly targeted by fake news propagators, it cannot be denied that Roxas contributed greatly to making call centers a booming industry in the country. As DTI Secretary under former presidents Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, he focused on projects that shored up the computer literacy of young Filipinos – even going to the extent of introducing Microsoft founder Bill Gates to President Estrada, prompting the former to grant Microsoft software to some 40,000 computers for schools across the country. 

As a public servant, Roxas has had his share of ups and downs. Same as everyone, he is not perfect. Despite the prospect of just living out the rest of his very comfortable life (he is after all a scion of the Araneta family, one of the old rich families still around) he has chosen to bounce back from his 2016 loss, something we can all admire. 

I wish Mar luck in the coming elections, and hope that his message that there can be so much more to the lives of Filipinos – a message of hope – will resonate with the rest of the electorate. 

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Our neighboring country Indonesia held its general elections on April 17. As they have yet to adopt an automated election system, the votes are still counted manually. According to Indonesia’s General Elections Commission, the results of the parliamentary and presidential elections will be announced on May 22 — over a month after the ballots were cast.

The Philippines is no stranger to the dangers of manual elections, especially with our culture of violence and impunity, which, unfortunately, seems to be prevalent once again.

In the past, countless poll-watchers have been intimidated and killed in attempts of candidates to steal ballot boxes and cheat. I can’t claim that Indonesia is suffering from such a problem, but they did reportedly have a unique reason for the recent election-related casualties: overwork.

It was recently reported that more than 270 Indonesian election workers have died mostly due to fatigue-related illnesses. A tedious counting process, and the long hours of work it requires to do so, caused more 1,800 workers to fall ill.

Imagine if we still had manual elections now, in the middle of summer’s oppressive heat. The poor election workers would not only have to worry about defending our ballots from would-be cheaters, they would also have to worry about heat exhaustion, severe dehydration, and even death.

Of course, we can’t really say that we’re completely better off than Indonesia. Even with our automated election system, we still run into problems in the form of propaganda. It’s the same old story of “kung hindi nanalo, dinaya.”

Having said that, however, data from the Electoral Contests Adjudication Department (ECAD), revealed that the automated system reduced the number of electoral protests. From thousands of protests during the pre-automation times, the number was down to 49 in 2010, 32 in 2013, and 22, in 2016. There is a downward trend, but still, candidates seem to find it convenient to blame the automated system for their loss, using blanket technological jargon such as “hacking”.

I am in no position to ascertain whether those claims are true or not, but according to data from the Comelec, among the 103 post-automation electoral complaints, none have had their results reversed. In every recount, the electronic and manual tallies matched.

Despite all this, I still fear for the worst, especially now that the Comelec will be handling the 2019 Elections pretty much on their own. Unlike before, technology provider Smartmatic will now be playing a very limited role.

From here on, it’s the Comelec’s show. Before, they still had Smartmatic to act as a buffer against accusations of cheating. Now, they stand alone against any future – and inevitable – smear campaigns from salty candidates who just can’t accept a loss.

Stand your ground, Comelec. Please know that while you bear the brunt of the responsibility in maintaining and enforcing a clean, safe, and honest elections, we as individual citizens also have to do our respective parts: to respect the sanctity of our votes by refusing to be part of any ways to cheat, and not be swayed by our own greed or fear.

We may never experience anything like Indonesia did, but, if we abandon our respect for the ballot, our whole nation may just collapse in a heap.

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