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Letters to the Editor

Boto Mo, iPatrol Mo: Ako ang Simula: Getting closer to the 'breaking point'

- Arlene Burgos -

MANILA, Philippines - FEW things in life come close to bringing Filipinos to their breaking point. We put up with ineptitude with unbelievable tolerance. We endure long lines and we wait when people say we should. It takes a while for us to get the message, to move on, to finally demand certainty or action.

Case in point: voter registration.

While there are hard-to-miss signs that the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has — possibly — been doing its best to enlist as much voters as its system and equipment can before the Oct. 31 deadline, chaos has ruled election offices. Queues often spill onto the streets; people do not know where to go or what to do; few know what proper documents to bring. It is therefore not surprising that first-time voter registration is at 2.86 million (as per the July official records of the Comelec) — a pittance, actually, considering that statistical estimates peg this sector — the young and first-time voters — to make up about a third of next year’s 45 million electorate. The inevitable conclusion is that much of these young people have yet to register three days before registration actually closes.

These same young people have been storming the Internet with questions and comments about their failure to register, in the process blaming the Comelec, attributing to the poll body’s alleged inefficiency, lack of planning, and failure to establish protocols and systems their possible disenfranchisement.

Online discussions about the problem have been going on days before the Boto Mo, iPatrol Mo:Ako ang Simula (BMPM) have called on people to call attention to and report registration-related problems. BMPM is the ABS-CBN News and Current Affairs’ citizen journalism program — it encourages people to take a more active and participatory stance in the Philippine elections. It asks its members — Boto Patrollers — to guard their votes. The way to do it is to use current popular technology — cell phone, e-mail, voice messaging system — to report election-related incidents which Patrollers think the rest of their community or the country needs to know about. Patrollers would alert ABS-CBN about these incidents, and where proper and needed, ABS-CBN journalists are deployed to follow up or to do full report.

In the five months since it was launched exactly a year before the 2010 national elections, Patrollers have sent tips and news materials about election, registration, and big breaking news like the death of former President Cory Aquino, the storm Ondoy and the typhoon Pepeng. Patrollers, now numbering close to 50,000, would also call attention to issues they think ABS-CBN should investigate.

Members of the BMPM’s Multiply group (botomoipatrolmo.multiply.com) would latch on a comment and the ensuing conversation would create a long thread of back-and-forths: such as that from a Patroller who wondered if police clearance is a proper registration requirement (it is not, the only known requirement is a valid ID). Other times, fans of the BMPM’s fan page in Facebook (facebook.com/BotoMo) would offer each other advice about registration woes.

Still, BMPM has been receiving many questions through email (ireport@abs-cbn.com) and text messages (2366).

It is against this background that the BMPM Day was conducted Oct. 26. BMPM Day is the campaign’s once-a-month, day-long, simultaneous Boto Patroller registration in at least three areas in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. The BMPM Day — held in the Far Eastern University in Manila, the Cainta municipal grounds, Isabela, Dumaguete and Cotabato — took on a special meaning last Monday when proponents decided to add as a feature two things: establishment of a registration help desk within the Comelec’s main building in Intramuros, Manila, and a special registration activity for Comelec personnel there.

The help desk, which operated from 5:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. during the Oct. 26 BMPM Day, was to answer questions, guide and help citizens register. Comelec deployed its Education and Information Department (EID) personnel to man the five phone lines provided free by the Bayan Telecommunications, Inc. One line averaged 30 calls per hour, and the phones rang almost non-stop, according to EID Assistant Director Sonia Tiongson. Days after, Tiongson said there were less inquiries received by the EID through its regular office phones. The hotlines must have helped, she said.

Meanwhile, about 600 Comelec employees have enlisted to be Boto Patrollers. In conversations with ABS-CBN, some of these poll-guardians-now-aspiring-to-be-citizen-journalists gave indications of wanting to participate in the campaign as their silent way of “redeeming” their agency’s reputation long tattered by accusations of committing a failure fatal to democracy — ensuring the sanctity of the ballot.

There is reason to be hopeful there. Because it just might be indicative of a scenario where Filipinos — whether young voters or Comelec personnel — are not going to sit down and just take it when the next elections get muddy again. It just might mean we are ready to demand certainty, action, change. Maybe we’ve reached our breaking point.

ASSISTANT DIRECTOR SONIA TIONGSON BAYAN TELECOMMUNICATIONS BMPM BOTO MO BOTO PATROLLER BOTO PATROLLERS COMELEC DUMAGUETE AND COTABATO MDASH REGISTRATION
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