Monday, May 13, 2013
What I did on election day By Paulynn P. Sicam I voted early, with no hassles. The polling place is a public school five minutes’ walk from my house. I was back home in 20 minutes. On my way home, I met my kasambahay and her husband who were going to cast their own votes. When they got back after over an hour, they said they were not able to vote. They searched every voters’ list in every precinct in our barangay but they didn’t find their names . That didn’t sit well with me since we registered at the same time and voted together in the same precinct in 2010. So how could it be that I could vote and they couldn’t? Her husband had given up and gone to work but Eva and I went back to the polling place in the afternoon where the person at the PPCRV desk suggested that we go to the Comelec office in City Hall to get a waiver so she could vote. So at 3:30 in the afternoon of election day, Eva and I took a jeep to Maysilo Circle in Mandaluyong to get a waiver from the local Comelec office. The Comelec office in Mandaluyong is a non-descript hole in the wall of what looks like a condemned building in the circle. There were some 18 employees in pink t-shirts, some occupying desks overflowing with folders, two working before computers, with several others looking over their shoulders. The rest were just sitting around staring blankly. An officer-in-charge sat behind a desk right in front of the front door looking officious. As soon as we told him what we were there for, he yelled at the staff to attend to us then made a quick getaway. The person manning one computer looked for Eva’s name and found her file promptly. But, he said, it showed that Eva had “transferred out” of the district and was therefore purged from the voter’s list. The computer spat out the same information about her husband Jonathan. But, we protested, we haven’t moved out of our address where we have been staying for 14 years. So, I asked if the computer could say where Eva and Jonathan had transfer out. The computer didn’t say and no one could explain their delisting to us. So, I asked if they could give us a waiver saying there’d been a mistake, so she could go back to her precinct and vote. The Comelec personnel looked at each other, at the ceiling and the floor, anywhere but at me. Sorry, they could not issue a waiver because she had been delisted and even if they could, there was no one who could sign it. The City Election Officer was at the gym, they said, and she could not be disturbed. Was she exercising? I asked. No, she was at the Mandaluyong gym for the canvassing. So, couldn’t anyone go find her and tell her that a crowd of people wanting waivers to be able to vote had gathered at the office? No, she was not to be disturbed. And I was told, I couldn’t go there to talk to her because the gym was being prepared for the canvass of votes and was off limits to anyone without an ID. This was when I took to my soapbox, albeit an imaginary one. Pacing the floor in that crowded office, I lectured the Comelec personnel on the sacredness of the right to vote, free elections being a pillar of our democracy, and the duty of every Filipino, especially those who are mandate to manage the election process, to respect every person’s desire to choose their own officials and representatives. I was so eloquent in both Tagalog and English, I surprised even myself. At this point, I realized that I was only in my pambahay shorts, a faded t-shirt and slippers. But it must have been my silver hair and my occasional lapses into English that made everyone stop what they were doing, and with downcast eyes, listen to this citizen’s harangue. “There are 18 of you in this office, and not a single one can help us?” I felt sorry for this unempowered lot but I rubbed it in. After waiting fruitlessly for another half hour or so, I decided to explore the circle’s maze-like corridors and hallways and look for the gym. Eva and I found our way to the gym which was easy enough to enter. A door was open and no one stopped us. To some officious looking people on the stage, I asked, “Where can I find Atty Julie Villar, the election officer of Manadaluyong?” “I am she,” volunteered a perky brown-haired woman. “How can I help you?” When we told her what we needed, she quickly wrote an affidavit in long hand saying what we’d been telling the people at the office all afternoon, for Eva to sign. After Eva signed it, Atty. Villar admonished her, “If I find out later that you lied about this, I will have you arrested.” Then she added, “But I know you are telling the truth.” We were back at the polling place at 6 pm and Eva was able to cast her vote. The thing is, the Comelec crew in Mandaluyong was totally unempowered. Like much of the bureaucracy, they had no authority to respond beyond “It can’t be done”. So they sat there helpless, or walked around zombie-like, trying to look busy amid the growing growling crowd of disgusted disenfranchised voters. When I told this to Atty. Villar, I got a glimpse of the bureaucrat’s mind: “Of course,” she responded, “they are not lawyers,” adding that only she had the authority to act on our complaints. But of course she wasn’t at her desk to attend to us and she didn’t authorize anyone to act on her behalf. We could have given up in the morning, after Eva found out their names were not in the voters’ list. The PPCRV person told me a total of 72 people in that polling place complained of being disenfranchised, but as far as I know, only Eva and one other bothered to challenge it before the Comelec. Eva was primed to fulfil her democratic duty. And me? I wanted to see how far a citizen’s protest would go on election day. While we got what we wanted, many others just walked away, disappointed that there was no one to speak to the Comelec on their behalf. And that’s what we did on election day. Comelec, fail.