Historic voter turnout shows democracy is alive and well

Published May 11, 2022, 12:03 AM

by Manila Bulletin

Aside from recording the highest number of registered voters at 67 million, Monday’s elections also garnered the highest voter turnout at more than 85 plus percent, as per the partial and unofficial results. This is a clear and resounding indication that Filipinos flocked to the polling stations not only to exercise their right to vote, but to stress the pivotal power of an election to change the direction of the country.

Voters have lined up at the break of dawn, as early as 5 a.m. in some sites, waiting for hours just to have their ballot scanned by the vote counting machine (VCM). Some have expressed on their social media accounts how they waited for as long as six to eight hours – fighting hunger under the intense heat and glare of the sun – just to wait for their turn. In those posts, they said, “Six hours of standing up for the sake of six years of our country.”

Though organizations and poll watchers’ groups have said that the elections nationwide were “generally peaceful,” there were issues that raised the anxiety of the populace. Various precincts reported concerns on the VCMs – defective or overheating machines, malfunctioning SD cards, jamming of the ballot – to the absence of the names of registered voters and the presence of the names of the deceased in the voters’ list.  In one instance, voters in precincts in Barangay Teachers Village East in Quezon City who arrived at 7 a.m. stayed until 7 p.m. since the VCMs malfunctioned.  No one went home early or participated in manual voting as they demanded their votes to be “transmitted” right before their eyes. This one case showed how voters guarded their votes until the last minute, to ensure that their voices were heard even in that one ballot.  The Comelec, however, said that these are “isolated incidents.”

Amid the confusing news, there were reasons to be hopeful with heartening stories from the polling sites. Youth voters went out in droves to vote, reflecting their desire to be involved in national affairs; senior citizens – particularly inspiring is 77-year-old Evelyn Nazareno, a lady with stage four cancer – voted for the sake of the future and with the next generation in mind.  Then there are the volunteers from various groups who helped the Comelec fulfill its mandate and safeguarded the sanctity of the ballot.  There were also the teachers who woke up so early only to face various challenges as the hours went by. In some instances, they had to face the ire of voters due to the setback caused by the malfunctioning VCMs.

In a statement, the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) noted the “generally peaceful election day”, but also added that there were “pockets of violence and intimidation in certain parts of the country.” Some Namfrel volunteers in areas such as Abra, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, and Cotabato have been intimidated, harassed, or denied access.  Incidents such as these should not be tolerated as part of a transparent electoral system is giving unobstructed access and empowering the citizens’ watchdogs.

As the political dust settles down, it is hoped that whatever mistakes that have been committed last Monday will serve as a lesson.  Particularly alarming was the number of VCMs that broke down; Comelec now has to find error-proof and practical solutions to make sure that no VCMs would cause delays in future elections. If it happens again, it could erode the Filipinos’ trust in the electoral process.

As we now have the partial and unofficial results, we wait for Congress to announce the official results of the presidential and vice-presidential derbies, and the Comelec to announce the final 12 senatorial winners and the party-list qualifiers.

May all of us who voted be comforted with the fact that we have exercised our duty to the nation. No matter where the political tides turn, may it always help us sail toward a better, progressive, and united Philippines.