In five days, our people will exercise their sovereign right to choose their leaders. In a democracy like ours, the right to vote is one of the most important duties of citizens.
When we say that our democracy is a “government of the people, for the people, and by the people,” we mean that any government must first get the consent of the people before it can exercise power on behalf of the people. That is the main purpose of elections. That is what democracy is about.
For this reason, it is essential to ensure that our elections would reflect the will of the people. Elections must be free, fair, honest, meaningful, and most importantly credible.
I cannot overstress the importance of credibility in our elections. The best way to understand this is probably to imagine the problems that will arise if and when our electoral exercises lose credibility.
First of all, the people will lose confidence in the results of the voting process. We need to understand that many of our people actually take voting seriously. This is the reason why the issue of the Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trail, or the VVPAT, is critical. People want to know that their votes will be counted, and counted correctly.
Second, elections without credibility affect the legitimacy of the new government. If the people believes that some form of cheating occurred that robbed them of their votes, then the winning candidates will find it difficult to govern.
Lastly, it will undermine our democracy. Our very system of government rests on the principle of the sovereign will of the people. An electoral process that disregards this principle is bound to fail. We can only look at our political history to see how turbulent that can be.
While the task of ensuring credible elections lies with all of us, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) is the leader in that effort. However, recent developments have made people worried about Comelec’s capability to ensure credible elections.
Last March 27, the commission’s website was hacked twice and, despite efforts by its officials to downplay the security breach, the hackers uploaded a searchable website containing sensitive data of over 70 million voters.
The website contained millions of registered voters’ full names, birthdates, fingerprint information, parents’ full names, complete addresses of residence, passport numbers, and more.
This has been dubbed the biggest leak of personal data in the country’s history. People are worried that the hacking proves that the automated elections can also be hacked. Officials have denied this and attested to the security of the vote-counting machines (VCMs).
But we need to remember that credibility is affected by public perception. I hope the Comelec can, in the final days before the elections, restore the confidence of people in the automated election process.
Just last week, Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista announced that the earlier plan to use malls as voting precincts will be scrapped. This came as a surprise because of the decision’s proximity to the scheduled elections. Why are we changing plans only now?
Add to these the setbacks of the Comelec in the Supreme Court which ruled against it in a couple of important cases. There is also controversy on the decision of the Comelec to allow replacement ballots which some critics believe will create confusion at the polls.
As early as two weeks ago, many unverified reports of voting irregularities were sent by overseas Filipino workers.
Some claim their receipt did not reflect who they actually voted for. Can you imagine the chaos on May 9 when more than 50 million voters are expected to troop to the polling precincts?
I have no reason to doubt the probity and capability of the commissioners of the Comelec. I believe that they have the best interest of the nation at heart.
In fact, I think they did a very good job organizing the presidential and vice-presidential debates to help the public gather information for an enlightened decision on who to vote for on May 9. Congratulations, too, to the commissioners of the Comelec for improving the transparency of the electoral process. Part of the reason why there have been a lot of questions is the fact that the stakeholders know what is going on inside the commission.
I hope that the trust of the public will not wane. As I wrote before, credibility is as much about public perception as it is about the truth.
The Comelec needs to make sure that the process is credible. And that credibility hinges on the actual and perceived integrity of the electoral process. If Filipino voters believe the electoral process is defective and dishonest, they may not accept the results.
This is especially crucial given the fact that the presidential race is neck and neck. If the electoral contest among the five contenders is very tight then the results will surely be scrutinized.
Let us all support the Comelec and the other groups who are helping to ensure the success of our electoral process.
While the competition between opposing candidates often takes center stage during electoral campaigns, we need to remind ourselves that elections also affirm what is common among us – that we are a democracy and that we will respect the voice of the people.
(For comments/feedback email to: mbv.secretariat@gmail or visit www.Mannyvillar.com.ph.)