Thursday, February 15, 2007

Dear Prudence

I miss this early evening TV show, Sick O'Clock News, that spoofs political personalities and events in the Philippines in the late 80s. I'm sure its producers and writers would have plenty of materials to work on if they were still around today. But then again, maybe there's really no need for their show these days. Our politicians have become such masters in the craft of entertaining people, their acts could rival that of Bitoy and his Bubble Gang (a popular and more contemporary gag show in local TV). Take the case of these people in the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) who would like to portray themselves respectable overseers of the country's electoral process. For several years now, this body has been warming its butt on the proposal to automate the Philippine electoral system. Years ago, a number of its commissioners appeared on TV inspecting these vote processing machines touted as a technology that would make snail-paced tallying a thing of the past.

Then, as in a classic Charlie Chaplin movie, the poll body found itself in a comic situation as cases were filed in court supposedly because of irregularities in the purchase of the computers and vote counting machines. An almost predictable twist for pinoys who have grown quite familiar with these outdated political tactics. Street corner wisdom then rehashed its view of the COMELEC as a mere stooge of MalacaƱang and saw this turn of events as just another desperate attempt of those in power to prevent the installation of a system that would make it difficult for them to cheat during elections. Years later, after several alleged aborted attempts at toppling the government by groups who have accused those in position of massive cheating in the last elections, the courts would clear the COMELEC of graft charges in connection with efforts to automate the election process. And so, the assumption of ordinary folks like me was that with the legal hindrance finally removed, automation could proceed as planned and we could all enjoy an anguish-free vote counting process in the next elections.

The other day, one broadsheet announced that an advisory council has recently recommended (the second one to date) scrapping of plans to implement partial automation in the next polls. Citing the difficulties in determining the best available technology to use for the proposed automation of the election system in at least six (6) cities and six (6) provinces, and doubting the readiness of pinoy voters for automated elections, the head of the advisory council described their decision as one involving more the question of "prudence rather than possibility". Now, that is truly one for the Sick O'Clock News. The technology was there, ready for use, three years ago. What difficulties were that poor schmuck referring to? If people in the COMELEC had some amount of that human quality called foresight, they would have prepared for various post-court case scenarios and would have been ready today as before in putting the automated system in place. They are not being asked to automate the whole country yet.

And that argument about pinoy voters not being ready for automated polls is just plain pathetic and lame. It's as old as those used in that old debate about the chicken and the egg. When will our voters be ready for the automated setup if we're not doing anything towards installing one and preparing them for it? Again, this should have been a matter of foresight on the part of our esteemed commissioners in the COMELEC. Would we rather have vote counts that last for weeks and months, thus opening our whole electoral process to charges and actual acts of cheating, or should we make those willful decisions now and act decisively to ensure quick and clean elections? By the way, "prudence" came from the Latin word "prudentia" which means exactly foresight or sagacity. Being sagacious is not simply having the ability to judge rightly or virtuously in a given situation. A sagacious decision becomes virtuous precisely because it is farsighted and wise. And finally, one hallmark of wisdom is the ability to apply common sense which obviously is lacking in our poll body.

Just found out from the egroup of my former organization in college that the Philippine Political Science Association will be having a conference soon to reconsider our representative democratic setup. I was thinking of suggesting the topic "Institutionalizing Philippine Comic Democracy: Some Prospects for Governance as Entertainment in the 21st Century". I do hope somebody will write a paper on this.

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