14 May 2007

Philippine elections from foreign eyes

NEWSBREAK'S Marites Vitug writes about the positive changes in these elections here; three visitors I drove to Tabuco Central School this morning, to see this democratic ritual for themselves, confirmed another consistently positive aspect of Philippine elections.

It was already about 8:30 am, the polling places have been open for more than an hour, and Tabuco Central was already full and had a generally festive yet peaceful atmosphere: food vendors are at the gate selling their wares, PPCRV volunteers are manning their places, and people are patiently lining in to wait for their turn. It was the same in Pacol Elementary when I dropped by earlier.

Party reps and watchers are also all over, taking their directions from designated bosses. Meanwhile, the police and members of the local media are keeping an eye on the proceedings. But for most everyone, it was just like any other Philippine election.

But not to Jeff, Claudia and Kat, three graduate students from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada who are here for a three-week planning studio course that the City Government is hosting, in partnership with the Ateneo de Naga University. A total of 22, led by Dr. Nora Angeles, will be on hand when the course will have its soft opening this Wednesday.

Jeff arrived last Saturday; the two young women, plus a third one who stayed behind at the hotel to rest after a long trip to Naga, arrived yesterday past lunch. They read in the papers and heard on TV that Comelec expects an 83% turnout: is that really possible, they asked.

Seeing the crowd and the school so alive with activity, I said it is highly probable; I'm not really sure about my numbers, but I blurted out that the average turnout in a Philippine election ranges between 60-70%.

To them, this is short of amazing, as Jeff told me that in Western democracies, a turnout of more than 50% is already on the high side. I can only say that Filipinos remain passionate about the exercise of their democratic right, where for one day, every citizen whether rich or poor is entitled to one single vote. (Although in reality, moneyed politicians are still able to exercise market power by buying votes to perpetuate themselves in power.)

Their being westerners also invited media attention, who thought they were part of the foreign observers accredited by the Comelec. A DZLW reporter told me most of them went to the 1st Congressional district, to monitor the 'Abang' Mabulo-Dato Arroyo mano-a-mano. The local radio station of RGMA Campus Radio even interviewed them live over the radio via Papa Joe, a reporter covering Tabuco Central. Several minutes later, Joe was already complaining to his anchor -- "dinudugo" was the description I heard -- apparently running out of English.:)

If only we can rechannel this high level of public enthusiasm and engagement to productive pursuits and ends, our national democratic project will probably be able to yield positive dividends for our people. Rene Saguisag is right: this work is never done, especially in these difficult times.