Trekking through the election storm

‘The room, the gate, the hallway, the building – they all seemed to have shrunk in size and impact for me. Everything felt smaller.’

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MY YOUNGER brother and I arrived at a polling precinct in the Metro at around 6:15 in the morning on Monday, May 13. There weren’t many people yet. Laptops were placed on a long wooden table at the right wing of the elementary school building. Volunteers distributed pieces of paper where voters had to write their full name and birthday that served as references in determining their designated room numbers. It was smooth. I was hopeful and ecstatic because I’d get to practice my right to choose the future leaders of my beloved country, the Philippines.

Room 207. Cluster 404A. Second floor.

“Please prepare your ID if you have one with you,” one of the volunteers announced as he went out of the room, “it’s for easier processing.”

I checked my company ID inside my pocket with a blue lace. While I was waiting in line, I saw my name and my relatives’ names posted on the wall outside the classroom. I felt great that I was at the right location.

There were only eight of us waiting in line. I saw familiar faces: a former grade school teacher, a neighbor, an old classmate. It was as if I travelled back in time twenty years ago. The room, the gate, the hallway, the building – they all seemed to have shrunk in size and impact for me. Everything felt smaller.

After 2 minutes, the line started to move. The room had the capacity of taking in 12 voters simultaneously: 3 rows, 4 columns. Then, I presented my ID to the election officer.

Zenarosa, po,” I uttered. “Benre.

“Let’s check,” the officer said as she was scanning a binder with names in it. “There you are… please sign here, sir.”

And sign I did.

Like a dove that’s about to land on a pure, uncontaminated surface, I patiently examined the chamber and decided to sit at a corner at the lower right to avoid any distraction. I positioned the long folder to cover my ballot and I started to shade the small circle beside the name of my chosen candidates.

For senators, I only picked 5; for city councilors 2. I also voted for mayor and vice mayor and congressman and party list.

The marker wasn’t a regular ballpoint pen; it gave me an impression that it’s a pentel pen. The markings can be seen on the other side of the ballot. Is it normal? I asked myself. What if because of the intensity of the markings my votes become invalid?

It took me about 10 minutes to finish the whole selection process and scrutinize the ballot. But for some reason, my hands were shaking. I don’t know if it’s because of a cup of 3-in-1 coffee I sipped earlier that day, or it’s just because my whole being understands that what I was doing was so sacred and precious and crucial to nation-building and the fate of the future generation. That voting wasn’t a banal act, but if done solemnly can bring an enduring metamorphosis.

I carefully held the ballot with my two hands and headed towards the line for the Vote-Counting Machine (VCM). I made sure that the ballot didn’t have any fold or damage. But the voters who were ahead of me in the line experienced some troubles. The ballot of a man in his thirties was rejected by the VCM. The man tried to insert the ballot to the machine multiple times, but it wasn’t effective. Later they realized that his ballot was tainted with what looked like an ink at its top section that prevented the machine from accepting it. The officer told him that they’ll just take note of what happened in their minutes on a bond paper. Disheartened, the man hurriedly left. But they forgot to get his name.

Similar scenarios occurred to two other voters in the polling precinct. The VCM didn’t process their votes. Their ballots got stuck. It could be because of the quality of the paper, the other voters said. They speculated that the machine and the paper were incompatible. Receipts weren’t generated.

Frustration started to surface inside and outside the classroom. More and more people were arriving. We’re delayed. And people started to complain…

It’s around 6:40 AM. When it was my time to slip the ballot to the machine, I secretly prayed for my vote to be successfully read. I really wanted to cast my vote especially for party list. And it worked just fine. I reviewed the receipt and it showed the correct list of candidates I chose. I was grateful.

But it didn’t stop there.

While waiting outside the room for my brother to finish casting his vote, I saw senior citizens and PWDs going up and down the stairs.

“Lola, let me help you,” I told one of them. She was moving slowly, and it was evident that she was having a hard time. The episode pinched my heart.

 “Thank you, but I can manage,” she answered while going down one step at a time. She smiled at me. I let her be.

Weren’t the PWDs and senior citizens supposed to vote at the ground floor for it to be easier for them? Can you imagine being in their shoes at that moment? They just want to be active participants in our society. Why should we make it harder for them to do just that?

Later that day, I joined a party of passionate and vibrant trekkers and mountain climbers from Marikina City. I was on vacation leave. For 2 days and 1 night, we embarked on a journey towards Mt. Daraitan and Tinipak River in the heart of Sierra Madre in Tanay, Rizal. Most of the time during our trip, there was no mobile signal. I was clueless on what’s going in the elections. Ultimately, I turned off my phone.

On Tuesday night, while resting when I returned home, news and updates about the elections were everywhere.

As I dived deeper into the online conversations and headlines, three topics got my attention: “Ang bobo ng mga Pilipino”, “Nag-budots lang nanalo na?”, “Jejomar Binay fails to vote after ballot rejected by vote-counting machine.”

The third one brought me an epiphany. It was somehow similar to what happened to other voters in our precinct on the election day.

According to the Comelec’s resolution: “No replacement ballot shall be issued to a voter whose ballot is rejected by the VCM except if the rejection of the ballot is not due to the fault of the voter.” Clearly, it wasn’t the man’s fault that his ballot got rejected. He should have been issued a replacement ballot. But before he left, he wasn’t informed of this option. Definitely, there were lapses.

How about the defective SD cards? The substandard markers? And more importantly, the 7-hour delay in transmitting voting data into the transparency server?

If we want a more decent and impressive voter turnout in the next elections, the systems and processes we’re implementing should be revisited. We should also investigate the hardware and software we’re using and inquire if the budget allotted to the conduct of our elections is being spent to meet our ideals.

Filipinos deserve the best. If we want to elect the most deserving individuals in our midst for leadership positions and for the voting population to have greater confidence in our elections, the whole voting experience should be credible and dependable and transparent.

As of this writing, the partial and unofficial election results are at about 96%. We know we can do it faster and better. The glitches and maltreatment of some of our PWDs and senior citizens and below standard equipment are surmountable. Yes, our country’s facing so many trials. In order for us to spark real transformations and trek our way to the other side of the mountain, we should also go beyond ourselves and our expectations.

Every election symbolizes a new beginning, a revolutionary hope. Isn’t it intelligent and sensible to start change there?

This Is How You Lose Her In A Snap

‘Still, she’s beautiful. You wonder what her phone number is.’

IT STARTS with a silent stare. Yes, not on her, not on the one you’re in a relationship with, not on her eyes and lips and hair, not on the way she walks and carries her bag. It begins with the invasion of your heart of a foreign being you believe captures your imagination. What if I ask her out? What if I’m with her? Would I be happier? I’m tired of the current one. I’m bored. Is it time to move on? Her legs look great.

You tell yourself that it’s okay to look at the other woman passing along the streets. It isn’t the first time you see her. She’s on her way to work. Her attire says so. It’s a weekday anyway, and you’re just having coffee. It’s scorching hot. Earlier, your girl greeted you ‘Good morning, babe‘; you do not reply to her. Here you are about to pursue a new prospect. Everybody does that, you tell yourself. It’s as if you know every soul in the human population. You arrive at that generalization simply because it’s easier to justify what’s going on in your mind that way. The blank glimpse. Possibilities. You’re observing the world you’re in. It’s fascinating. Still, she’s beautiful. You wonder what her phone number is.

And you approach the stranger. Confidently. You’re wearing an enticing fragrance. It’s your lone chance. It might slip away, and you don’t want to have any regrets later.

You abandon your coffee you bought for two dollars. You tell her that she forgot something. She turns around and asks what it could be. There’s grin on your face, and you tell her the magic word: “Me.

Her face lights up to the novelty of the act. She finds it cute.

You ask her where she’s headed. For a moment, for the second time, in a span of minutes, you forget about your girl. You erase your vows, your promises, and the spirit contained in the inspired letters you wrote to win her years back. She was your dream then. Take note of ‘was.’

You go back to the current situation. The stranger smiles at you. She asks where you live, your work, your hobbies on weekends. You both love movies, but not just any movie. You love mystery films, investigative, those that oblige you to think. Your girl likes romantic – comedies. But you no longer care. It’s getting deeper.

There’s connection, a spark, or so you believe. You inquire about her number, and she willingly gives it you.

Where’s your phone?” she says.

Here it is,” you respond.

And you part ways. But, it doesn’t stop there.

For the next few months, you secretly communicate. The stranger and you. The other woman and you. Your girl follows the routine: cooks you breakfast, washes your clothes, and kisses you each morning and before you shut your eyes. These don’t mean anything to you anymore. Your body is with her, but your heart is trying to escape.

And escape you do. Little by little.

You no longer respond to your girl’s “I love you’s”. For you, her value depreciates every day you look at her. She senses it. She’s not dumb. She questions what’s going on. What’s wrong with me? What’s lacking? I’m educated and independent and intelligent, but again, am I not enough?

You think it’s okay to play around. Your girl confronts you, but you lie. Hundred times. Maybe thousands. You tell her that everything’s okay. You’re just tired from work. It’s your boss. Your colleagues. It’s the book. The series. The weather.

Until one day, your phone rings as it receives a new message. Curious, your girl unlocks it using your thumb. You’re still asleep. She reads the text message from the stranger. The sender is named ‘Babe.’ The text says, “I miss you.” She uncovers the truth. She scrolls the thread. It’s been going on for a long time. The puzzles in her mind vanish in an instant. You’re a cheater.

She sobs. Alone. In another room of your just furnished house.

She thinks of confronting you, of waking you up. She imagines hurting you physically and calling you a liar. But she chooses not to engage in such quarrel. She knows her worth and packs her things. She left.

You wake up with her no longer around. There is silence…

And weeks later, your fling with the other woman stops. There’s a simple misunderstanding, and she deserts you without any explanation. It’s miserable. While you’re in your room, the memories of your girl visit you. You ponder on her value in your life. But there’s nothing you can do about it now.

You never see her again.