Sunday, May 23, 2004

Quick Counts and the Elections

The world for the Filipino is all wrapped up in the drama unfolding with the election count.

The Sunday editorial of TODAY prods that Namfrel should complete its Quick Count and well as it should to provide a clear picture on which candidate actually won. However, the kind of implications that the piece puts forth should draw a stir from Namfrel people about how it really conducts its Quick Count. As a former volunteer, I am concerned over how the star of Namfrel has taken a bad hit.

While I have not been personally involved in this year's count (since I resigned from my post supporting Joe Concepcion and went to the Middle East late in March), such statements from the media denigrates the value of the work of the thousands of volunteers who put forth a massive effort to get the quick count going DESPITE the problems of Comelec officialdom and the massive confusion brought about on Election Day BECAUSE of Comelec failure to properly plan first, for automation, and then, switching back to the manual count.

1. The obvious strength and influence of surveys has again put into question what surveys are all about. For the better-informed, the science of surveys can be evaluated as to the quality of respondents (demographics), quality of survey-takers, construction and parameters of survey questions, and sample size. But to the viewing public, this is not well-understood. Media practitioners and of course political campaigners have their share of the blame why the survey issue as "trending" has been blown out of proportion.

Therefore, it is the selfsame media practitioners and established social scientists who should point out the fact that surveys are just tools. They are merely indicators and are not oracles.

What does this have to do with Namfrel? Everything and nothing. All Namfrel does is a parallel count. Volunteers get their results from the copies of the election returns. IF THE OFFICIAL COUNT is slow or delayed, definitely Namfrel's job is slowed. Bad weather and poor logistics slowed the count, while the new "matched-pair" system was done in by:

a) Delayed, and grudging accreditation by the Comelec, which hurt the usual timetable of Namfrel to organize and properly train volunteers
b) Technical difficulties encountered by the system during the first days of counting
c) Difficulties with securing ERs because BEIs refused to cooperate with Namfrel or gave the designated copy to other parties.

As to c), this has been nothing new since the Comelec historically has never had a good relationship with Namfrel. More on this later.

2. I have had both the privilege and the difficulty to have known Mr. Joe Concepcion for almost seven years and working directly with him for about four. The good man has been misunderstood and reviled for so many years. I cannot claim to defend him or vouch for him, because he has often shot himself in the foot with the way he talks (and acts). He has also on occasion, because of his willingness to help or get involved with the community, oversubscribed beyond his capacity to deliver on commitments. He has unfortunately shown that his politics are inconsistent (riding on the barometer of the occupant of MalacaƱang), and even more unfortunately, he has been associated with Mrs. Arroyo being her former boss at DTI.
However, he has been consistent in one thing: the nonpartisanship of Namfrel. Without the bullheadedness and determination of Mr. Concepcion, Namfrel would not have reached its current level. The organization has been trusted to serve in election-monitoring activities in 27 countries. That is the kind of integrity that cannot be lightly questioned.

Whatever the faults of Mr. Concepcion or of Bill Luz and MBC, they have not compromised on that, and have taken even greater pains to do so because of suspicions over their politics. I have had ideological disagreements with my ex-boss and sometimes with his attitude and methods, but he is solid on this point (which sometimes, again, hurts him more than helps).

The tragedy is that the times have created an air of cynicism that has tarnished the high ideals of volunteerism. Namfrel, thankfully, has not moved with the times in this respect. Public knowledge and approval of Namfrel, because of this cynicism, has noticeably declined, which is a shame.

3. Namfrel did not sign up for pollwatching activities because it has already recognized PPCRV as the primary pollwatching organization. I somewhat have to disagree over the declaration that "there has been no deliberate, massive organized cheating" by Mr. Concepcion but then again, why allege fraud if there has been no hard proof? Proof must be presented by those who allege cheating.

I have to agree that the energy of Namfrel in going after fraud has been a question mark. If there is a chink in the armor of Namfrel's integrity, is its current lack of alacrity (or perhaps resources) in the 2004 elections to go after electoral fraud.

4. I agree shutting down the OQC is a bit premature when there is less than 60% of the quick count completed. Moving the count to RFM must have its own attendant accessibility to media and the public at large. Whether Namfrel has adequate preparations for this I am not aware. If not, it has just given itself a mortal PR wound. It will never live down this kind of shot at its public image.

5. After all has been said and done, Comelec must take the blame for the difficulties in these elections. The Commissioners must be brought to account for the failure of the voter validation/registration, the generation of the voters' lists, and most especially, the way public money has been used on a failed and flawed automation project. If I were in Namfrel's shoes, prudent distancing from the Comelec should start NOW.

The Comelec-Namfrel relationship has been by and large a difficult one, as I think it should be. The raison d'etre of a Namfrel or similar EMO always brings into issue the efficiency, impartiality, and integrity of Comelec and our system of conducting elections. If the Comelec had a reputation for performance, what use Namfrel?

Part of the political maturing for us, methinks, is the evolution of demanding more from our electoral system. More than anything else, it is to safeguard the principle of "one-citizen, one-vote." There is more than enough reason to doubt its applicability for the Philippines, but that is another story.

6. No comment on the Brother Eddie thing. If the man has proof he has been cheated, he had better put his case together carefully but quickly. The window of opportunity for public perception to swing in his favor is fast closing.

Now to the editorial:

That’s what Namfrel chairman Jose Concepcion and his executive director Guillermo Luz will be -- criminals -- if they stop, before counting the very last vote out there, the Namfrel so-called quick count that seems less like it will take forever than that it is taking its sweet time until it gets returns it likes as opposed to those it fears.

Concepcion has made noises that Namfrel will stop its count at something like 75 percent -- and that in a baby’s butt-tight race where the remaining 25 percent definitely holds the secret of the true winner. And all the more so since Namfrel did not count the votes as they came but rather, it seems (and why are we not surprised?), as it felt like it. “Nope, not that batch; yup, that batch from Western Visayas. Nope, not those from Eastern Visayas, and, for God’s sake, not from that part of Mindanao. Give us rather those from Bukidnon.”

With that kind of suspected selectivity, Namfrel cannot arbitrarily stop a quick count it had the temerity to insist had to be exclusive -- fiercelessly and dishonestly battling and finally frustrating with the help of the Supreme Court the Comelec’s own proposed quick count, together with that of the now-gagged ABC 5. That second quick count would have swiftly put out a tentative total of the votes that would have deterred further cheating in the tallies and headed off at the pass the next stage of electoral fraud; to wit, the outright purchase of fresh certificates of canvass that are, for all intents and purposes, fraudulent originals.

But in fact, Namfrel has already folded its tent at La Salle Greenhills as of 12 noon Saturday, on the specious reasoning that its agreement with the Christian Brothers had expired. What about an extension? It’s not like La Salle has any use for the gym in the next two to four weeks; in fact until June 30, when the president and vice president will have been proclaimed, or the Senate president will finally taste the office however briefly. One utterly vivacious TV talk show host confidently declared that Namfrel is composed of people of integrity. Hahahahaha. Once perhaps, but people change -- and always for the worse.

In 1992, Namfrel was suspected of cooking the count to prevent the election of someone its members regarded as a lunatic. In 1998, with a landslide victory for the patently “unfit” winner, Namfrel did not stir. In fact, no one did, not even the losing administration candidate, because it was just so hopeless to even try to change the result. But now, in a race so tight that not a sliver of light seems able to slip through and it almost seems as if there isn’t the narrowest gap between the two candidates, it is imperative for Namfrel to finish what it started. And prevented Comelec and ABC-5 from doing parallel with it.

Given the fact that Namfrel’s credibility has been dented, the election watchdog must not only complete the count but do it in the open, in full view of the media and, more importantly, since the media have shown themselves to be biased and buyable, the opposition. If Namfrel does anything less than finish counting the very last vote -- whether faked or purchased -- our title would be fully justified.

Was it Namfrel executive director Bill Luz who said that the Namfrel volunteers are tired? But of what? Having taken their sweet time, why should they feel so harried? No, they have the energy to finish the count; unless they are saving it to save their hides if an ugly truth comes out. Sorry, boys, back to the bean counters.

Hang in there
Brother Eddie Villanueva, the charismatic preacher whose surprising ability to attract millions to his presidential candidacy was manifested in humongous crowds before the Quirino Grandstand that twice stunned his politically astute rivals and the jaded media, is under siege. He is obviously the target of a demolition campaign to force him to do what his conscience, not to mention good taste, forbids -- concede a race whose true outcome is still in doubt because of the methodical confusion of the elections and widespread allegations of rampant fraud that must be addressed first.

The attacks have gone so far below the belt that at least the latest one must have bruised Villanueva’s gonads. A patently planted or outright invented story in the press had it that several leaders of the Jesus Is Lord ministry are shunning him now because of his “irrational” decision not to concede. The Iscariots in his camp are said to be whispering it about that “something is wrong with the Master” because he must be hearing voices telling him not to concede when “he’s just a poor fourth” and not even the second placer. Excuse us, but no one at this point even knows who is the real second placer.

The story was pure invention, of course; Brother Eddie reiterated he is not conceding, citing as authority for his decision the painful patriotism of hanging in there to tease out the hard truth. Like Ping Lacson, he does not want to open the floodgates to more cheating by stepping aside for it.

For anyone to suggest, especially from the mouths of invented characters in a story that is pure fiction, that it is more Christian to concede than to stand by principle is to pose the proposition that Jesus should have listened to the Devil and let the cup of self-sacrifice pass from his lips. But if He did that, this season’s great movie of that passed-up crucifixion would not be called The Passion but The Fashion because he will have surrendered to the time.

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