MAY 10, 2004 election was the first electoral exercise under the 1987
Constitution to see an incumbent President running for President.
This unique circumstance made the 2004 polls one of the most controversial
and closely watched events in Philippine political history. Unfortunately,
that also made it extremely divisive.
The polarization of the 2004 polls weakened democracy in this country
by spawning fiercely partisan passions in the voting public. These
passions led a portion of the population to question the results
of the elections, thereby slowing down the post-election return
to national unity, to the detriment of the national welfare.
While the divisiveness of the polls was perhaps inevitable, the
misgivings regarding the electoral process and its outcome, which
now impedes efforts at political reconciliation and adversely impacts
on government's ability to undertake actions urgently needed to
protect the national welfare, could have easily been avoided. The
rejection of election results by some quarters is rooted in their
distrust of the processes by which those results were arrived at.
Everything, from the acts of Boards of Election Inspectors, to the
delay in the transporting of Election Returns, to the accuracy of
those same Election Returns, is being questioned. But at bottom,
the common source of doubt is the belief that the election administrators
somehow manipulated the reporting of the election outcome, and that
delay made such malfeasance possible.
Leaving aside the question of whether delayed and flawed reporting
— either intentional or by reason of sheer inadvertence — was to
such an extent that it significantly affected the outcome of the
elections, the distrust of the system would have been drastically
minimized had the electoral system been allowed to evolve from a
state of total dependence on the intervention of human administrators
to one of minimized human intervention, and maximized mechanical
efficiency and precision.
Allowing such an evolution to take place would have mitigated the
ill effects of political polarization by making it easier to accept
the results of the elections. It would have removed the suspicions
engendered by long delays in the reporting of election results,
it would have removed those nagging questions and uncertainties
about the accuracy of the vote-count, and it would have greatly
strengthened democracy by placing the outcome of the polls squarely
beyond all reasonable doubt.
of Election Inspectors members
Despite the discontent of some sectors with the conduct of the
polls — a discontent which, in some cases, stems from unfavorable
outcomes — there is a widely held consensus that the elections of
May 2004 were peaceful and orderly, and that the conduct of the
canvassing was speedier than in many previous elections. In fact,
we were able to proclaim all but one winning Senatorial candidates
after only 10 days of National Canvassing.
The relative success of the 2004 polls is all the sweeter because
it disproved the many gloom-and-doom predictions that attended the
electoral exercise. With less time on our hands than ever before,
the Comelec was able to manage a drastic turn-about from automated
elections to jump-start preparations for a manual election.
In large part, this was due to the flexibility of the Comelec's
election planning and preparation procedures. To begin with, the
Commission created several working Committees that were tasked to
oversee preparations relative to the eight vital components of elections.
In the beginning, these Committees were all geared towards automated
elections. The plans that were being drawn up were specifically
tailor-fitted for the unique requirements of deploying Automated
Counting Machines (ACMs), setting up Automated Counting and Canvassing
Centers, and training field personnel in the complexities of the
new procedures to be adopted for the automated system.
However, these plans — while customized for automated elections
— were based on fundamental considerations of efficiency and practicality
that would remain true whatever form the election took. Thus, when
the Supreme Court made it impossible to automate the elections,
the Comelec was not caught flat footed and was able to re-draw its
plans, adjust its timetables, and adapt automated election procedures
to the demands of manual elections.