Philippine Elections to Go Forward, Despite Computer Glitch

Story tools

A A AResize



Editor’s Note: On May 7, the Philippines’ Commission on Elections (COMELEC) officially stated that the presidential elections will go forward on May 10, despite a technical malfunction just this week with computerized voting machines, which are being used in a Philippine election for the very first time.

New America Media’s Odette Keeley sat down with ABS-CBN International-The Filipino Channel’s news bureau chief Regina Reyes, who supervises production of the station's nightly newscast "Balitang America [News From America]." Reyes explains why Filipino voters, including Filipino Americans who filed their ballots in consulates all over the U.S. don’t want the elections to be postponed.

Keeley: Regina, this is first time that the Philippines will be conducting its presidential elections using a national computerized system. Aside from the initial doubts, on May 5, there were widespread reports of a serious technical glitch that prompted discussions of a possible postponement of the May 10 elections. What is now the official position of the Philippines' Commission on Elections on the issue?

Regina Reyes: The Commission on Elections has recognized that postponing the elections is not an option. When the glitches took place, it was caused by the non- configuration of the flash cards with the corresponding Precinct Count Optical Scan [PCOS] machines. They sent out 76,000 flash cards to supposedly correspond with 76,000 plus counting machines, and they did not configure them. So they were forced to recall them. You can imagine how difficult it was in many provinces to do that. So they recalled those flash cards, replaced and retested them, and they’re supposed to be resealing the counting machines. Smartmatic, the supplier of the automated machines was given until May 7 to finish everything and ensure that the elections would push through. The glitch that took place this week definitely further eroded the public’s confidence in the conduct of the automated polls. Now you read all sorts of speculations about failure of elections.

What are you hearing from your viewers of “Balitang America” and from Filipino American community leaders about the idea of postponing the elections?

The consensus is no postponement of the May 10 elections. They cannot accept the possibility of even a few days of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo staying in power because that would be the offshoot of the postponement of elections and there would be no proclamation on June 30. So there is a sense of urgency about this whole exercise. This is also the reason why many voters, including Filipino Americans feel that this is “make or break” for the Filipino people.

Why is this year’s Philippine presidential elections such a turning point for the Filipino people including the diaspora in the United States?

In my interviews with Filipinos here and in the Philippines, it is really the sense of disgust and disgruntlement with the current administration. President Arroyo’s administration has turned out to be the most unpopular since Marcos. It didn’t help that it was racked by scandal after scandal over the years. In 2004, she was accused of rigging the results of the elections. Later on, another big corruption accusation was hurled against her with the NBN broadband deal. This was supposed to be a contract that was disadvantageous to the government, but was pursued because of the First Gentleman and President Arroyo’s alleged ties with the Chinese company involved. It was later scrapped, but not until the [Phil.] Senate did an extensive investigation. So there has been a lot of dissatisfaction with the Arroyo administration. The death of Cory Aquino was also a catalyst. They were reminded of how Mrs. Aquino presided over the country during that difficult period from 1986-1992. There were obviously some comparisons that came out between Mrs. Aquino and Mrs. Arroyo. They had a falling out as well, because Mrs. Aquino called for Mrs. Arroyo’s resignation as a result of the NBN scandal. So all of these events resulted in the people desperately wanting and needing a change in leadership.

You mentioned former President Aquino, whose son Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III is one of the front runners for this presidential race. Let’s talk about these frontrunners - who are they and what do we need to know about them?

In the Philippines, Noynoy Aquino has pulled away from the pack. He has hit more than 40% in the latest Social Weather Station [SWS]- Business World poll. But Noynoy Aquino was not even in the running until his mother died. As a result of Cory Aquino’s passing, there were groups who felt an affinity to the days of the Aquino administration. They remembered how good she was. That she was not corrupt. That she was a simple housewife who became the president of a very fractured country at that time. At this point, many believe that that’s all the country needs: an honest leader. Someone who has moral authority and will not steal from the government coffers. This is the reason Noynoy Aquino pulled away in the surveys. He is really running on his parents’ legacy. Even his supporters know that. But to them, this is what the country needs at this point. He is the moral choice. His campaign has portrayed this election season to be a battle between good and evil.

Your daily newscast has been running online surveys of your viewers’ choice among the Phil. Presidential candidates. What has been the trend so far?

I would like to clarify that our poll is informal. It’s not scientific at all. It’s something we put up on our website just to find out what our viewers and our web site users think. Noynoy Aquino is the runaway winner in our poll. He scored more than 50% in this informal survey. Gilberto Teodoro is in second place, third is Manny Villar, fourth is Richard Gordon, then Eddie Villanueva, and former president Joseph Estrada is in the bottom of the top six. In the Philippines, 2nd placers are Villar and Estrada. However, in the San Francisco Bay area and Southern California, it would seem there are only two candidates running: Aquino and Villar. If you look at the candidates’ supporters, it would seem like it’s really a battle between Noynoy and Villar, because they are really passionate. They really go all out in support of their candidate. They wear the the yellow [pro-Noynoy Aquino] and orange [pro-Manny Villar] t-shirts. When they participated in our town hall, they sought a permit from the county in Daly City to have a motorcade. The Noynoy supporters were equally boisterous and noisy. I think Noynoy is strong in the U.S. because of Cory Aquino. The older generation of Filipino Americans were here during Marcos’ time. They fought the dictatorship in their own way here.

Have these presidential candidates expressed their positions on fighting for issues concerning Filipino Americans and also their position on U.S.-Philippine relations?

That has not really been explored. They all vow to work for the Philippine interests in its relations with the U.S. and other countries. Every Filipino president has wanted to have a very strong relationship with America. The U.S. is also sending an observer team to the Philippines to observe and monitor the elections, by way of the NDI, the National Democratic Institute.

How do Filipino Americans qualify to participate in Philippine elections as absentee voters?

First, they have to be Filipino citizens. If you’re an American citizen now, you can just take your oath as a dual citizen and you can register as an absentee voter.

The Philippine presidential election in May 2004 was when the Overseas Absentee Voting law took effect. At that time, you had to go personally to the consulate to cast your vote. In 2007, they modified it and allowed postal voting. So it’s easier now, but a lot of people are still not aware that it’s easy. To register, you have to go to the Philippine consulate or the embassy and we don’t have that many here in the U.S.

What do you think is the role of your newscast and The Filipino Channel, as well as all of the Filipino-American news media in highlighting the significance of the 2010 elections to a U.S. audience?

We tried our hardest to make them feel how important it was. Even when there are no elections, we talk about issues that affect Filipinos in the Philippines and here. It is disheartening that we weren’t able to influence enough to register as overseas absentee voters. I don’t know if it was a function of media or government that contributed to the dismal number of overseas absentee voters. I remember that the advocates of this law, when they pushed for this, thought that this would be the swing vote. The overseas vote would be the swing vote that would make an impact in the election results. It hasn’t happened yet, and I don’t think that it will happen in these elections. However, I would like to think that “Balitang America” and The Filipino Channel did its part in making Filipino Americans aware of what is happening in the country, why this is important, why they have to be involved, and why even if they are not voters, why they have to tell their relatives to go out and vote. To many people, this is make or break for the homeland.

Odette Keeley is host and executive producer of "New America Now", New America Media's TV program airing on COMCAST HOMETOWN NETWORK - CHN 104 & COMCAST ON DEMAND. She also hosts "Stories from New America Media" on "New America Now", NAM's radio show airing on 91.7 FM KALW. Min Lee is a content producer for YO! Youth Outlook and NAM. Andrew Berry, NAM radio group's intern, helped transcribe this interview.

ABS-CBN International, based in Redwood City, CA, launched its core product, TFC - The Filipino Channel, in 1994. Distributed by major cable operators as well as satellite operators, TFC has over 200,000 Filipino and Filipino-American subscribers viewing the Tagalog & English-language premium programming service in North America.