2010 elections automation: three takes from civil society

With the Senate and Congress of the same mind for 2010 elections’ automation, with the considerable prodding from the Commission on Elections, it seems there’s no stopping government to finally give flesh to the dream of fully automated elections.

It’s interesting to note that the majority of the Senate has faced an unrelenting opponent in the person of Senator Chiz Escudero. He said no to the proposed supplemental budget as he saw a ghost of the 1.3-billion-peso Mega Pacific scandal in that move.

But what’s much more interesting to note is the fact that three civil society networks have surprisingly taken different positions on the issue of 2010 polls automation.

Kaya Natin! A National Movement for Good Governance and Ethical Leadership is for the automation as the COMELEC has pushed it. Its leaders believe that the planned automation will minimize fraud, cheating, and human error. It will also allow Filipino people to know the election results faster.

The Alternative Budget Initiative (ABI), led by the Social Watch Philippines, is against the automation not for its demerits but for the technicality of and politics behind the move. ABI finds irony in the fact that government is working on the supplemental budget for the automation when the budget for 2009 has yet to be signed by President Arroyo. ABI goes on to say, through the words of Rene Raya of the Action for Economic Reforms (AER): “President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has certified the budget on poll automation as ‘very urgent’, yet the loss of lives, loss of opportunities, more hunger and more poverty caused by the delay in the delivery of social services due to the late implementation of the 2009 budget should be most urgent.” is as critical as ABI but more focused on the technology and software involved. It noted that the Senate approval will not lead to a bicameral process but instead to the Executive level to implement the approved budget. On the technology and software side, doubted the openness of the system to be developed (Precinct Count Optical Scan), which will be proprietary, thus, closed-source, much less vendor-driven.

As an alternative, the Open Election System (OES) is being promoted as it is built around open source model, meaning that its source code is open to public scrutiny and that public may have access to election results as it wishes. Moreover, OES is pushed not under a fully automated system, since the  organization sees it as combining manual voting and tallying and automated canvassing.

It is clear that the civil society has not come up with a common stand except perhaps that it is not actually against automation of elections. Unless all three organizations come together and get down to the brass tacks of the issue, at the end of the day, only Kaya Natin! will “win”.

Just my two cents’ worth, I find the stance of Kaya Natin! sounding naive. It’s as if automation under the current system not meeting the prerequisites will be a true success in the end. Moreover, I do empathize with ABI for its pro-poor stance. But I’m more inclined to support given my advocacy for free and open source software (FOSS). I’m for social justice and software justice and they are related.

Support popular protest in Burma!

The writing on the wall says that Burma is on its way to achieving real freedom from military dictatorship. More and more Burmese people have joined over 30,000 monks who are in the forefront of the march since Monday. This has ushered in the groundswell of the movement that opposes the current form of government in Burma, which has not done any to address the country’s chronic problems of poverty, lack of access to basic social services, and the general feeling of insecurity in the society.

As of this writing, there are already over 100,000 protesters. And people remain unfazed despite the draconian curfew rule that the government has just promulgated. (See Yahoo! News slideshow on Myanmar protests.)

The Burmese people need our help. Let’s pray for the success of their cause, that there may be no bloodshed as a result of government’s counter-pressure to stop them. Let’s also sign up to two online petitions that are targetted to gather support from the world and to pressure other governments and the UN Security Council to intervene in the seemingly insurmountable political crisis in Burma:

An appeal to the UN Security Council to protect the people of Burma

Stand with the Burmese Protesters

Let’s prod all our fellow bloggers and online loved ones and friends to do the same: Pray for the safety and success of the Burmese protesters and sign the online petitions.

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Wanted: ‘Rural poor’ journalists

This year’s Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature and Creative Communications goes to Mr. Palagummi Sainath, an Indian reporter in his early 50s so honored for his 14-year devotion to covering stories of India’s rural poor amidst and despite the “corporatization” of mass media.

I was amazed by his profile. Like Jesus Christ led by the Spirit into the wilderness and tempted by the devil for 40 days, Jesuits-educated Sainath manages to live in the rural areas of India for about 300 days a year and produce journalistic stories that highlight the struggles of the rural poor as well as ironies in the countryside arising from the globalization that has hounded the country.

With his flair and commitment, Sainath warded off the temptations by the corporate media. He chose not to raise funds from government and other entities with vested interests and instead use his income from writing to continue writing for and about the rural poor.

Sainath could be characterized as the product of the souls and minds of Gandhi, Nehru, Thomas Paine, and Jesus Christ. Their common traits are dissidence, sacrifice, and perseverance. They would rather not conform to the realities that perpetuate inequality and inequity; they would go out on a limb and attempt to change them. To do it, they would stick it out even though it means putting their lives at risk.

I would consider Sainath as a leader then. Because leaders have been there before us; they blazed the trail for us to follow. They have the moral high ground. They do inspire. They do galvanize actions. Sainath deserves to be an icon for journalists who want to be identified with the poor. His exemplary life must prick the conscience of those who have hopelessly bowed to the corporate interests.

Karl Marx said that “philosophers have interpreted the world; the point is to change it.” Noam Chomsky interpreted the evils of the corporate media. Sainath has worked to fight those. Mainstream journalists would believe that there is something wrong in society but do not have guts and wherewithal to right that wrong. Sainath is one of the few that struggle righting that wrong.

Thanks to Yvonne Chua for covering Sainath. A progressive journalist herself, she did justice in describing a foreign journalist that must stir, if not revive, a discourse in the Philippine journalism: Has Philippine journalism become not of the masses but of “the stakeholders”, to quote Sainath’s words?

Sainath is here to pose a challenge to the progressive journalists in underdeveloped and developing countries, whether they are in the mainstream or in “indiestream”: In this globalized world, can we become journalists of the rural poor? Bloggers are no exempted from this challenge. I am not, either. This blog of mine runs a pot pourri of social and political topics, but admittedly, I post a very few entries about the rural poor struggles and rural ironies. I have blogged about the difficulties faced by peasants before the opponents of land reform but I feel that it is not enough. I feel that I need to be infused with some blood of Sainath to be able to draw a more realistic picture of the rural realities.

To try to bring rural poor struggles in the front pages, engaging the mainstream media through feedbacks (through letters to the editor) and “working” with them (through media briefings, press conferences and press releases) is not enough. The greater challenge is how to produce and maintain “Sainathans” in this nation of ironies. Nevertheless, I’m beginning to sound optimistic as Sainath. Who knows, if we, social activists, continue to be dissident, selfless, and persevering, chances are journalists of the rural poor will be born in our midst.

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When meeting agenda becomes a recipe for shit

In my meeting yesterday, I witnessed how shit was going to happen. The meeting went on smoothly. But when the facilitator was already calling for the adjournment, a participant raised his voice and called everyone’s attention. In an emphatic tone, he said that there were problems not brought up by the head of staff. He provided everyone with a paper containing all problems and concerns that he talked about in general. In summary, the paper points out questions on accountability, processes, staff representation, among others.

Based on the actual agenda of the meeting, and the way this was discussed and acted upon by the meeting’s participants, there was a sense that the organization is proceeding in the right track, despite the need to raise more funds to keep it going. Until that pal stood up as if he was spoiling the party. Most of the members questioned the way he raised the issues in that he failed to come up with clearly written arguments and actions requested. I hope that aside from that technicality or ethical issue, they learned two things: a. Not all agenda cannot be accepted as a working snapshot of the reality, so the meeting participants must be critical and inquisitive as to the real score and b. “Other matters” must be a constant item to provide more space for urgent and important stuff not included in the preset items.

That situation reminded me of “The Plan” story:

In the beginning was the Plan. And then came the Assumptions.
And the Assumptions were without form. And the Plan was without substance.

And darkness was upon the face of the Workers.

And they spoke amongst themselves, saying:
“It is a crock of shit, and it stinketh.”

And the workers went unto their Supervisors and said:
“It is a pail of dung, and none may abide the odor thereof.”

And the Supervisors went unto their Managers, saying:
“It is a container of excrement, and it is very strong,
such that none may abide by it.”

And the Managers went unto their Directors, saying:
“It is a vessel of fertilizer, and none may abide its strength.”

And the Directors spoke amongst themselves, saying to one another:
“It contains that which aids plant growth, and it is very powerful.”

And the Vice Presidents went unto the President, saying unto him:
“This new plan will actively promote the growth and vigor of the
company, with powerful effects.”

And the President looked upon the Plan, and saw that it was good.

And the Plan became Policy.

This is how shit happens.

Civil society organizations are no different from government as far as decision-making process is concerned. We’ve been critical of the way government is crafting its development agenda, yet we tend to formulate meeting agenda that do not capture or address the real situation. And we’re not even speaking here of our own development agenda.

To avoid shit like that to happen, there is really a need to fiscalize the process of decision-making at the top level, to make sure that the voice of every affected stakeholder is heard and considered. This is easier said than done, I’m sure. But there are ways that attempt to address that. One is to broaden or create a mechanism aside from a management committee so that staff concerns are really addressed.

What else would you suggest?

Missing, discrepant information mark May 14 elections, says HALAL report

Did we have honest, orderly and peaceful elections last May 14, 2007? There’s no formal answer from the COMELEC but a brazen assessment by the Philippine National Police, which claimed that the elections were generally peaceful amidst elections-related killings that amounted to over 100.

Despite countless reports of irregularities in the elections, it is either impossible or very excruciatingly expensive to pursue a legal case. Politics gets in the way.

But how about statistical findings based on reports by government as well as the citizens? Can they be used instead as a way to put the message across to the policy-makers and policy implementers?

Halalang Marangal (HALAL), an election watchdog established this year (or last?), has come up with a latest report based on its audit of the May 14 election results from the precinct level to the national level. Citizen volunteers as well as civil society groups pitched in their energies to make the study and report possible.

The purpose of the audit was to detect anomalies in the conduct of the elections based on the Certificates of Canvass (COVs), which consolidate the precinct-level results into the municipal level, and Statements of Votes (SOVs), which detail election results at the precinct level.

Eight indicators were used by the audit, namely:

  1. Incompletely filled up election reports. The number of voters who actually voted and the number of precincts canvassed are statistical padlocks. Accepting or submitting reports with these information missing is like accepting or submitting ballot boxes with missing padlocks.
  2. Voter turnout (number of voters who actually voted divided by the number of registered voters). Very high turnouts (>90%) are abnormal and probably anomalous.
  3. Ballot fill up rate (total votes for senator divided by the number of voters who actually voted). A ballot fill up rate higher than 12 is statistically impossible.
  4. Percentage share of the number of voters who voted (votes for a candidate divided by the number of voters who actually voted). Anything higher than 100% is statistically impossible.
  5. Discrepancy in rankings. When Comelec and Namfrel figures are compared, a big change in ranking within the same province is indicative of irregularity or unintentional error in the canvassing.
  6. Discrepancy in the percentage share of votes (number of votes for a candidate divided by the total votes for senator). The Comelec and Namfrel values should be close to each other.
  7. Discrepancy between the average votes per precinct (votes obtained divided by the number of ERs canvassed) in the Comelec tally and the Namfrel AVP.
  8. The Comelec votes are lower than their Namfrel counterpart though the Comelec tally is already complete. This statistically impossible situation, which was quite common in the 2007 elections especially among the minor candidates, may be due to vote-shaving.

Based on these indicators, the report lists 10 findings, to wit:

  1. The Comelec showed laxity bordering on negligence/incompetence in accepting COCs/SOVs with essential information missing — the number of precincts tallied and/or the number of voters who actually voted.
  2. Statistical and circumstantial evidence indicated that the Maguindanao results were fraudulent.
  3. Maguindanao and Sharif Kabunsuan showed abnormally high voter turnouts.
  4. Quezon City, Mandaluyong, Pasig, Paranaque and six towns of Maguindanao showed statistically impossible (>12) ballot fill-up rates.
  5. Significant differences in rankings between Comelec and Namfrel results suggest anomalous results in twelve provinces and cities.
  6. Compared to 2004, vote discrepancies in 2007 between Comelec and Namfrel were lower in 25 provinces/cities including some ARMM provinces, but higher in 73 provinces/cities.
  7. The ten biggest net gainers from the discrepancies were Recto, Villar, Zubiri, Escudero, Pangilinan, Pichay, Defensor, Sotto, Arroyo, and Singson, in that order.
  8. The biggest loser was Kiram, who lost votes even in his home region ARMM as well as in other provinces where his TU partymates gained votes.
  9. The votes for minor candidates (Kapatiran, KBL and Cantal) were shaved nationwide.
  10. Among the major candidates, the other big losers from the discrepancies were Aquino, Montano, Osmena and Coseteng.

Government may not heed this report by HALAL. But the citizenry, civil society groups, and their international communities be enlightened. Our collective education on the realities lead to collective responses, a material force to bring about concrete changes in the way policies are crafted and implemented.

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