Friday, March 13, 2009

From elections to nat’l transformation

My long-time friend, Nonoy, who left the Philippines for greener pastures in the US after Edsa II, sent me an e-mail a few days ago, involving an article of David Leonhardt on a research paper made 16 years ago by noted economists George Akerlof and Paul Romer. In it, a case was made that several financial crises of the 1980s, like the Texas real estate bust, resulted from private investors borrowing huge sums, extending reckless loans, making risky investments while reaping big profits in good times, and then leaving the predictable losses for government to salvage later on. They wrote: “The investors acted as if future losses were somebody else’s problem.” And they were right! 

That paper was prescient in describing exactly what the present collapse of the western financial system has wrought, which is dragging the rest of the world except for Asian countries like China that are resisting this western contagion. 

Fast-forward to today’s financial looting in the US , Professor Noriel Roubini declares, “The process of socialising the private losses from this crisis has already moved many liabilities of the private sector onto the books of the sovereign. At some point a sovereign bank may crack, in which case the ability of the government to credibly commit to act as a backstop for the financial system--including deposit guarantees--could come unglued.” 

My friend Nonoy has made plans to come back home to Manila within the year as his entire family hates everything about the US right now. Although he had decided about it much earlier, even before the fall of Bear Stearns, Lehman’s and AIG, the collapse just strengthened his resolve. 

Nonoy’s experience reminds me of my advice to my family: Not to run away from our problems but to solve them; not to seek the clean, manicured roads and parks of the Mall of America but to someday make our own “Philippine Public Mall” at the heart of our Metropolis--that is, after we junk the corrupt elite of this society for better national leadership. 

Nonoy, like many other Filipinos, is looking forward to the 2010 elections. But with the unresolved questions about the integrity of our Comelec commissioners, more so the Automated Elections System (AES) pushed by its chairman, and his inability to assure the integrity of the elections--arguing that he has no control over many factors, it is now highly doubtful if the 2010 elections will produce credible results that will reflect the wisdom of the Filipino people. 
Systems expert Manuel Alcuaz raised important arguments about Melo’s AES: It is 10 times more expensive than the Abalos P1.5-billion voting system; plus, it won’t work. The shading of small circles in place of the writing of candidates’ names alone already makes the manufacture of pre-filled, fraudulent ballots 15 times faster, and there is no longer any verifiability since any handwriting by which we can compare and expose multiple ballot-fillings by one hand will be non-existent. 

As yet, the Comelec has not instituted any audit procedures for these machines. While it boasts that its voting machines will photograph each ballot for security purposes, this merely increases the cost and eliminates for consideration other machines that do not carry this superfluous feature. 

Since election returns (ERs) are read and canvassed before hundreds of watchers in the old manual system, with this proposed electronic mode of transmission, the integrity of ERs is not assured at all. 

Furthermore, the Comelec does not provide for transparency and accountability in its electronic transmissions to the municipal level or in its provincial certificates of canvass (COCs) to the national canvassers. It merely claims that national results will be known in 3 to 4 days. But isn’t it more important to gauge whether those results are true or not? 

Alcuaz concludes: “In Comelec we trust? Don’t. We will suffer a double whammy! More than P10 billion will be wasted and rampant electronic dagdag-bawas may take place.” 

Another computer expert, Obet Versola, says: “Automated election systems tend to be much less transparent than manual systems… Errors continue to persist… (and) automation does not address the root causes of electoral fraud… (In) the US for example, citizens are becoming increasingly concerned about the trustworthiness of voting machines and their results.” 

Versola thus prescribes a double entry tabulation for both automated and manual elections, where the number of allocated ballots is listed in one column, and cast, unused, spoiled, and missing ballots in another, with all the totals of the left and right columns having to match. 

Such advice, unfortunately, won’t matter, given Comelec’s attitude of shunning experts with a track record of integrity and reliability, along with its arbitrariness--as seen in its unilateral advancement of the date for the filing of candidacies (which everyone sees as a move to bar the possible run of President Joseph Estrada). 

What’s worse: The flaws of Melo’s machines are so obvious that some believe they’re designed to lead to a failure of elections upon which Gloria Arroyo will declare for herself a transition government. 

I still don’t know what to tell Nonoy about his hopes for this country. There’s no guarantee that life will smell of sampaguitas when he comes back, but I will be together with him in his sufferings, just as I hope that he too will join those who are striving for genuine change. The year 2010 is merely a tactical situation toward our strategic goal of “The Last Revolution.” To lay the groundwork, we must continue to expand the awareness of both the middle class and the masa about the people’s struggle versus the oligarchy, and of our need to install a populist, nationalist leadership for the reconstruction of society, for the “cooperativization” of our nation’s wealth, and for the democratization of power. 

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