Waking time was at four – a couple of hours earlier than usual. It was supposed to be a typical Monday on a hot summer vacation except that it was not so typical at all. As roosters crowed their hearts out for the gathering daybreak, a teacher had just packed a bag of supplies intended for the day. While others were still snoozing, curled in fetal position, she went out of the house at quarter before five, armed with a powerful resolve of a soldier who was about to march into battle. It was a day to answer a call of duty by serving as part of the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) for the May 09, 2016 Philippine National and Local Elections (NLE).
The rarity of the day’s event did not deter her enthusiasm. In fact, she took the entire process by heart. Days of digging through the manual of procedures gave her the confidence of a boxer who was about to fight atop the squared ring for a championship match. Only that the arena was not a boxing ring but a classroom turned Clustered Precinct and the audience were not rabid, pugilistic fans but people who were both the performer and the juror in an exercise of suffrage. Yes, some could also become rabid as the heat of politics raised the temperature beyond normal. But she knew she needed to remain cool, prim and proper for she was tasked by the state to serve these performers and jurors in making sure that the inking of their choice counts.
Tearing the security green seal of a box housing an electronic counter of votes some called the Very Complicated Monster signaled the beginning of the grueling day. No, it was not a monster. For her, it was not even complicated. Because it was her tool –her weapon- in the performance of a constitutional mandate. The Vote Counting Machine (VCM) was mastered by her, memorizing its parts, functions and procedure like a fresh graduate taking a licensure examination. Her hands moved with the precision of a paint artist and the dexterity of a juggler booting the VCM to life. With its mouth wide open, this machine readied itself to swallow and read hundreds of ballots beginning at the tick of the clock at 6 AM.
As the rays of the sun knifed through the East, people flocked the precincts. Many were evidently excited to mark their participation in the election while some were a bit nervous first timers shading in the ballot with shaky, sweaty hands. Elder people had their share of ordeal due to the relatively small prints worsen by the deteriorating optics particularly with the absence of spectacles they admittedly had forgotten to bring. Some persons with disability (PWD) needed an extra hand, she had helped them. But nothing can be compared with the irritated voters who launched protests for failing to see their names in the list of voters. Some even threatened her, yelled at her as she became the subject of their loathing. She kept her composure and served her part very well.
At the strike of noon, people were gravely affected by the rising heat while in queue for the VCM, which prolonged the process after it was decided to issue a Voter Verification Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) aka receipt. Bathe in sweat, their discomfort grew when a few voters even shed doubts as to the veracity of the results with obvious misinformation being disseminated through social media. They questioned even the color of the ballot claiming to have seen via Facebook the pink line along the grid that would favor another candidate even when one voted for another. Her team of BEI patiently answered all queries and explained the nuances of the elections. All these while dutifully completing all the document requirements needed for submission after everything was done.
She was awake since four in the morning. The five o’clock closing of the poll was a welcome development like meeting a long-lost friend. For thirteen, long hours she devotedly followed her task even missing a few needs like eating lunch on time and sacrificing a snack due to the long line of people to be served. She felt tired. Still there were more things to do: The formal Close Voting; The printing of Election Returns which took loads of time; the extremely important Transmission of Results, and; the printing of more reports for submission. At 8 PM, they were done with the reports but the Transmission took a different turn –for it kept on failing to transmit the results. She tried it a hundred times but it kept on showing “Failed”. She was tired, hungry and losing patience. She tried it one last time. Her irritation was getting the better of her as she tapped the LCD screen a bit harder. She pressed to transmit. The VCM flashed again, mocking her like a villain. She waited for a few more minutes without taking her eyes off the screen. Then it froze for a second before flashing, TRANSMITTED SUCCESSFULLY!
Celebration erupted like a poor man winning millions in lottery. Excitement surfaced with high fives flying all over. The impatience, exhaustion and hunger were gone like a sleepy head suddenly getting a dose of caffeine. All arms raised as if winning a boxing match via knock out in a punishing twelve, hard-fought rounds. She was victorious.
The silver crescent moon smiled at her from above at around 10 PM after submitting all the reports, ballot box and the VCM to COMELEC and Treasurer’s office –a good eighteen hours since she woke up. Cool night wind blew, refreshing her. The entire process of elections was an exercise of democracy and she was proud to be a part of it. Everything went well for her.
At home, she laid down to savor the warm bed. But she could not forget that despite her success, a few hundred miles away, some other teachers were digging their way out of trouble. Some were threatened to death by those who were posed to disrupt the democratic process. Others were trapped in the crossfire of opposing political claimants. Them, whose sins were just to uphold the constitution in the performance of their duties as BEIs. She closed her eyes and prayed for them -for their deliverance from the talons of murky politics. She inhaled and exhaled slowly. She felt her consciousness drifting away as the chirps of crickets lulled her to sleep.
J. V. Labagnoy
Rizal Central School
Division of Nueva Ecija