By Paul John Garcia and Sir Lawrence Agustin
Voting for the first time is like a first romance, full of excitement, expectations and hope—this is what more than 12 million voters aged 18-25 will be experiencing this 2013 national elections.
Although the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has yet to reveal the total number of first time voters on the May 13 midterm polls, non-government organization (NGO) Kabataan partylist has revealed that roughly 24% of this years registered voters are from the young population.
As of the last count of Comelec in their January 22 data, a total of 52,014,648 voters have registered, the highest ever recorded in the history of the electoral system in the Philippines.
“This is a net gain of five million because the (almost) 51 million in 2010 went down to 47 million after delisting. Now it went up again (to 52 million),” said Comelec Spokesperson Atty. James Jimenez in an interview with the Philippine Star dated February 9.
After this pronouncement, journalism students from the University of the Philippines Diliman have conducted an online interview with the first time voters in the country. 12 individuals* from different places all over the country have graciously answered questions concerning this year’s elections. Two of them are from Metro Manila, five from Luzon, three from Visayas and two respondents from Mindanao.
Findings showed that eight out of the 12 respondents said that they are excited to vote because this is the first time that they will exercise their right to suffrage and they recognize their duty as responsible citizens to choose and elect leaders that will serve for the betterment of the country.
“It is important for me because it gives me a say on how the country should be managed. As a Political Science major, I am a great believer in citizen’s involvement. That, for me, is a proof that democracy works,” said John Patrick Pineda, a first time voter from Las Pinas.
Adding to the voters’ excitement is the change from manual to automated system of voting using the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines.
“I expect that the problems experienced by automated voting last year will be lessened if not fully eradicated. The automated casting of votes, per se, is something to look forward to,” Christian dela Cruz, a first time voter from Ilocos Norte, said.
Atty. Jimenez agreed that the huge number of registrants for the coming polls is an indication of the public’s high interest in the automated polls.
“Aside from the fact that the number of Filipinos aged 18 years old and above is rising, obviously there’s also a high interest in the automated elections,” he said in an interview with Philippine Star.
However, with the doubts on the accuracy and reliability of the machines, three out of 12 said that they are NOT excited to vote for the upcoming elections. Besides, up until now, they still do not know some of the candidates running, and if they do, respondents said that the people running for positions do not really represent the basic masses that they want to serve.
On Comelec’s Performance
The Comelec has been receiving criticism not only on the PCOS machines but also with the entire electoral system. Respondents, each from Las Pinas, Cavite, Aklan, Leyte and Davao have agreed that the commission is still hounded by the issues of “lying, cheating, and stealing.”
They recognized the lack of effective law enforcement on gun ban, electoral fraud, vote-buying and the selection process of some “bogus” party lists that for them, do not represent the marginalized sectors.
Contrary to that, according to Comelec Chairman Atty. Sixto Brillantes in his interview with the Philippine Star last February 11, “the Comelec is ready to address any situation that may arise on election day. The Comelec chief pointed out that the poll body got a preview of possible problems that may erupt and compromise the election results.”
Those first time voters from Caloocan, Pangasinan, Oriental Mindoro, Cagayan de Oro, Laguna and Ilocos Norte concurred on this stand by the Comelec. They believe that the poll body is very much visible when it comes to reaching out to people and effective in dealing with their limitless doubts on the automated elections.
This was after Comelec admitted and tried to solve the glitches in some PCOS machines during the mock elections conducted last Feb. 2 in 10 areas across the country.
Respondents also noted the commendable efforts of the commission in their continuous checking of the campaign materials of the candidates, as to whether or not a provision of the law is violated, and that candidates are subjected for disqualification.
Historically, election related-violence, cheating and electoral fraud have been the problems to the conduct of elections in the country. However, majority of the first time voters that were interviewed is optimistic that this election would be a clean, fast and honest one, while some still believe that this would be a chaotic one considering the different black propaganda of every candidate, massive cheating and failed operations of the PCOS machines.
More than anything else, respondents hope that everyone will choose the right and deserving people in their posts.
“I expect the voters to be more critical with their selection process. Unlike previous elections, people seem to be more involved and aware due to the implications of the massive use of social media,” Marianne dela Cruz of Cagayan de Oro said.
Hope for a Better Elections
More than two months before the May 13 midterm polls, Comelec is still raking on criticism with regard to their performance as the country’s poll body. In order to quell these issues, the first time voters suggest that Comelec should “walk the talk”.
This would mean, according to John Pineda of Las Pinas, that the commission should implement stricter application of rules on gun ban and prevention of electoral sabotage/fraud.
“They should not be contented with mere checkpoints. Also, they should take some threats seriously, i.e. massive purchase of signal jammers, threats of violence, etc. If possible, the Secretary of Justice should be given the power to issue warrants to prevent such occurrences,” he added.
First time voters Raymark Raquid of Caloocan and Rachel Capili of Cavite also shared the same sentiments in reforming the system of Comelec. They suggest starting it by checking and updating the list of active and inactive electors to prevent ghost and flying voters.
Moreover, they propose a segregation of duties so that the power to decide on matters regarding election issues would not solely rely on one person and that would ensure that the decision is not susceptible to any bias.
Above all, the 12 respondents from different places around the Philippines have agreed to call for a clean and decent election because according to them, the public really deserves that much.
*Respondents are picked through self-selection sampling (volunteer respondents) via Twitter and Facebook. The interviewees do not necessarily represent all the first time voters in the country