Tuesday, May 11, 2010


Ambassador Willy Gaa was beaming when he stepped into Romulo Hall at the Philippine Embassy last Monday morning.

The Embassy staff, led by Consul General Ding Nolasco was busy preparing for the tabulation of overseas absentee votes from parts of the US and the Caribbean.

A laptop near the pantry, well-stocked with coffee, was showing ABS-CBN’s Halalan coverage live. People crowded the nook everytime it showed an update in the tally. By about 9:30 AM EST – less than three hours after the precints closed – we learned that over 30% of the votes had already been counted.

There was a cocktail of emotions in that morning. Surprise at the speed of the count, accustomed as we were to the excruciatingly slow canvass of past elections. Relief that the new automated system had apparently worked, erasing fears of another looming crisis which had preceded the May 10 polls.

But more importantly, pride that Filipinos were able to mount what could amount to a quantum leap in the evolution of Philippine democracy.

We heard about people back home waiting for hours in oppressive heat just for a chance to cast their vote. Yes, there were the usual flashpoints in Lanao or Maguindanao or Cavite but overall, there was a perception that all had gone generally well.

Past elections – particularly the 2004 national elections – were a national embarrassment. Almost everyone thought the vote was stolen and yet they were powerless to do anything about it. It only reinforced the view that in the Philippines, no candidate loses, they only get cheated.

It took courage for Filipinos to embrace the automated counting system, for them to pursue change through the ballot despite years of often violent political repression, to shake off the ambivalence springing from constant disappointment and a diet of lies and deceit.

We believe lesser mortals, pushed to such extremes, would have resorted to the barrel of a gun or worse, lost hope. And so the sight of long queues outside many voting precints was something to behold.

“Liberty,” George Bernard Shaw once wrote, "means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.”

More than the victory lap for winning candidates, the real winner in this election is the Filipino people. This is one victory we don't need Manny Pacquiao to be proud about.

If Noynoy Aquino finally inherits the mantle of leadership – tainted as it may be by his predecessor – he should realize that he had placed on himself a truly heavy burden. It is heavy because it is laden with great hope and expectation, rivaled only perhaps when his mother took over from a corrupt and bankrupt dictatorship.

His greatest challenge is to restore the Filipinos’ trust in the rule of law, a level playing field and that honest toil will be rewarded.

But that is for tomorrow. Today, we bask under a new sense of collective accomplishment.

The automated elections appear to have already brought one bright facet – the sight of losing candidates conceding within a day after polls close. No more loud charges of being cheated. This in itself, we already count as clear transformation because it hastens the healing process after the passions of political combat. Kudos to all of these ladies and gentlemen-politicians who’ve placed the interest of the nation above all others.

From there springs our hope that this augurs the return of politicians as statesmen, imperfect though them may be except only for their love of country.

Mabuhay ang Pilipinas! Mabuhay ang Pinoy!

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