By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan
I stared at the list I jotted down on a sheet of grade-school-ruled pad, asking myself if I was ready to take the plunge.
I had a nagging feeling–second thoughts even–to be sure. I was casting my vote for the first time, and this list of candidates for senator and party-list was my assurance that my first time was being done right.
The list was a digital one at first–a rough draft sitting on my laptop. When I learned in February that media workers like me could vote earlier, I hurriedly listed names that had the best chance of getting my vote.
I only went back to the list the day before, April 28. The three-day period of local absentee voting (LAV) for soldiers, police officers, civil servants and the media had already begun.
This mini-Election Day felt like a final exam. I went through a review, scanning the profiles of the 34 senatorial bets on the Halalan 2013 web sites of ABS-CBN News and of the University of the Philippines.
I watched the final leg of the Harapan TV debates. I shuffled my digital list as the candidates faced the nation. I thought I wouldn’t complete my Magic 12. But after Harapan, I was already weighing who to retain or replace in an already-full lineup.
I had already covered a national election in 2010. Assigned out of town, I, like most of my colleagues could not vote. Thankfully, my registration remained active when the Comelec approved a petition to include members of media in the absentee vote.
This time, I had to grab the chance. Voting was one right—and duty—I did not miss out on, even as a student voting for the school council or for national candidates in mock university polls.
But the Comelec’s approval near the end of the voter registration period in October, came a little late for other press people. Many long-time media workers had deactivated registrations after years of not getting to vote. Some failed to register altogether.
Come February, the Comelec said media organizations would have to submit lists of their employees working on Election Day. Their names would be checked against the record of registered voters.
What didn’t come through was that media workers also had to fill out and pass forms to their offices. The deadline: April 2.
The roll of absentee media voters posted at the Comelec National Capitol Region (NCR) office reveals how the information dissemination turned out. In NCR, only the top TV networks and some radio stations had lists. Some top Metro newspapers were absent. Even then, the organizations with the most registered only had a hundred. Others ranged from forty, ten, or less.
The day I was to vote, I was assigned to the Comelec main office, mere steps from the polling center at the Comelec NCR office.
An hour before voting closed on April 29, I was convinced the list I prepared was thought through well enough. I finally decided to go.
I brought along our cameraman to shoot voting footage in case others arrived with me. The precinct—a vacated office fitted with a long wooden conference table—was empty when we came.
At least the process was quick and smooth. Sign on the registration sheet, get a ballot and two envelopes, affix a thumb mark below the ballot, and take a seat to fill it out. The list I made became useful. Absentee voting was manual, the votes written down.
After voting, I placed the ballot in one envelope and sealed it with a special sticker. It went inside a larger envelope sealed with another sticker. My signature at the front would be my only identification with the ballot after it went inside the old-school yellow ballot box.
The bulk of voters had come the day before and the next. Still, poll workers there lamented that the media turnout was hardly half—mirroring the actual May vote.
The press person’s ballot, like everyone else’s, is private–even sacred. But a friend remarked: what if the media’s votes were counted and the tallies released (or worse, leaked) early?
The Comelec assured us the votes would be totaled along with the other ballots on Election Day. And press people would keep their votes to themselves knowing it would affect their professionalism. But the comment shows how potent the news media can be even in their poll choices.
Here, after all, are the men and women who have had the closest contact and access to many, if not all of the candidates. They ask the questions and help determine the issues voters want candidates to address.
This is, of course, no claim that all media practitioners are well-versed with the issues and candidates. Like me, they also need some review and study.
It was the media’s overlooked numbers that drove the argument of Atty. Romulo Macalintal’s LAV petition to the Comelec. Around 300,000 to 400,000 media workers would benefit, he said.
The Comelec resolution allowing media people to vote early actually pegged the national count at more than 213,900. With that potential, Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes had to rue the eventual turnout.
Not only Brillantes was surprised. Colleagues at the office, even some news anchors who had active registrations were taken aback when they found they were not qualified to vote early. Other press people learned it the hard way–at the actual polling center.
But like all first times, few experience it first. The 2016 Presidential elections will surely see more media workers getting registered.
As for my first time, it did not end with a plunge. Getting the ink-stained finger was easier than actually deciding whose names to vote–the ideal scenario.
My thoughts recalled two long-heard quips: “Those who don’t vote have no right to criticize,” and “We are to blame for the leaders we elect”.
For one who has seen long lines and even chaos at polling precincts, all I could hope is that the speed and order I just met would also mark the first times of others who don’t get to vote this early.
And for one whose career revolves partly around politics, I hope the candidates I wrote in that ballot would make me proud I voted for them.