149 Minutes

Nonfiction by | June 13, 2010

Nervous, I inserted my ballot into the PCOS (Precinct Count Optical Scanner) machine. I was nervous because the PCOS might reject my ballot like it did to the woman’s before me. She had to insert it six times before her ballot was counted. Less than a minute passed, and the words, “Congratulations! Your vote has been counted” appeared. I sighed. I was done.

What the COMELEC (Commission on Elections) said was really true. With the automated elections, the counting of the ballots would no longer take a long time, unlike the manual elections. But it’s too early to celebrate. Lest we forget, the searching of polling precincts, the lining up—all that, too, is part of the elections. And there are so many things that can be said of them. So many, in fact, that I don’t know where to begin.

The night before the election day, I had planned what to wear and what to bring. As a political statement, I would wear my T-shirt with a quote from Conrado de Quiros: “You don’t have national pride or a sense of country, you’ll get nowhere.” Sadly, however, I would find out that the other voters were too busy to even bother to look at my T-shirt, let alone contemplate the profundity of what’s written on it. To monitor the time and see if the election is really faster than before, I would wear a wrist watch, although I’m not used to wearing one because it annoys me to keep checking the time.

If the elections were manual, I would have arrived at the polling precinct very early. But no, the elections were now automated. Which, as the COMELEC promised, is faster and more efficient. There was therefore no need for me to hurry. When I woke up in the morning of election day, I turned on the TV, and then watched what was going on in other parts of the Philippines rather than prepare to leave for the polls. Over at ABS-CBN, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was shown voting. Per ABS-CBN’s calculation, GMA took only six minutes to vote. I figured if it’s that fast, I would go to the precinct at 8:00 in the morning.

At 8:45, I arrived at the polling precinct. Already, the entrance to the Cabantian Elementary School, where I would be casting my vote, was dominated by “poll assistors” (“poll assistants” would have been much simpler) distributing sample ballots; vendors selling mineral water, Max and Snowbear; and teenagers and bystanders doing…nothing.

Then I went to my precinct: 1808C. Like all the other precincts, mine was already crowded. There were those who were looking for their names on the list posted on the wall. Some were asking for priority numbers. There were also the omnipresent “poll assistors,” struggling to get inside, or at least get close to, the precinct.

I searched my name on the list to double-check if my precinct was really there. I’m glad I did, because when I found my name, it was listed under a different precinct: 1808E. But that was no matter. I was still in the right precinct. The COMELEC, I discovered, put the five precincts in one cluster. For instance, the precincts from 1808A to 1808E were put in cluster 545. Hence, the overcrowded precincts.

The polling precincts were replete with posters informing the voters of the six things they need to do to cast their votes. The procedure looked good—on paper. But it was not followed. I don’t know if the same procedure was followed in other places, but the actual voting procedure in Brgy. Cabantian went like this: First, the voter would fall in line to get a priority number. As for me, I started to fall in line at 8:50. I received my priority number at 10:24. After the voter got his priority number, he would fall in another line that led to the precinct. Once the voter got inside, he would tell the BEI (Board of Election Inspector) his precinct number. If his name is on the list, the BEI would ask for his signature and thumb mark. All that took me no less than fifty minutes.

At 11:14, I had cast my vote. All in all, it took me 149 minutes (2 hours and 29 minutes) to vote. I can say that I’m lucky to have been inconvenienced for only 149 minutes. Others took one whole day to cast their votes.

If it takes only 149 minutes to choose leaders who would help our country rise again; only 149 minutes to undo the damage other politicians made; only 149 minutes to reclaim what this country has lost; only 149 minutes to save us from another six years of felony, perfidy, and larceny—- then shouldn’t we be more than willing to spare 149 minutes of our time?

It cannot be denied that we have this tendency to inflate our own misery. But as the man who tried to organize the disorganized voters at our polling precinct said, “Kini na ang panahon para mag-sakripisyo lang ta gamay” (“This is the time that we have to sacrifice a little”).

Arvin Antonio V. Ortiz is a graduate of Holy Cross of Davao College who is now teaching Social Studies at Stella Maris Academy of Davao. He was a fellow in the Davao Writers Workshop this year.

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