Sunday, June 6, 2010

PCOS Machine: 2010 "Person" of the Year


Senator Noynoy Aquino may be the President-apparent, but there's actually something (not someone) else I consider to have been the more influential in the state of our culture and the course of our history as a nation. That is none other than the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machine.

I was really pleased as a Filipino about the result of the 2010 Philippine National Elections (the success of the process I mean, the winners are a different story). Going automated was the right way to go for us. It had to be done. Our country needed to take drastic steps to catch up with the march of progress of the rest of the free world.

I'm not talking about progress as in hi-tech laptops and cellphones, I'm talking about the modernity of political thinking, the upgrading of our system of politics and governance. The PCOS machines did not just allow Filipinos to slide their ballots through slots for reading by computer programs. It allowed us to push our civilization to the next stage. Civilization is defined as an advanced state of human society, in which a high level of culture, science, industry, and government has been reached. And just like fire and the wheel started technology in human history and the introduction of the plow and guisado were among those events that started the creation of the Filipino identity, Philippine history may just see the coming of the PCOS machine as an important marker in the progress of our technology and national identity. Technology isn't just the hardware we use like computers and TVs, it actually has more to do with the most important software of all, the human mind, and its capability to decode, understand, and analyze the events unfolding around the world. Democracy is going through continuous evolution. We seem to not be aware of that, being contented with the claim that we are the oldest republic in Asia. Unfortunately, the oldest republic seems to be one of the most immature, and prone to throwing embarrassing tantrums.

The PCOS machine let us take baby steps towards becoming a modern and vibrant democracy that actually acts its age. In a democracy, the will of the people, as expressed by their votes, always prevail. Manual elections allow those who wish to subvert the will of the people to do so, and thus further their own interests. The slow process of manual counting and canvassing of votes allow these crooked men to work their magic in a crooked system, fudging numbers to produce their desired outcome. Manual elections are subjected too much to human intervention, which brings along with it human errors, whims, and biases. A manual election is the fire and the slow counting process is gasoline. And there is no shortage of arsonists in the Philippines.

Manual elections also bring with it the opportunity for losing candidates to bitch about how they didn't actually win but were cheated instead. Which results in the absurd situation that nobody actually loses an election in the Philippines, everyone just gets cheated. Such culture is damaging both to the image and the morale of the nation. We end up looking like a nation of cheaters and sore losers, and our elections look like big jokes. This culture prevents the development of true gentlemen in our politics, sportsmanship becoming an alien concept.

A nation of cheaters and sore losers is a nation that shouldn't be surprised when there is a cycle of violence and dirty politics. A lot of candidates will just engage in such a system, thinking that if you can't beat it, join it. That the other candidates won't think twice of pulling the trigger if you hesitate. This despicable system also creates a national paranoia where authority is no longer respected because there is a cloud of doubt as to whether it was achieved legitimately.

Victory at all costs becomes an acceptable rallying cry in a political exercise that should be reserved for true ladies and gentlemen. Guns, goons, and gold rise above ideologies and calls for progress. Lives are threatened and (probably taxpayers') money is passed around to buy votes. Lives are lost, faith is shattered, principles trampled on, dignity tarnished, spirits broken, and our brighter tomorrow stolen like electoral victories due to an antiquated electoral process.

Now comes the automated elections of 2010. Who knew change could come so fast, delivered by a machine constantly insulted and distrusted by some politicians and doomsaying IT "experts" who kept on calling for the continuance of manual elections up the very day of voting. These people cowered in fear when the challenge to move forward into tomorrow was thrown at the Filipino nation, showing their preference for the "comforts" of the old familiar and "reliable" mode of voting. They believed that the PCOS machine is the herald of worse things to come, possibly cheating graduating to the digital age. Could this way of thinking be the reason why there is little chance that the next Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, or Mark Zuckerberg could be a Filipino? It's right to feel fear, but it's foolish not to act. Modern day Luddites feared that resorting to modern technology will resort to a failure of election, plunging our country into chaos.

It's a good thing that there are people like Sen. Dick Gordon and Cong. Teddy Boy Locsin who put their faith and bet their political career that the automated elections will be a success. It's also nice to see that the Commission on Elections is in a state where they had the capability and will to see this automation through, despite the presence of so many "geniuses" claiming the nation was like a group of lemmings making a running jump off a cliff.

Names like Virgilio Garcillano and Lintang Bedol carved an infamous place in history. But the good news is that they are the past, and the PCOS machine carried us into the future, one ballot at a time.

The automated elections of 2010 were a success. We already knew who our new President would be in a day, something that has never happened before in our history. Winners of local elections were proclaimed the morning after the elections, shocking the winners, gracious and sore losers, and the populace.

Yes, there were long lines and the heat was unbearable. But the complaints about lines, I just chalk it up to the aversion of a lot of Filipinos to falling in line. These people may like to add that during the next elections, there should be people serving them cold beverages and massaging their feet while in the voting lines. People will fall in line for movie tickets, Starbucks, and lotto, but not for elections? Libre bumoto, ayaw pumila. May bayad manood ng sine, pipila. In the words of Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales, "crazy, crazy, crazy!" As for the heat, Jesus Christ! Nasa Pilipinas kayo! That's like complaining of snow in Alaska or rain in London. Even if the heat is annoying, what are you going to do about it?

Let's get back to better things. The more important thing about the automated elections, more than the speed of counting and proclamations, was how it kept politicians honest. Well, most of them anyway. Surprised with the speed of their defeat, losing candidates conceded in a gracious manner. There was no flesh and blood to blame dagdag-bawas and ballot snatching on. There were those who still cried fraud, but they are a noisy few. Most accepted their defeat, respecting the voice of the people, a major step in the right direction for our society.

Those complaining about the automated election have to remember that the reason the Philippines had to leave the manual system of voting is not to go techie but because we have already accepted the reality that we cannot trust ourselves to come up with a credible manual election. We have to rely on a machine to make up for our inability to act properly during elections. That is a national shame, but something that we overcame, thanks to technology. Those who are clinging at straws to cast doubts on the results of the last election are like people scared of their own shadows (or shadows of their past?).

Thank you PCOS machine! You reminded the Filipinos of real humility and fairness, compelled people to act in a dignified manner that would make them avoid embarrassment and looking like a jerk, restored our faith in democracy and the electoral process, saved us from great violence and further political division, made it possible for a nation to move towards political maturity and stability, and gave us a glimpse of what would happen if we decided to move forward as a nation.

You, PCOS machine, should be the person, or machine, of the year.

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