MANILA, Philippines – Long lines at the polling precincts greeted Filipinos who wanted to cast their votes in the initial hours of the country’s first automated national elections.
Irate voters, who endured the queues amid the scorching summer heat, vented on social media networks and through text blasts. They were expecting to spend only 7 to 8 minutes to cast their votes.
The slow pace of processing each ballot exacerbated the situation since voters swelled as the hours passed.
A voter who was casting his vote at a precinct in Commonwealth in Quezon City texted, “Only 160 votes [cast] in 3 hours. Many people are going home, giving up voting.”
Steven Sim, a Malaysian who joined a foreign observers group, wrote in his Facebook profile that “one of the precincts has at least 300 to 500 people lining up before poll starts (at 7am).”
A few shared a smooth experience. “I voted at 7 a.m. Quick and smooth, very orderly at Bel-Air, Makati,” shared architect Jun Palafox.
The complaints were coming from various parts of the country.
ABS-CBN News’ Ces Drilon, who was in Tarlac province where presidential frontrunner Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III had cast his vote, earlier reported that “One hour has elapsed. Precinct in central elementary school has processed 59 voters. They have over 900 voters in this clustered precinct. If there's a 100% turnout, they'll need 15 hours to get everyone to vote.”
“Brown out po kanina pa. Sobrang disorganized kaya ang pila sobrang haba na. Six a.m. pa po ang mga botante, halos wala pang nakakaboto,” voter Catherine Joy Dimaapi posted on Facebook. She was at the Bebe Anac elementary school in Masantol Pampanga.
Meanwhile, senior citizens, who were allowed to cut the line, took at least 30 minutes to finish shading their ballots, creating longer lines of disgruntled voters.
Others reported about technical glitches. “The machine stopped reading or scanning the ballots after only 49 ballots have been cast,” shared Joy Mateo, a frustrated voter who was next in line before the voting machine malfunctioned. She’s at Cluster 8, Guitnang Bayan 1 Elementary School in San Mateo, Rizal malfunctioned where “people wanting to vote has swelled to more than 300.”
“Kinakain ng PCOS (Precinct Count Optical Scan) machine and mga papel (ballot),” shared a voter from Shariff Aguak in Maguindanao.
Even Liberal Party standard bearer Aquino had to wait before casting his votes since the PCOS machine assigned at the Tarlac precinct malfunctioned. He, together with other voters, had to wait for the PCOS technician before they can actually vote.
President Arroyo, who is running for a congressional seat, took all but 6 minutes to cast her vote in Pampanga. Gilberto Teodoro, the presidential bet of the ruling Lakas-Kampi-CMD party, took around 3 minutes to complete shading his ballot at another precinct in Tarlac.
Nacionalista Party vice-presidential guest candidate Loren Legarda earned the ire of Malabon voters when she went ahead of the queue.
Election watchdog Kontra Daya has called for a press-conference at 1:30 p.m. to provide a mid-day assessment given reports of “slow paced voting process, disenfranchisement and many technical problems in the first 2 hours of the polls.”
Lesser precincts, longer hours
The Commission on Elections (Comelec) reduced the number of precincts to 76,347 from the previous over 300,000 during the 2007 polls.
Five to 7 precincts were clustered into just one precinct, while voting hours were extended to 11 hours from the previous 8 hours.
These changes for the 2010 elections were based on the assumption that the poll automation project will speed up the voting process since voting will be via a precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines. Each clustered precinct was expected to process around 1,000 voters. In previous manual polls, each precinct could only process 100 to 250 voters.
The voting period for the 2010 elections was originally set for 7a.m. to 6 p.m. In the past, voting period was only up to 3 p.m.
In this elections, however, the number of registered voters in the Philipines has hit 50.7 million, a record high.
The Comelec has awarded the P11.3 billion contract to automate the 2010 national elections to the consortium of Smartmatic and Total Information Management (TIM). - with reports from Ces Drilon and Ina Reformina of ABS-CBN News; photo by Ces Drilon