Island Insights: May 9 Philippine Election Poll Watching

by Carolyn Weygan-Hildebrand

Tinawagan kami kahapon.” (They called us yesterday.)This was the curt response of a couple after casting their ballot last May 8 at around 5 pm. This writer asked why they chose to vote on the final day of voting instead of mailing their ballots.Them receiving a call was a new twist in the final two days of the overseas voting period.

The Philippine Consulate began calling voters based on a new list. Asked to clarify the new list, Consul Grace Ann Bulos described two lists with different numbers.

She said: “Per our advisories on incomplete/care of Consulate packets, 554, while the return to sender packets are 899. It’s the Consulate that prepares these lists. The incomplete and/or c/o the Consulate packets are based on the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) mailing list, while the Return to Sender list is based on what is returned to the Consulate by the US Postal Service. The Consulate contacted/replied to those who reached out to our office either via email or phone.”

On the last days of voting, there was fluidity in COMELEC decision-making. Towards the final days of overseas voting, the COMELEC released an advisory allowing those who did not receive their ballots to come to the Consulate for onsite voting by 4 pm on May 8.

According to Consul Bulos, the COMELEC added 18 new names to the initial certified list of voters. The additional list of 18 contains those who had requested for transfer and change of address during the registration process.

Finally, the COMELEC approved more frequent ballot-feeding on the final week of voting, a method where casted ballots are read by vote-counting machines (VCM). Unfortunately, the communication about these advisories was not extensive and did not include contacting the news media.

At midnight on May 8, the Philippine Consulate was lit up, but no more voters appeared to cast their ballots. The utterly quiet scene was quite a contrast to the long lines in many voting precincts in the Philippines, and there were no lines.

At 1 am on May 9, the parking lot of the Consulate was empty, indicating the absence of any media or poll watcher. Only three media organizations sought and were granted accreditation to watch ballot-feeding and election result reporting.

Only the Hawaii Filipino Chronicle was present to witness the final ballot-feeding and processing of election results. Because the last ballot-feeding took place at 9:30 am on May 8, the final ballot-feeding was expected to be very quick and involved only the ballots received on the final day of the overseas election.

At 1:03 am, a Consulate staff brought in six boxes to the Sentro Rizal area where ballot-feeding occurred. There were six precinct bins where the ballots went after VCM scanning.

“That’s for the open ballots,” Consul General Emil Fernandez explained when I noted that there were only five precincts bins the last time I observed or one precinct for every 2,000 registered voters. No further clarification was sought on what open ballots referred to, but results pointed to a 6th precinct with 16 voters with no voter casting a vote.

This election’s Special Board of Election Inspectors consisted of Consul General Emil Fernandez, Elaine Aldaya, and Joel Bulos. Only Bulos was in Honolulu during the last Philippine election of 2019.

Throughout the processing of election ballots and results, it was noted that the Board members frequently referred to a written manual or called COMELEC through their smartphones. Unlike reports from the Philippines, the VCM did not “misbehave,” and ballot-feeding went smoothly.“We are ready to transmit the results,” Consul General Fernandez declared at around 1:56 am. He referred to the satellite submission of results to the Board of Canvassers based in Washington.

However, the transmission of the results of the first precinct was not completed until around 4 am. The satellite signal proved spotty due to clouds and rain in the Pali, and the Board did not expect the delay.

Aldaya shared that there were transmission concerns in New York and Chicago because of the tall buildings, but the matter of clouds and rain in Hawaii did not come up as an issue.

The morning turned out to be a long waiting game for good satellite signals. Additional consulate staff was outside the Consulate building, holding umbrellas over the satellite signal detector.

The certifying and transmission of results were done by precinct. It was a morning of sending and resending results until the VCM signaled successful transmission instead of failure. The officials were getting weary, and I got sleepy as well. The darkness outside turned into light, and the second precinct results were still not transmitted.

As the sun came up, the transmission speed changed literally like day and night. The 5th precinct result was certified at around 9:18 am and transmitted successfully at 9:25 am, indicating how little time it took if satellite signals worked a hundred percent.

The Board’s process of certifying each precinct result included printing 30 copies of the resulting printout from the VCM, officials reviewing them, and affixing their thumbprint and signature on each receipt.

By 10:20 am, the officials were tired and asked COMELEC in Manila whether the 6th precinct, which had zero ballots, needed to be certified. The 6th precinct result transmission, and the final transmission, took place and were declared successful at 10:30 am.

By 10:34 am, the Board packed the VCM and sealed the results. Although no one other than me was there to witness, Consul General Fernandez read the results they had just certified. “It is required by law,” he said.

Indicating that some have been watching the election results, a Hawaii voter reported Hawaii results within a few seconds after the final transmission. It is a testament to what is different about this election – information goes out faster, and a writer can be the last to know.The election results are posted on a COMELEC webpage, A check at this writing shows that it does not report the certified results of the 6th precinct.

Beyond reporting who won and lost, the results also offer a few cases of overvoting, especially in voting for senators and partylist. There was far more under-voting reported, especially also in the case of senatorial seats and party lists.A press release from the Consulate reported that voter turnout improved from the last presidential election, and the change was not much, and turnout remains in the lower 30 percent.

Meanwhile, a post-election pulse reading at the Waipahu Festival Marketplace went along the lines that revealed the big issue of ignorance (paraphrasing):

Customer: “… Sino ngarud nangabak?” 
Vendor: “Ni Marcos ah.”
Customer: “…Ket addu met ti agririri.”
Vendor: “Dagidiay komunista dagiday.”

The satellite transmission stood out as the issue on May 9, but these insights continue to beg the question about other matters.

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