Aquino on brink of landslide victory
By Joel D Adriano
MANILA - Senator Benigno ''Noynoy'' Aquino III, the son of former president
Corazon Aquino, has a commanding lead in early poll results from the
Philippines' presidential election, with voters viewing the late democracy
icon's son as shot of integrity for a government whose credibility has been
damaged by persistent charges of corruption and electoral fraud.
Violence, long lines at polling stations and technical glitches marred Monday's
vote as more than 50 million voters took part at over 76,000 voting centers
spread across over 7,000 islands, but most analysts said that the country's
first automated elections were a success. As of Tuesday afternoon,78% of the
vote had been counted, with Aquino well in front with 40.2% and former
president Joseph Estrada in second place with 25.5%, according to the
Commission on Elections (Comelec).
Though final results are not expected until Wednesday, one of Aquino's main
rivals, Senator Manuel "Manny" Villar, had conceded defeat and Aquino told a
press conference in Manila that he was drawing up his cabinet.
At least six civilians were killed in polling violence, with two dying in
gunfights in the province of Maguindanao and another four killed in other parts
of the restive south. Local media reported several cases of vote buying and of
polling stations being abandoned due to hostilities between local candidates.
Close to 400 of the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines used to read,
tally and transmit votes reportedly broke down, forcing the Bureau of Election
Inspectors in some areas to resort to manual counting. Reports circulated of
ballots getting jammed in the machines, being rejected due to improper shading
and the malfunctioning of memory cards. In Metro Manila, voters had to stand in
line for hours.
"The heat is terrible. We've been waiting for three hours to vote, and the line
hasn't moved one bit," one voter at the state-owned University of the
Philippines told IPS, as she fanned herself with campaign materials being
handed out near the precinct.
Long queues snaked outside public classrooms that were converted into voting
rooms, as volunteers struggled to keep people in line. Some became impatient
and went home in disgust, but more chose to stay, saying they did not want to
waste their vote and the chance to choose their next leaders. The elections
cover the president, vice president, and more than 300 lawmakers in a
two-chamber congress, as well as more than 17,500 local officials.
Voters blamed the long queues on the new automated system. Being new to the
system, some voters took longer than expected filling in their ballots. Instead
of writing their preferred candidates' names, voters had to use special markers
to shade blank dots on a ballot with pre-printed names of the candidates.
Comelec said that the new system was designed to save time and effort and to
eliminate the problems of illegible handwriting, since voters would just have
to shade ovals. Each ballot contains an average of 600 names of candidates for
local and national positions. To ensure transparency, each voter was expected
to shade and feed his or ballot into the PCOS machine.
"They should have just had one personnel feeding the ballots into the machines
instead of having each voter feed the ballots," said Raul Auxilian, a sales
manager voter at the university, adding that some people were afraid of using
the machines. "Why change a system that was working perfectly?" he added.
"Comelec is not prepared to deal with this kind of system given the volume of
In previous elections, authorities had received hundreds of complaints about
discrepancies in the list of voters, such as missing names, double registrants,
and the illegal transfer of voters to other polling precincts.
Dagdag-bawas, literally "add-subtract", or vote padding, was the most
common form of wholesale election fraud in the country. In 2004, outgoing
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was widely alleged to have rigged the
national poll to ensure she would retain the presidency and win by a margin of
at least one million votes.
Comelec has dispelled fears of election fraud under the new automated system,
saying it eliminates human intervention. However, reports have emerged of
candidates handing out pre-shaded ballots.
Tough tasks ahead
Aquino was a latecomer to the presidential race, only declaring his intention
to run after the death of his mother, the revered former president Corazon
Aquino, from cancer August last year prompted a massive outpouring of national
grief. "Manny" Villar dominated opinion polls before Aquino joined the race,
with the downturn in his popularity attributed to persistent rumors that he was
the "secret candidate" of the Arroyo administration.
As of Tuesday, Aquino's running mate, Senator Manuel Roxas, was slightly behind
Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay, the running mate of Estrada. Binay, who only moved
up the rankings two weeks ago after being endorsed by celebrities, is seen as a
potential Aquino ally having been a staunch supporter of the Corazon Aquino
during the turbulent Marcos years and in the "people power" revolution of 1986.
Aquino is now poised to start a six-year term on July 1, with hopes growing of
a cleaner leadership after Arroyo's scandal-tainted government. Aquino has
pledged to start prosecuting corrupt officials within a few weeks of assuming
However, he has a daunting task of managing a record budget deficit, which
could top 300 billion pesos (US$6.7 billion). He also has to deal with multiple
insurgencies, entrenched corruption in government bureaucracy and a possibly
hostile congress. In addition, many local governments might not support his
reforms and transparency programs.
Election results show the lower house will be dominated by allies of Arroyo,
who overwhelmingly won a congressional seat in her home province of Pampanga.
She is expected to be voted in as house speaker and shortly after will lead
moves to change the constitution and the form of government to a parliamentary
system. This would give her another shot at the top post, this time as prime
Stocks and the Philippine peso surged on Tuesday as investors and traders
cheered the news of Aquino's impending win, the relative success of the
automated election and the seeming lack of widespread electoral fraud.
Observers said Aquino's overwhelming lead in opinion polls was likely a factor
in discouraging cheating on a large scale, since it would be too obvious.
"The real heroes of this election are the people who lined up for four to five
hours, determined to exercise their right to vote through incredible heat,
sweat and patience," said human-rights lawyer Romeo Capulong.
It seems fitting with Aquino's clean reputation that he declined to pull rank
and jump the queue. Like may other voters, he sweated in line for four hours
waiting for his precinct's automated voting machine to be fixed.
Joel D Adriano is an independent consultant and award-winning freelance
journalist. He was a sub-editor for the business section of The Manila Times
and writes for ASEAN BizTimes, Safe Democracy and People's Tonight.