Speaking of which, Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, chairman of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, writes in his blog yesterday --
On the question of envelopes or gifts allegedly being distributed and of dinners offered by Malacañang to some bishops, since these were privately done, there was no consensus among the bishops whether to accept or not, whether to go for the dinner or not. Each bishop was completely free.Right on. This proves Lagdameo has read and understood Deus Caritas Est, and therefore knows the true meaning of the Separation of Church and State! The sad reality however is this: whatever "charity" the Church gives out to the poor is primarily the charity the Church itself receives from the rich. And one thing the rich and powerful in this country have long understood and exploited is the fact that the poor -- both shepherds and sheep -- need them to survive!
Truth to tell, the bishops did not have any knowledge of the alleged plan of Malacañang to use these gifts or envelops for political ends. It was only later that they realized the implication of the offer. Some, we know, returned their envelopes.
The bishops were told that the envelopes were for the poor. But how must the poor be help institutionally? On the one hand, bishops with the limited resources of their dioceses are already trying to respond to the needs of the poor, v.g., through their social action programs. On the other hand, must not the government use better its powerful institutions to help the poor? If the powerful institutions are not effective and efficient in the work of poverty alleviation, the question that must be asked is “WHY?” But must it be channeled to the bishops at this time?
RAUL PANGALANGAN (A Passion for Reason) has a ringing condemnation of the descent of society and the Law:
So has Arroyo’s Strong Republic become Gunnar Myrdal’s Soft State, where “breaking rules and flouting laws is a cultural norm”? No, this government is perfectly capable of being strong when it comes to its enemies. The problem is when it comes to its friends. It can get an entire government -- and a dulled public -- to look the other way. It can finagle reprieves from the courts at will, citing neat technicalities that befuddle common sense. It’s like that Monty Python comic skit showing security police at a checkpoint, searching every crevice of a car with flashlights and sticks, while on the roof rack there is a giant box labeled TNT, with a lighted fuse and connected to an old-fashioned alarm clock loudly ticking away.
Filipino lawyers spend four years in college, another four years in that psychological boot camp called law school, and another year preparing for that booby-trapped ordeal known as the bar exams. All that, in exaltation of a rule of law that has increasingly become fiction. By today, the mighty gods of the bar must confess that they have begun to resemble what the legal philosopher Roberto Unger calls “high priests who have lost their faith but kept their jobs.”
Given the present dispensation, Filipinos will have to do it the hard way -- they have to elect better leaders. But on the matter of electoral reform Filipinos also have to do it the smart way...
The next part of this post is inspired by the continuing labors and comments of Postigo Luna (Comelec Ako)...
TRUST BUT VERIFY: Many people who have bank accounts access them almost entirely through Automated Teller Machines (ATM) scattered all over the country at least for routine transactions. Except for the truly paranoid, hardly anybody worries about their money being stolen by the bank clerk, or lost in the machine or intentionally miscalculated by the bank owners.
But ask, why do we trust the automated teller machine system at all? Is it simply because we are dealing with an adding machine that can't make a mistake? Surely not, for we all know human hands eventually handle ATM transactions inside the bank, usually after office hours. So why don't we give it a second thought and implicitly trust the ATM system, indeed the whole impersonal banking system, to keep our financial transactions secure and accurate? Is it because the banking business is run by honest men, like the Comelec? I don't think so.
I think it lies in the fact of VERIFIABILITY. For example, suppose I have P1,000 in my checking account and I deposit P500 into an ATM in Makati. Now, if I fly off to Cebu and there find another ATM in my bank's network, I can pop my card in and discover from my Account Balance that indeed I now have P1,500 in that account and could in fact withdraw it all then and there. I can perform such a verification 24/7 from almost anywhere in the world. In effect the bank is telling the world: look this guy has P1,500 in our vaults. This simple ability to verify what the bank says I have in my account keeps the bank honest and me happy. Indeed, it is with marketing pride that banks crow about the security and reliability of their banking transactions, even if we know there has to be about as many dishonest people there as any other human endeavor. It keeps customers honest too, the fact that whenever you step up to an ATM your entire transaction is captured on security cameras and therefore represent another layer of verifiability about the transaction. Indeed, throughout the banking and financial systems, it is not the inherent honesty of people that the systems are designed around. In fact most security systems assume people's potential for dishonesty! So much so that the system designs have evolved towards thwarting all possible attempts at cheating the system--even by the system designers or bank owners themselves. The goal of all such system design to is to make it largely impossible to cheat the system without getting caught and punished. That is the only way the banking industry has won the trust and confidence of the banking public.
The exact opposite is true of course for our Commission on Elections and whole bankrupt election system of the Philippines. But I think the problems, and therefore the solutions, are very similar: How do we count our money in one case, and how we count our votes in the other.
DESIGNING VERIFIABILITY INTO THE ELECTORAL SYSTEM
Consider the present Philippine election system. Some 50 million voters cast ballots at more than 250,000 voting precincts. Then a multistage canvassing process takes over that brings precinct results into municipal canvasses, and municipal results up to provincial canvassing, and from there onto yet a third stage of handling and processing in the Congress. All the while, the multifarious agents of the Commission on Elections handle the various certificates of canvass, and precinct results, and transmit them to and from the various stages of canvassing.
Now it is generally conceded that in general the counting of precinct level votes accurately reflects the true will of its registered voters. Perhaps that is because it is only at that level the voter vigilance is effective. It is in the higher stages of canvass that all kinds of shenanigans like "dagdag bawas" (addition and subtraction) largely occur. But if I am a lonely voter in Precinct #123456, and with my neighbors knew what our votes were in the election, there would be no way for me to easily verify that those results are reflected in the municipal or provincial or congressional tallies. It would simply be impossible under the current system.
I think that PRECINCT LEVEL VERIFIABILITY should be a system specification of a new election system:
During the period of election polling and canvassing, and as a matter of public record thereafter, the public shall have real-time access to the number of votes cast for each candidate as reported to the Commission on Elections by each precinct.
Such a specification does not imply or necessitate automation, but is a mere functional requirement on the kind of system that the public would mandate the Comelec to use, by law. The present Election Modernization Act, RA 8436, upon which the ill-fated MegaPacific consortium automatic counting system was based, is seriously flawed in that it is not technology-neutral. In fact it naively requires the use of a specific technology, optical mark reading technology, in order to accomplish automated counting of the ballots.
In other words, the suggested VERIFIABILITY spec can and should implemented by Comelec for the 2007 elections. It can be accomplished with no automation systems in place at all. We would merely require of Comelec the realtime publication of precinct level results in newspapers and on the World Wide Web. So that individual voters can check for themselves how their votes are being tallied. In one sense, the entire election exercise is a giant exercise in the ADDITION together of 250,000 ADDENDS, one for each national candidate, each representing the tally of votes from each precinct.
The whole system will be a lot more "trustworthy" if that process is transparent to the public and the results can be directly verified BEFORE the final tally is announced.