In my senior year in high school, I ran for president of our student government. I knew I was qualified for the post and had all the best intentions. My mind brimming with ideas for programs and projects for my schoolmates, I really tried to campaign hard so I could win. I made very creative and informative flyers, did a room-to-room campaign, and smiled wider and more often than I usually would.
I lost by one vote.
The frustratingly close margin notwithstanding, I was a graceful loser. I conceded defeat, congratulated Henry Barroga—my opponent, winner by a single vote—and pledged him my support.
In high school, Henry smoked, drank frequently, had mediocre grades, and was more passionate as a lover than a leader. But his father, the highly respected Nol Datoc, who served as Laoag City Sangguniang Panlungsod secretary for a long time, talked to me, with his right arm on my teenaged shoulder. “My son is really a good boy deep inside, Herdy. Please help him become a good leader, too.”
I remained active in student organizations and collaborated with Henry on some projects. I still tried to make a difference in my own sphere of influence. I did not need to prove anything; I really just wanted to serve. At the end of the school year, I ended up being chosen over Henry for the prestigious Gerry Roxas Leadership Award.
I would see Henry again after many years. He is now successful in his career and has a happy family life. We had fun reminiscing the past. I was deeply moved by our mutual respect for each other.
Indeed, it is commendable to accept defeat in elections, especially in the Philippine context where most politicians proclaim only two things: either they won or they were cheated. Bowing to the electoral judgment of the majority is one important democratic principle we should thus seriously teach our children.
But what, dear karikna, if the elections were not clean, honest, and orderly? What if this democratic exercise itself casts doubt on the sovereign will?
These questions come to fore as there have been news reports circulating on the tempestuous student elections held last February 8 at the Holy Spirit Academy of Laoag.
Edward “Benja” Felipe III of the Victory Party filed an election protest, claiming a number of irregularities, among them the selection of candidates, the composition of election precinct personnel, ballots bearing no serial numbers, and missing extra ballots.
The teachers who were supposed to ensure clean and orderly elections are believed to have messed up the whole process.
Benja says that the issue goes beyond just winning or losing. It is about rectifying mistakes. It is not about discrediting the school; it is having elections beyond doubt. It is not only about today; but securing honest elections for the next batches of student leaders. To all these, I fully agree. Benja’s brother Dominic, who won as second year representative, holds the same principles, and so he refuses to assume his post, given the circumstances surrounding the election.
This issue having been discussed on radio, the mighty Bombo Radyo in particular, and in the Internet, it is now in public and out in the open. I thus called Mrs. Gemma Bareng, the Comelec chair, to clarify some issues. Is it true, for instance, that they used unnumbered ballots and that there were missing extra ballots?
According to the students’ Constitution and By-laws (Article 3, Section 7) “Official ballots shall be uniform in size, mimeographed, and numbered consecutively.” The numbering is meant to ensure that all ballots are accounted for. It is a mechanism of control. You don’t even need a constitution to mandate that if you employ common sense. There can be no valid elections without valid ballots.
But Mrs. Bareng’s Comelec finds no fault that an election was held with the use of unnumbered, hence constitutionally and legally invalid, ballots. She also stressed that everything is accounted for. These pronouncements provide us a window of how Mrs. Bareng and her colleagues think.
Shirley, Benja’s mom, is fully supportive of her kids, especially on this one. It is easy to dismiss her as just another overbearing stage mom. But there are important things a mom ought to teach her kids, among them justice, fairness, and responsibility—virtues my sisters Helen and Hedy learned from the old-school, nun-run Holy Spirit Academy of Laoag.
This issue has been formally raised with their Comelec, the offices of Principal Ofelia Sumalin, and School Director Policarpio Albano, a priest known for unbearably lengthy homilies. Inaction, however, has further frustrated Ms. Shirley, prompting her to write a letter to Bishop Renato Mayugba of the Diocese of Laoag, which oversees Catholic schools here. Portion of the letter read.
“My son, along with other students have been humiliated several times in front of the different student parties and fellow HSAians… Still, I advise my sons and other students to remain humble and to direct their supporters to do the same out of respect to the position they hold as COMELEC and to the Academy as a whole. I share the same sentiment with other parents and guardians for the frustration with the continued disregard of the COMELEC of the constitutional rights of our children.”
Mrs. Sumalin and the other election officers need to fully address the complaint, lest they continue to bring dishonor not only to Holy Spirit Academy of Laoag but to the Church itself which claims to be a reliable election watchdog.
How can we rely on the Church’s PPCRV to ensure responsible voting on local and national scales when Catholic school teachers cannot even conduct orderly high school elections?
How are they addressing, if at all, the issue of injustice not only to Benja, but to the apparent winners as well?
How can we not mourn when the very people we trust to teach our kids the value of credible elections seem to be effectively teaching the young how to cast doubts on the sacred exercise of their right to suffrage?