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About the Author

Iris Cecilia Gonzales
journalist (Quezon City, Philippines)

I work as a reporter for the Philippine Star, a Manila daily. At present, I cover the Department of Finance beat but I also write other stories here and there. I'm also a coffee and scotch drinker, a barefoot traveller and a collector of memories. I live in a parallel universe.


Philippine Elections on May 10, 2010: At risk of failing

Published 08th May 2010 - 9 comments - 5763 views -

School teachers and poll workers carry election paraphernalia components to a remote village in South Upi in Maguindanao. Photo by the author


SOUTH UPI, Philippines – With a crescent moon still glistening above, I wake up from a deep slumber to start a four-hour trip to a far-flung municipality in the province of Maguindanao here in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao.

It is 4 in the morning and the city of Cotabato is still asleep. I get on a borrowed pick-up and start a bumpy uphill ride to the municipality of South Upi. The air gets crisper as I move deeper into the roads leading to the mountains. Fading behind me is the sound of the prayer chants of the Muslim faithful, slicing through the stillness of dawn.

I am here to cover for THINK3 how people in remote villages in Mindanao are preparing for the Philippines’s very first automated elections.  In exactly two days -- on May 10, 2010 -- Filipinos will elect a new president and other national and local officials.

Elections in the Philippines have always been marked by cheating and vote-buying, prompting the government to push for a new and automated system. In a country with majority of the population surviving on just $5 dollars a day, this democratic exercise is a perennial source of hope for a better life.

The sun is out when I reached South Upi, a place where most people live in thatched houses.

I head to a small village to look for the municipal hall where the automated voting machines have been delivered.  But I am later told that there is only a makeshift municipal hall, with the previous one gutted by fire in one of the past elections.

Here I meet Rosalinda Danal, a 55-year old public school teacher. In the Philippines, public school teachers facilitate the voting and the counting of ballots during elections.  

She is beaming with excitement and fervent hope.

“We are all excited because it will be a better system,” Danal tells this blogger.

In past elections when the voting and counting were done manually, Danal, who has been teaching elementary students for 14 years now, recalls that she and her colleagues would spend sleepless nights counting ballots.

“We would spend the night of the elections counting the ballots. It’s so hard,” she says.

This time, with the automated polls, Danal is hopeful.

“It’s also more difficult to manipulate the results,” she says.

She excuses herself and puts on a light purple satin cloth over her head to wrap her curly hair that goes all the way down to her waist.

Election worker Rosalinda Danal waits outside the municipal hall of South Upi, Maguindanao as she prepares to travel to a far-flung village for the election day. Photo by the author

She boards a six-wheeler truck carrying the automated voting machines and huge black ballot boxes. The road to the area she is assigned is riddled with potholes the size of bathtubs.  The village is 38 kilometers away from where we are. Smaller vehicles can’t pass through.

I bid her farewell. She gives me one last glance. It is a face filled with hope.

I board another truck heading to a nearer village, 14 kilometers away. We pass the same unpaved road -- bumps, huge boulders and the thickest mud.

After 45 minutes, we get off the truck and start a three-kilometer trek. There is nothing one can see except tall, wild grass and mountain ranges.

“Behind that is where we’re going,” says Lorje Olubalang, pointing to a distant grass-covered hill. Olubalang is the head of the voting and counting of ballots in the village where we’re heading.

We cross a creek and traverse muddy trails.  Olubalang, a lanky 53-year old teacher, carries the ballot box himself.  Two soldiers from the Armed Forces of the Philippines escort us. Their guns are ready to fire in case we are intercepted by elements I’m not exactly sure who.

After an hour of walking, we reach the small farming village of Kuhan, a place teeming with poverty. There is no electricity and no transportation except for one or two motorcycles. The sight of children roaming around the community greets us.

Olubalang leads us to the only school in Kuhan, in the middle of a barren lot surrounded by a bamboo fence. It is a small, decrepit room made of concrete. Some of the tables and chairs are broken. It is where the elections will be held.

He conducts the testing of the single voting machine assigned to this village that counts 300 voters.

It takes two hours to do the dry run of the automated voting machine. The battery won’t even start at first. The voter’s list is missing. The number code that will turn on the machine could not be found. He put it in his wallet but now, he couldn’t find it, Olubalang says.

The story is similar in the Philippine capital of Manila.

The test runs conducted the week before also resulted in numerous errors.

All hopes for better elections are withering fast.

But Olubalang won’t give up just yet.  He continues the tests. Men and women of the village fill the room. They want to see how it goes. The machine finally runs. Yet, there is one damaged ballot out of the ten sample ballots that they tested.

Election workers conduct test runs of the voting machines. Photo by the author

At five in the afternoon, he and his team are done. He starts an arduous walk home, several kilometers away.

I wait for the rented motorcycle that would pick me up and bring me back to the center of the municipality. I leave the village in disbelief. It is only two days before the elections. I’m keeping my fingers crossed there won’t be similar hitches encountered during the test runs.

But this is as uncertain as the dusty and murky terrain I took going up to South Upi.  The thick blankets of cold evening fog that covered the road on my way back to the city was not enough to blow away the doubts.















Category: Politics | Tags:


  • Robert Stefanicki on 08th May 2010:

    I’m not sure if this is any consolation, but even in such old democracy as the USA they have constant problems with automatic voting machines… Rome wasn’t built in a day.

  • Hanna Clarys on 09th May 2010:

    Yes, but in the USA you can be sure of fair elections without manipulation of the results. Some troubles with the voting machines won’t do a lot of damage there, but in the Philippines it might disturb the outcome of the elections.
    Iris, let us know who won the elections after all. I have become quite interested in the Philippines since you started blogging about it. Thanks for your posts!

  • Carmen Paun on 09th May 2010:

    Really nice post Cecilia. It makes me think: in Romania,the country I come from, a very fresh member of the European Union, there is no automatic voting. We also have teachers spending their weekend in the voting sections counting the ballots before the voting, which is always on a Sunday. After spending their whole Sunday in the voting section, they spend the night counting the ballots with the votes. And then they spend their Monday morning waiting in line to submit the ballots to the central elections’ authority. And we did have a lot of accusations of fraud in our two last presidential elections. So I guess the Philippines are one step in front of an EU country with the introduction of the automatic voting.

  • Iris Cecilia Gonzales on 10th May 2010:


    Yes, there are birth pains. Thanks for your comment.


    It is my honor to be able to tell the world what is happening in my country. Thank you for listening always.


    Very interesting insight. Thank you for your comment. I thought the Philippines is just among the few countries doing manual counting before this automated system and that all European countries have left us behind. I hope your country will eventually move towards automated voting.

    Will update all of you guys of the results. As of this writing, there are only partial results. Again, thanks for your comments!

  • Iris Cecilia Gonzales on 13th May 2010:

    To the THINK3 community and our readers,

    It is with great relief that I wish to update you of the results of the Philippines’ first automated elections. It turned out smooth, with most of the results counted fast and accurately. Counting in the regions took some time to finish but overall, this year’s polls were relatively credible and peaceful. Cheating, vote-buying and violence that marked previous elections which were done manually, were, fortunately for this country, were not prevalent. Ofcourse, there were technical glitches and the preparations were extremely difficult but these are all viewed as birthpains. Hopefully, the next elections in 2016 will be smoother.

    You can check for updates. This is a victory for democracy. Hopefully, the emerging winner, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, a credible one, will deliver on his campaign promises to make this country a better place.

    Will keep everyone posted!

  • Carmen Paun on 13th May 2010:

    I am glad to hear that Cecilia.

  • dominic on 14th May 2010:

    I’m Filipino who represents a brain injury attorney, and I think the elections went better as expected. There may have been isolated cases of mishaps, but they were minor. What I do not like is the Noynoy Aquino winning because I personally think he is not competent enough. Plus, he is supported by numerous capitalists who have their won vested interests, but that’s just my opinion.

  • Iris Cecilia Gonzales on 22nd May 2010:

    Hi Dominic,

    Many people share your sentiment. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. Let’s see how it goes. The best of luck to our country.

  • Iris Cecilia Gonzales on 27th May 2010:

    Dear all,

    Sharing with you a photo story on how elections went in Mindanao. Another view. Another take. One story. One moment in our country’s history.

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