End of the Beginning

by Juan L. Mercado

“Noynoy  won,” our 3-year old grand-daughter Kathie reported when the wife and I visited their home.  “Erap lost.”

Kathie, her 6-year old sister Kristin and parents returned  Monday from  Hanoi. The two kids sensed  the drift  as their parents caught up with the news. “Out of the mouths of infants and sucklings  you perfect praise O, Lord,” the Psalmist wrote before  7/24 news.coverage.

A  daughter works as a communication officer in Jerusalem. On Internet, she cheered the swift ballot count. She welcomed  Senator Benigno Aquino who will be the 15th Philippine  president, after  Emilio  Aguinaldo

“So, did 50 million Filipinos vote for 50 thousand crooks?, she added in a half-serious wisecrack. How can a do-nothing  Senator Lito Lapid wrest more votes than candidates with gravitas like Baraquel Hontiveros? How do drug-linked persons oust a reformer like ‘Among” Ed Panlilio?

Aquino’s early sprint has turned into an irreversible lead. Secretary Ronald Puno earlier, and Senator Jinggoy Estrada this week, claimed this was just a bubble” from people’s grief over former President Corazon Aquino’s death.  

“No.  This was hard stuff,” Inquirer columnist Amando Doronila wrote back in October .  “It wasn’t resurfacing of memories from Edsa’s barricades,” explained Melba Padilla Maggay of the Institute for Church and Culture.  “Rather, it was high and low are closing ranks in the face of this nation’s degradation to lowest levels of moral and institutional (decay) under the Arroyo regime.

“Filipinos locate their hopes in a person they trust,” Maggay added. “People are not drawn to Noynoy because of personal charisma. But he has a legacy that people trust.   Kahit paano, yang mga Aquino, di yan nagnanakaw, as a vendor put it. For  this reason, he (connected) with those whose major concern is not pizzazz, but that this country will not be robbed blind again.”

Thus, presidential candidates Manuel Villar, Gibo Teodoro, Dick Gordon and others conceded defeat two days after the precincts closed. In the 2004 polls, no one yielded 42 days after votes had been cast and manually tallied.

The losers wrung enough graciousness to wish Aquino well. That’s no mean feat.  “It hurts too much to laugh and I’m too old to cry,” the trounced US presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson said.

The Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting which conducted unofficial counts, said the computerized tallies sealed old ways  for vote tampering. European Union and the US ambassadors welcomed the “generally trouble-free the election”.

The huge turnout and “patience of electors in sweltering heat “were an impressive proof of the resolve people (had) to have their voice heard, “” EU ambassador Alistair MacDonald said. The US Embassy  fielded 120 observers  They found citizens taking every step necessary to ensure integrity in the count. “The  Philippines has much to be proud

So, why did we come so late to computerized elections?

University of Pennsylvania switched on the world’s first computer in February, 1946. In 1989, Tim Berners Lee span off Internet from Switzerland. But Congress approved  the  law (RA 6369) on computerized polls in January 2007.

Manual polls served politicians well till then, whether the  Arroyos in Malacanang,  Ampatuans of Maguindanao or Ecleos of  Dinagat Island. So, pols  dragged their feet on automated elections.

“This legacy of tampered ballots explains today’s guarded hopes in swift computerized counts”, Viewpoint noted . Eight out of every ten  Filipinos  think vote-counting by machines will be more accurate, a March Social Weather Stations’ survey found.  Counts came in “swifter than Garci”, to quote Elections  Commissioner Jose Melo.  They   confirmed that hope.

But winning is only the start. Ahead for Aquino and team are festering problems and  rooted dynasties. Even now, Congresswoman-elect  Gloria Macapagal   Arroyo is  scrambling to ensure continued  dominance..

The centuries-old issue of Muslim aspirations is another issue.  There are  132 private armies to be dismantled and desparacidos to be located,  given  graves —  and justice. Above all,  insidious hunger debilitates one out of every three Filipinos.

Aquino  ought to avoid Joseph Estrada’s swagger in his 1998 inaugural address: “This time, no one will clip my powers,” Erap vowed – and went into sleaze freefall.   Instead, he can perhaps,  take a leaf from  Winston Churchill’s sober  counsel .after initial Allied victory in North Africa: “Now, this is not the end. It is not the beginning of the end. It is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

A first test comes this Monday.  Chief Justice Reynato Puno retires on May 17. President Arroyo has announced she will deny the incoming President the chance to name Puno’s replacement. She instead picked Justice Renato Corona after the Court, in a heavily-strafed decision, exempted chief justices from the ban on midnight appointments.

The Palace denies this ploy buys “additional insurance” for the outgoing President against graft suits. Court spokesmen dismiss the “Arroyo Court” tag  as baseless.

But history hangs heavy.  Corazon Aquino dismissed a servile Supreme Court that surrendered it’s right to review habeas corpus  cases to the dictator. She instead took her oath of  office from the junior but independent  Justice Claudio Teehankee.  

Will her son junk tradition and take his oath before someone other than an  Arroyo Supreme Court chief justice?.  That would perhaps, be  “the end of the beginning.”

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