#TalkThursday: PPCRV in the 2013 elections
MANILA, Philippines – In this week's edition of #TalkThursday, Rappler talks to Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) Communications head Ana de Villa-Singson.
De Villa-Singson is the daugher of PPCRV co-founder Henrietta "Tita" de Villa. Tita de Villa started the group with the late Jaime Cardinal Sin and the late Haydee Yorac in 1991. PPCRV describes itself as a national parish-based political but non-partisan lay movement.
In November 2012, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) accredited PPCRV as its citizens' arm for the 2013 elections.
Ressa: PPCRV took the nation by 2010 by using impossible timetables. I told you it was impossible in 2010 and you pulled it off. So here we are, the start of national campaigns this week. Ana, what will make these elections different?
Singson: I think it's very different in the sense that, okay, it's also automated but the prob - I'm not gonna say problem but the difference is that this time there are many, there are more stakeholders involved than there were in 2010.
Singson: In 2010 there was more, let's call them consolidator, one major project manager - that was Smartmatic. Now, what Comelec did was to unbundle the election process in the sense that Smartmatic is in charge of transmission and the CF cards, and the PCOS machine of course. But the other areas of the election process were given out to different other vendors like printing is by NPO who gave it to somebody else as well. So right now instead of having one cook orchestrate the entire thing, you have several cooks doing many, many different things.
Ressa: Isn't that more dangerous.
Singson: Well, I think the strength is that it hopefully allays fears that there's something like a bit fishy because everything is consolidated with one group. No manipulation. The hard thing though is, you're hoping that they're orchestrating to the same tune and to the same schedule. Especially now, to schedules are tight. They are getting very tight and May is a hop and a skip away so I'm hoping that they get their acts together. So that's the big difference.
Ressa: You're deeply in on the inside watching the whole thing, I mean…
Singson: As PPCRV, yes.
Ressa: What are you seeing comparing it. As you said, there are different groups from 2010 but the largest danger aside from getting the schedule… First of all, does it look like it's gonna happen?
Singson: Uhm… Yes, definitely. Not like in 2010 there was a very, very viable no-election scenario that everybody was talking about and thinking 'Oh, it might happen.' I don't think that's going to happen this time. We have the fall back from the learnings in 2010. The automated elections in 2010. It's just that, as I said, you have to orchestrate with more groups now, they all have to align, they all have to align really soon because if I were an engineer writing a pert CPM it would be red lights all over and everything would practically be on critical path right now.
Ressa: Shouldn't we already have been aligned by this point in time. The start of the national campaigns is this week. It's 3 months before elections, isn't it this late in the game?
Singson: A little bit, if you ask me. That's mostly because some of the major lots - they are called lots, the unbundled services - some of the major lots were awarded rather late - only in December and some in January. So, but they've already been awarded and things are moving along and I guess people ask me, if you're worried how come PPCRV doesn't seem to be in a flurry or PPCRV seem so much calmer than the other citizen's arms… I think maybe it's because we were there in the front seat of what happened in 2010. Maria, you know, the unofficial parallel count came together in one wekk. You know that because we were talking to you at the time.
Ressa: Again, I didn't think that was possible, but you and your mom were able to…
Singson: And then the CF card fiasco happened 3 days before election day. That the CF card could not read the back of the ballot and suddenly we're like… Oh my goodness it's gonna be the elections and you can't read the local face of the ballot. But we saw Comelec get their act together and do everything in 3 days. So if we seem to have a little more, not nonchalance, but maybe a little more confidence than other groups, because that's what people are saying, we are calmer than others, it's because we were there. We've seen and we can testify to the capabilities of what they did before.
Ressa: This is a different Comelec though. How would you gauge the two?
Singson: That's true. It's a different Comelec. I mean, very, very different styles. Before project manager, you had chairman Melo and you had of course, Atty. Larrazabal who is, by the way, with PPCRV now. And Goyo was very, very tech savvy. Although there are many, many tech savvy consultants also before. I guess some learning points that, maybe you get lost because of different project management like in the test that we had recently in the mock elections, you see a lot of paper jamming. And the question is, is the paper the same? You just have to feel it. You don't have to be techie to know that they don't feel the same from what they felt like in 2010. I mean, those were things that project management group had done before so why reinvent the wheel? So, concerns like that. That sort of slip through because maybe, there are different people and different suppliers doing things.
Ressa: There's always a lot of suspicion. There's no possibility now of manual count. We'll go ahead with automation.
Ressa: But, let's focus on PPCRV, at the end of it there were white papers, PPCRV actually did do what it set out to do. Actually surprised me I have to say, you guys did a great job in 2010. BUT, the controversy that was there that Smartmatic, that you had an account, was working with smartmatic. There seemed like a conflict of interest between the mom… explain this and what?
Singson: I'm so glad, in a way, that you brought that up. It's one of the worst, most painful experiences I had in 2010. I am a volunteer, I started as a volunteer because my mother asked me to be a volunteer. She's the chairman of PPCRV. First it was really just for my mom because she needed help. I said okay, I'm retired, I'm not doing anything, I'll help you.
Ressa: Retired from? Your background is?
Singson: I used to be a VP for corporate marketing, advertising, PR, that's why this world is pretty much familiar to me. The advertising, the marketing, PR world. I did it because my mother asked me to and because nobody else was going to do it at PPCRV we needed volunteers. And then I spent sleepless nights and then one day I wake up and see my column. Belinda Cunanan, I will never forget. Inquirer's Belinda Cunanan. I get so many texts and calls saying, "Ana, you have a contract with smartmatic? Because what Belinda Cunanan wrote is 'Is it true'?"
And she phrased it as a question to make it palatable media wise.
Is it true that the daughter of the chairman has a smartmatic contrat to the tune of 200 and later it became 400 million. Which is why PPCRV is so pro-automated election. I mean, I remember calling up Sandy Prieto at the time telling Sandy, "Sandy, you know I don't have a single business. I baked cakes at the time at home which friends would order, you know, just little things like that but nothing like, I didn't have a company or anything.
Ressa: So there was no conflict of interest…
Singson: No! None. Isagani Yambot wrote a beautiful apology but of course Belinda Cunanan never did. So there, and what hurts there, If there were people, other volunteers who want to volunteer for the sake of nationhood and they get paid back with all this junk and all these lies. Who will ever volunteer? Who will ever volunteer for civic society? And for you know, things like this.
Ressa: And yet you came out of it, and you're doing it again.
Singson: Somebody has to.
Ressa: What is powering and fueling PPCRV and people like you?
Singson: For me, I'm doing this for our volunteers. Every single one of them is a hero. People don't know the profile of a PPCRV volunteer. They see executive board members, maybe they see my mom.
But the true volunteer of PPCRV is the one who walks the mountains for 2 days in Tsinelas. Sometimes riding the carabaos crossing the ravine to be able to be there when the PCOS machine arrives and to be able to watch and guard it when he doesn't even have money for his own food. That is your ordinary volunteer. You have people who have been volunteering for the past, how many elections? We've had 24 electoral exercises. An 84-year-old woman in Negros, who was already getting sun stroke, who's bishop was already telling her, go home, rest, sleep. You have no business here. And she said, no, this is my job, this is my country. That's what's fueling volunteers. That's what people don't understand. There are a lot of heroic Filipinos. You just have to give them a venue, and they don't have a vested interests. Same of us in PPCRV. We just want to try and help and make a difference.
Ressa: The base of PPCRV is really the church. That is the community. You're harnessing the parishioners, and then they're going to volunteer. NAMFREL, they're coming in this year, that's another. Will you work with them?
Singson: Of course we have to work together. And I remember in 2010 there was a lot of hoopla saying even between the citizen's arm there's an issue. As far as I'm concerned we're all working towards the same objective. As far as I'm concerned, we should be able to work together and Comelec did say that we are being designated our own roles, we have to work hand in hand. But even without that mandate from Comelec. For goodness sake, it's the same objective. We all want clean, honest, accurate, meaningful, and peaceful elections. So I hope no politics gets into it. Just public service.
Ressa: Of course that will never happen (laughs). These elections coming up in May. What do you think will make it different. Not in terms of the process but in terms of the Filipino voter?
Singson: Well, you know what we noticed before and this was very deserving for me in 2010 to collate all the reports from all our 3,500 parishes in the country. And what disturbed me was value devaluation. Because, it was so rampant, vote-buying, there was an explosion of vote-buying. So I think the difference here is that people, you know, pay attention to the PCOS machines and that's why you have a citizen's arms. But even more than that people should pay attention to themselves because the PCOS machine is amoral. It will do what you tell it to do. Or what you tell it not to do. So in the end it was never about the PCOS machines, It wasn't always about how we value our elections and how we value our vote. So do you want to sell your vote?
Singson: Maria, in 2010 it moved from retail vote-buying, as in tingi-tingi, to families. Wholesale paradigm shift. They would buy families from Php2,500 to Php5,000 and now even more alarming, they are buying entire barangays. Imagine that.
Ressa: It's happening now.
Singson: Yes, we're getting reports. And entire barangays are being bought. So for me the big difference is the strong requirement for examination of conscience. Of course, you have to watch all the mechanics of AAS, you have to be vigilant about that. But even more, we have to be vigilant about the values we are losing, the values that are getting eroded come elections. Because they are now buying entire barangays.
Ressa: Do you think this is indicative of just the endemic corruption in the country or is this the erosion of personal values of Filipinos?
Singson: I think both. I think it's very indicative of economic needs and economic insidencies that face them. I mean, you're faced with a person that tells you, Ana, why don't I accept the 5,000 for my family. I could feed them for a week, or maybe for a month. So what do you say? You say vote conscience. Vote conscience.
Ressa: At this point, how can you change this?
Singson: We're trying, we're being a bit more ambitious and with your help, with the help of media we're trying to be a little more ambitious now in 2013. We have voter's education, of course. And we have beautiful voter's education with comics so it's easy to understand. But on top of that we're trying to harness mass media. We're starting with ads against vote-buying and ads reminding…
You know, it's so funny. You sell your vote but you're not choosy who you vote for. They tell you to vote this and you do that. But we are very choosy when we buy anything else. When we buy fish, my goodness, we poke it, we prod it, we look at the gills. When we make ukay-ukay, you spend 30 minutes on one blouse deciding. When you buy a car, you take days, months to think about it. But do you even give it the same thought when you're choosing your candidate? So we're trying to come up with a campaign like that also to make people realize that, you know, 'Pili' is in the word 'Pilipinas' e. Di ba? Pumili kayo para sa Pilipinas. If you're choosy about everything else, why not the candidates and the future that they can create or actually destroy for you.
Ressa: Are you like, Don Quijote? I mean, is this an impossible dream?
Singson: I'd like to think not. Because if we think it's impossible then you're just accepting status quo. We have to fight against that.
Ressa: Do you think Filipinos are listening?
Singson: Yes! Especially the youth. The youth are very empowered. There was actually a survey I read on the youth recently. It said that actually was it 60%? A very high percentage. Amongst them, 2-thirds of them are actually involved in organizations which are somehow related to the elections. So that's very encouraging. And the youth kasi they stick to their ideals and I hope they never lose them.
Ressa: It's so hard with this administration talking about 'Daang matuwid' and fighting corruption that's part of the reason confidence has been restored in the Philippines. Have you seen it reflected in that. When you're talking about entire barangays now being bought.
Singson: You have the aberrations, but there are some.
Ressa: You're still optimistic.
Singson: We have to be. Somebody has to be right. Of course it's alarming when entire barangays are being bought I don't know how much for. But there are reports coming, and not just one report. Several. From tingi-tingi, to family, now it's whole barangays, what next? The whole town? What?
Ressa: What do yu do when you get reports like that?
Singson: That's the hard thing. It's very difficult to get proof about vote-buying. Of course at the local level, we raised that to as many media practitioners as we can. And we try to bring that up of course to the local level Commission on Election offices but it's very difficult to get proof for vote-buying. That's the hard part.
Ressa: But what if that's black ops for either candidate, right? How do you verify that?
Singson: That's very hard. I'll be honest. That's very hard. We know it's happening. We know money is exchanged. Sometimes we even get physical proof of the money that gets exchanged. But to be able to attribute it directly to a person that becomes very tough.
Ressa: What we've also seen and this is from looking at it in 2010. The candidates themselves conduct black operations against each other and sifting through that and a report about corruption doesn't necessarily have to be about corruption even though I think we all know it happens.
Singson: That's why I was saying to be very choosy about the candidates that you vote for. I mean, if that's the case then it's very Machiavellian right. When at all costs, it's that the candidate that you want leading your country. So in the end it's examination of conscience and use of, hopefully, value-driven selection.
Ressa: How far do you think the Filipino voter will evolve in these coming elections? We're in a period of transition. I think you're right you talked about the youth. The youth can drive it. What will you see? Do you expect to see transformation at all?
Singson: You know, happily, we see it especially with the young. The young are so active now. 56% of them are young, are under 30 in this particular election. Many are first time voters. And it's very encouraging because they call us, they call our centers and say we want, they're not asking for just PCOS training, they want values training and they ask about the platforms, they are asking questions that were never asked before.
They are asking questions about platforms, they ask questions about past experience. They are not you're typical voter who will go in there and maybe decide the last minute. They really spend time assessing and that's wonderful moving forward. I hope everybody takes this attitude.
Ressa: Fantastic. Okay, going forward now. What can someone do to help with the change?
Singson: You can volunteer, please volunteer. Log in to our website it's PPCRV.org or you can actually go to your parish centers there are coordinators there. You can be a poll watcher and then if you want to join, we're having an unofficial parallel count also if they want to do manual encoding they can do that also. So, many ways to help to be a very involved citizen in this election. Volunteer please and you can be a poll watcher as I've said. If not poll watcher, we'll find ways for you to be involved that fit your particular profile.
Ressa: The last question is, you're talking about voters examining their own conscience. Pili…
Singson: Pili para sa Pilipinas. It's in the word, right? It's in our country's name so think about your country when you're choosing. Pag pumipili, isipin ninyo naman and Pilipinas, di ba?
Ressa: So how can voters vote smart?
Singson: Study. Study the platforms especially now I think it's very, very critical. You will see so many familiar names but does name familiarity mean immediately that they will perform as well as the uncle, the father, the relative, the in-law, the tito, the tita, the sister, the brother? Not necessarily. So know the candidate. Now, there's no excuse not to know it because it's all through out social media, like Rappler. You can easily drop their biodatas, you can get it there. You just have to be a little bit involved. It doesn't take too long. Put a name, Google a name, go to Rappler, go to wherever. It's so easy to find out. Don't just go by name recall or good looks or what they can do for me. Find out what they can do for you. – Rappler.com