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A police officer was caught in the act of slapping a teacher guarding the ballot box (JCF).

The petition of the public school teachers who staged a strike before the office of the COMELEC that serving in the May 11 elections be made optional should be promptly and properly heard. Even if one of their leaders, Fidel Fababier said that "teachers want freedom from compulsory election duties," I think what they are really asking for is that they be given protection throughout the duration of the election since they are almost always prone to harassment by those who are out to confuse the whole process.

They themselves said that they would not boycott the coming elections. They acknowledge their role in ensuring clean and honest elections. I believe that many teachers are still willing to serve as Board of Election Inspectors (BEIs) during the May 11 polls, even if serving in the elections were made optional. The only thing that is keeping them from being enthusiastic about serving in this years elections is the fear of overwhelming and uncontrollable confusion during the duration of the exercise. They are most concerned with the safety and security of themselves and of the election paraphernalias and returns.

Theirs are valid concerns and fears. For one, they say they have not been given enough briefing by the COMELEC regarding the party-list system, which is a new feature of the May 11 elections. Since this is the first time we are having this system, most of the electorate, including the teachers are not familiar with it. I even doubt whether most of them are aware of the significance of this party-list system. One can just imagine the confusion that will ensue because both the voters and the election inspectors are not familiar with the system.

The strikers also asked that the number of voters per precinct be reduced from 200 to 150. This suggestion makes sense to me. Remember that each voter will have to write at least 20 names in their ballots. If there are only 8 voting hours, each voter has approximately 24 minutes to vote (this includes introducing himself to the inspectors, asking for the ballot and casting the ballots). Then comes the tedious process of counting. I wonder how long it will take for the BEIs to finish counting the 4,000 (20 names x 200 voters) names. Reducing the number of voters per precinct will bring down the number of names to be counted to 3,000. But we have not yet considered the delays because of protests and coffee breaks. So, the coming elections will really be excruciatingly long and tedious.

Most important, however, is the request for security and protection. Early in the morning, the teachers should go to the municipal hall of their respective localities to claim the election forms and ballot boxes. Even at this point, there are already ballot box snatchers. The situation is more difficult for those who are assigned to remote barangays in the local areas. Some of these places are inaccessible except through rough roads and waters. Without security escort and even plain assistance, the job may altogether be punishing and dangerous.

For many years now, the public schools teachers have been serving in our elections despite the fact that they were underpaid and that their lives were always in danger. It is heartwarming to recall that one of them even gave her life in order to defend the sanctity of the ballot. She was Mrs. Tatlonghari of Batangas who got killed because she would not surrender the ballot box to the snatchers. I am certain there are many of them, whose names we may never ever hear of, but are always there ready to serve when called for and needed.

The solutions to the problems that the teachers will face during the election day and the days after that lie in the hands of the COMELEC. If the poll body is really sincere in ensuring a clean and honest election, it will have to act on the requests of the public school teachers. It may appear to us that their requests are aimed at making their jobs a little easier. But in the end, I think most of our public school teachers are also concerned with protecting the sanctity of the ballot and the dignity of this whole political exercise. The bottom line of the issue is whether the COMELEC recognizes the important role of teachers in success of the elections.

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Christian Action for Peaceful and Meaningful Elections
Loyola School of Theology, Ateneo de Manila University, Quezon City
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