November 07, 2008

Bubut Quicho reflects on the US elections

FOR those still too young not to know or remember him, Perfecto "Bubut" Quicho was probably the first Filipino to ever head a major foreign hotel chain (Hyatt Regency) in the Philippines. He has gone on to become a partner in several restaurant ventures mostly with businessman Tonyboy Cojuangco, the latest of which is the newly-opened French bistro in Makati called La Régalade.

I got this email from a friend who wanted to share Mr. Quicho's thoughts on the conduct of elections in the United States and in the Philippines, and how local politicians need to behave more statesmanlike whether they win or lose. Read on:

We need change even more.

For the past couple of years, there was so much to dislike about America. After just one day – with the way they carried out a presidential election – there is so much to admire about America.

How can their elections be so inspiring, when ours have been so hopeless, even disgusting?

There are lessons to be learned here. Lessons we have to take to heart if we are to get out of the rut we are in. We have just been shown what clean elections are all about.

Foremost of the lessons is how ordinary citizens can control their fate, instead of having politicians control them.

The American people took their responsibility as voters seriously. Instead of asking, they gave – which right away eliminated the politics of patronage that has blighted elections all over the world.

Ordinary people contributed to the Obama campaign – small amounts of one to ten dollars each, which grew to millions of dollars because there were millions of them who gave.

The same ordinary people were actively involved – volunteering to work for their candidates, campaigning in their areas, and urging everyone to get out and vote.

Voters respected their rights. They came out in huge numbers– many going to the polls at break of dawn, enduring long lines and waiting for hours – to make sure their votes will be in.

The politicians were just as responsible. While there were some personal attacks and unsavory statements, the campaigns for the most part tackled issues and explained where they stood to the people. Much more than the mudslinging, there was a serious discussion of programs and prescriptions to deal with the nation's most pressing problems.

There was no cheating, nor attempts to subvert the election process, which has been part and parcel of our own elections. Which made it easy for everyone to accept the results.

The candidates displayed wisdom and maturity in the aftermath. Senator John McCain was gracious and magnanimous in defeat, despite the passion with which he competed against his rival, as he delivered what was described by a TV anchor as a "handsomely generous speech."

President-elect Barack Obama, in his own speech, was grateful, conciliatory, and grounded in reality as he acknowledged the challenges the nation faced and the hard work that waited to be done.

And he was humble in victory, telling the people that "I will listen to you, specially when we disagree." How different from the way our President reacts to critical views.

(Mano-mano counting in Manila. Photo by David Greedy/Getty Images, May 10, 2004)

But above all, we have to learn how count the votes quickly and get the results out immediately. Despite having to use different systems and unavoidable glitches, everyone in the US was determined to get the votes in and counted as quickly as possible. Not one politician made an attempt to delay the proceedings or manufacture excuses to postpone the counting. They did not want to influence the outcome, they wanted to know what the real results were.

Long drawn out counting of votes is the sure recipe for failed elections. But through the years, our political leaders have thwarted every attempt to computerize the elections.

We can do it, of course. The Indians have shown the way, using an efficient and inexpensive automation system that even the US concedes is superior to theirs.

But no one in our country is even taking a look at this system which can solve our election woes.

Most candidates believe that the only way to assure victory is to monkey with the results – long counts allow that to happen, automation will make it very difficult.

These trapos completely ignore the fact that the best way to win elections is to genuinely work for the welfare of the people.

It is more rewarding for them to make fortunes from irregular deals and tainted projects. And to win votes – they grandstand, issue empty statements that land in media, spoil local leaders with favors in exchange for support, use money to influence voters when election time comes, and tamper with the results that do not go their way.

We need to change, more than they do in America.

People need to develop the courage to stand up for what is good for them. Demand concrete platforms and clear solutions to the problems that savage us. Get involved in the process by exercising the right and protecting their votes.

Our leaders have to look beyond their interests and give the people their due. By not insulting their intelligence with campaigns that are more like showbiz-style circuses. Campaigns should be what they are supposed to – a chance to let people know what they stand for and how they intend to help the taong bayan. With specific, concrete plans of action and not merely slogans and catch phrases.

They must seriously attend to the job of working for the people, does anyone still remember that officials are supposed to be public servants?

And we must finally overhaul the rotten political system that has only made our people miserable. Starting with the use of appropriate technology – something practical, affordable and suited to our needs – to automate our elections.

The politics of corruption and naked power has to end.

It is time to give the Filipino people the governance they deserve.

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