Friday, October 30, 2009

The Butuanon Can!

This is the full text of my letter-complaint against Abelardo Saco, Butuan City Election Officer, addressed to the COMELEC Chairman Jose R. Melo, Republic of the Philippines.

I do not know what will come out of this complaint. At least, I can sleep well at night knowing that I did something about the situation, rather than keep on yakking about it and do nothing. It is my prayer that this small voice in the wilderness will be heard and get results.

I know there are a lot of Butuanons who wish to see change in Butuan. I know we can do it if we exert a unified effort, one step at a time. To those who are far away from Butuan, your prayers will be enough to help this cause. If you know anybody who went through a similar situation, please direct them to me or to ABS-CBN Butuan.

I already contacted the people from ABS-CBN TV Patrol Caraga. They might accompany me when I furnish the copies of this letter to Mr. Saco, the Mayor's Office and the Civil Service Commission - Caraga, this afternoon. At this point, FAITH and HOPE are all we really have. God bless us all!


October 30, 2009

Chairman Jose R. Melo
Commission on Elections
Republic of the Philippines

Dear Chairman Melo:

My name is Jennifer Michelle Flores Navarra-Divinagracia, an overseas worker who is based in Japan since October 2000. I recently came back to the Philippines to have my voter status reactivated through COMELEC – Butuan City. I have been traveling to the Philippines and back to Japan for the last 10 years. The last time I voted was in 1998 but I remember applying for a Voter’s ID when I changed my last name and updated my civil status after I got married in 2003. I would just like to share my grueling experience at the hands of Mr. Abelardo Saco, City Election Officer of Butuan City.

I originally planned to come home on the first week of December 2009 to process my voter reactivation, before the original deadline for registration, which was December 30, 2009. I am one of the many voters who were saddened when the deadline was moved to October 15, 2009. At that time, I was still waiting for my Machine-Readable Passport (MRP) from the Philippine Consulate of Osaka, so I was already losing hope about voting on May 2010. With God’s grace, I finally received my passport around the same time that COMELEC announced the extension of the deadline for registration to October 31, 2009. I immediately booked my flight back to Butuan via Manila from Nagoya. I safely landed in Butuan City last Friday, October 23, 2009.

On Monday morning, October 26, 2009, at 8AM sharp, I went to the COMELEC office in Butuan City and was accommodated by one of the COMELEC - Butuan personnel. I later learned that he is Mr. Abelardo Saco, Butuan City Election Officer. I showed him my previous Acknowledgement Receipt bearing my Application No. 020230000310. I also mentioned to Mr. Saco that I checked my status at the COMELEC website and found out that my status is deactivated. Mr. Saco DID NOT BOTHER TO HAVE MY STATUS CHECKED THROUGH THE OFFICE DATABASE. Instead, he told me outright that since my status is deactivated, I needed to line up outside the office together with the last-minute registrants. I graciously thanked Mr. Saco and went outside the COMELEC office to fall in line.

Outside the COMELEC office, I learned that COMELEC - Butuan is only processing 250 registrants per day. The line outside the office that Monday morning was around 1,000 people, most of whom, were already in line since the previous evening. There was no priority list whatsoever but there was also no rule against proxy-queuing. So, I arranged for somebody to fall in line for me at midnight that night for processing the following day. However, at around 6:30PM that evening, I was informed that the line for October 27 (Tuesday) already exceeded 50 people. Upon hearing this, I was alarmed and immediately asked my proxy to proceed to the COMELEC office to start falling in line. My proxy arrived at COMELEC - Butuan at around 9PM. The people in queue made a head count among themselves and my proxy was already 212th in line.

I went back to COMELEC - Butuan shortly before 8AM on Tuesday, October 27, 2009. At 8AM, the COMELEC staff started releasing the 250 application forms which were to be processed that day. I witnessed first-hand how bad the system was but I had no choice but to trust our good COMELEC staff that they knew what they were doing. Things got worse when the 250 forms were about to run out. There was too much pushing and shoving and the COMELEC people were not able to control the situation. The military personnel at the location could only look on because they really could not start shooting at the unruly crowd. Needless to say, MY PROXY WAS NOT ABLE TO GET AN APPLICATION FORM EVEN AFTER ENDURING 12 HOURS IN LINE WITH NO SLEEP. My heart just broke when I learned that some of the people in queue were there for 3 days already. These are those who lived in the far-flung barrios who were forced to camp out at the COMELEC office just to process their registration. They were already panicking because their food provision was already depleted. I could not bear the thought of these people being forced to endure another day of the same rotten process that I witnessed that morning.

I decided to talk again to Mr. Abelardo Saco and offer my proposal for a more efficient system based on my personal experience with the very efficient town hall services in our area in Japan. I presented to Mr. Saco the easiest and most cost-effective procedure that I could think of under the circumstances which is the use of a priority list. This list is only for the releasing of the application form so that people who come in do not need to fall in line. Instead, they could just write their names on the list, indicate their category of application, and affix their signatures. This list would then be read throughout the day. When their name is called, the registrant will then personally present his/her valid ID, receive an application form, fill it up, and go through the rest of the procedure in an orderly manner. The same process will continue until the office closes at 9PM in the evening. Mr. Saco said that he will discuss my proposal with his subordinates and told me to go back at 1PM. Again, I graciously thanked Mr. Saco and promised to go back in the afternoon. 

As agreed, I promptly returned to the COMELEC office at 1PM. It was then that I was told that my proposal was denied. He did share to me their decision that starting Wednesday (October 28), instead of a priority list, they will release 500 application forms but still, only 250 will be processed that day. Application forms 251-500 will be processed on Thursday (October 29). This means that applicants 251-500 will be allowed to bring home the application forms and go back the next day. There is no guarantee that these people will go back with their tax-funded application forms so, there is already a risk of wasting government resources. The same procedure will be repeated for Friday and Saturday (October 31), which is the last day of registration. I tried to plead with Mr. Saco but he categorically said that the decision has been made by him and his subordinates. For the third time, I thanked Mr. Saco for considering my proposal and told him that I respected their decision.

At this point, I was already exasperated with the situation that I decided to use my humble connections at the Butuan City Hall. I did not want to resort to this because I am not the type of person who tolerates “palakasan” in the government system. Sadly, COMELEC - Butuan’s inefficiency left me no choice but to ask for help from some friends in the office. I only asked for my voter status to be checked through the COMELEC database. It turned out that I was indeed DEACTIVATED for failure to vote in the last two elections but I was already VALIDATED. This means that I only needed to fill up the yellow application form for Reactivation in 3 copies and print my two thumb marks. There was no need for me to line up for the forms contrary to what Mr. Saco told me when I first came to the COMELEC office on Monday morning. I was totally shocked that the whole procedure for my reactivation took less than fifteen minutes. I couldn’t help but wonder why Mr. Saco told me to fall in line and endure the same hell-like conditions of the last-minute new registrants while he was holding my previous Voter’s ID claim stub. He, of all people, being the head of office of COMELEC - Butuan, should know that the white claim stub that he was holding was proof that I already underwent the process of Voter ID registration.

I left the COMELEC office, relieved but still pondering on the possible reasons why Mr. Saco did what he did. I wanted to take everything at face value and consider it as just another case of INCOMPETENCE in the Philippine government system. But in all honesty, I FELT THAT I WAS DISCRIMINATED IN MY OWN COUNTRY.

It is in this regard that I strongly appeal to the good COMELEC Chairman to take disciplinary action against Mr. Abelardo Saco, City Election Officer of Butuan City, for GROSS INCOMPETENCE in the handling of the voter registration process in Butuan City. I could not stomach that the same Mr. Abelardo Saco will sit as Butuan City Election Officer come election time.

Mr. Chairman, please save Butuan City from the abomination that is Abelardo Saco.

Herewith attached are scanned copies of my old and new Acknowledgement Receipts for your reference.

Your very prompt action on this matter will be greatly appreciated.

Very truly yours,

Jennifer Michelle F. Navarra-Divinagracia
805 L.E. Amante St., P1 Ampayon, Butuan City
Precinct No. 0179-B
Voter ID Application No. 0202300000310


- COMELEC - Administrative Services Department
- Civil Service Commission – Caraga Region
- COMELEC – Butuan City
- Office of the City Mayor – Butuan City
- ABS-CBN “Boto Mo, Ipatrol Mo”

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