By Joseph B.A. Marzan
Teachers are the unsung heroes of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic as they make sure that children’s learning continues amid the lack of physical meetings.
But on May 9, 2022, they return to the frontlines, facing people once again, this time helping the nation choose its next set of leaders.
Based on official Commission on Election (COMELEC) figures provided to Daily Guardian by the city election office, 257,307 teachers served as Board of Election Inspectors members nationwide in the 2019 elections, with 1,164 coming from Iloilo City.
Compared to past elections in the city, there were 1,920 BEI members in 2016 and 1,050 in 2013.
COMELEC Iloilo City Election Assistant II Jonathan Sayno said that they are expecting up to 1,515 members of the Electoral Boards (formerly Board of Election Inspectors or BEIs).
Three members of the Electoral Board would be deployed each to 505 clustered precincts around the city, an increase from 388 precincts in the 2019 elections.
The increase in the number of precincts had been attributed to the decrease in the maximum number of voters in each precinct (800 from 1,000), also due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Daily Guardian spoke to teachers who had previously served in the elections, with their experiences as well as their expectations for the 2022 polls.
TEACHERS IN THE POLLS
Apollo and Marchell are teachers at the Uswag San Isidro Elementary School in Jaro, Iloilo City.
Apollo advises a Grade 6 class while teaching ESP and Science at the same level and also teaches Araling Panlipunan to Grade 5 students.
Marchell teaches kindergarten learners.
Most of their students, 95 percent as they estimate, come from the Uswag San Isidro relocation site, while other 5 percent come from other relocation sites in Dolmax, Lanit, and Sambag, nearby areas still in Jaro district.
Like some of their fellow teachers in the city, they served in the past elections – Apollo in the 2013, 2016, and 2019 elections; and Marchell in 2016 and 2019.
Both admitted that like everyone else, it was difficult to adjust to the pandemic, either in their professional and personal lives.
Marchell said she felt “challenged” by how she would be able to facilitate teaching kindergarteners, who required individualized, face-to-face interaction for “more effective” learning.
“Since we’re kindergarten teachers, we really did one-on-one and face-to-face, because we’re more on independent learning. Nowadays it’s become difficult to assess because the parents are the ones guiding them even if we’re the ones teaching. The learners’ progress is really better in a face-to-face setup unlike this time when it’s modular. But we do give instructions to parents on how to perform tasks with the learners,” she said.
Apollo said that teachers had struggled while adjusting to the first few months of the pandemic due to the mistakes they could make at times with the modules.
He added that for him personally, it was difficult, since he also lost his mother last year, but he was able to cope as time went by.
“Sometimes, we couldn’t perfect them since of course, we are just human, so there would be clerical errors, then after there would be corrections. This year, we’re already able to adjust, and somehow those with corrections were already done, and those from the division, regional, and central office, are now being distributed to the children,” Apollo said.
“The pandemic had the biggest effect in my life because in that time of the pandemic, my mother died. So therefore, June, adjustment, then August, opening of classes, there was great adjustment, but I was able to do it. Until now, still struggling but we’re okay,” he added.
Nowadays, their weeks are spent on printing modules good for two weeks, contacting parents and learners of their progress, checking papers, and attending webinars from the comforts of their classrooms, and their own homes on Fridays.
They also spoke at length about their experiences preparing and during election periods.
Prior to the elections, they would be trained and re-trained on how to use the machines and in other election-related processes, as well as to be present during inspections of precincts and the final testing and sealing of machines.
Apollo noted how it was difficult for them to adjust to the automated election system, prompting him to hold on to the manual of the Precinct Count Optical Scanner (PCOS) machines even during election day.
But he added that he had found the automated elections to be easier than the previous manual elections, when it comes to the canvassing of the results.
“I couldn’t forget when the PCOS [machines] were new to us. We were even undergoing seminars. But there were gaps of some days, so we would have to study them, since maybe at the time of the election, we could press the wrong buttons or we could not send the votes, so that’s something I couldn’t forget. What I did was to hold on to the manual. Historically, the manual counting is difficult because there’s a lot of holding ballots and reading out loud manually, but with the automated elections, it’s just printing and signing,” he shared.
For Marchell, she recalled the malfunctioning of the Vote Counting Machines in the most recent elections, where they had to collect the ballots manually and count them securely at the Jubilee Hall in City Proper, where local results were being canvassed.
“I remember the time when I served at Jaro II. Our machines were okay at the first 2 hours, but at the end, it no longer read [votes]. Our struggle there is that voters became doubtful, since the first votes received by the machines were counted. There were, I think, three machines which weren’t functioning and one of those was in our precinct. So what we did there was that the voters were the ones inserting in the boxes, and we had to be escorted by the police and watchers from different parties to Jubilee Hall since the votes were recounted there from the bin and inserted into the machines,” she narrated.
Both of them have signed up for the 2022 elections, and while they had been waiting for whether or not they would be serving in the upcoming polls, they are optimistic that they will be doing so.
This was because Uswag San Isidro Elementary School had also been listed as one of the newer precincts for next year’s elections.
Residents in the area had previously voted at the next nearest school, the Judith L. Tiongco Memorial Elementary School, also within Barangay San Isidro.
Apollo opined that they would not have to worry, so long as the COMELEC re-conducts trainings, at least with limited face-to-face interaction so Election Board members could be re-oriented with the processes.
“There are years’ gap, so we couldn’t easily remember with the load of work we have. For these elections, there should be more seminars. Even with COVID, if they could have seminars, there should be hands-on [sessions]. Because if there wouldn’t be any hands-on [sessions], I’m not going to be wrong [in saying] that there would be teachers who would be cramming come election time. Even with hands-on [training], [there are already teachers] panicking, what if there would be no hands-on, since it’s automated?” he said.
As to expectations, he also said that it is already expected that they would also be marshalling for the observance of proper health protocols due to the ongoing COVID pandemic.
He added that due to these protocols, they may be expecting that voting may stretch to as late as 10 p.m.
“There are bigger expectations for this election, like physical distancing, proper protocols, because if before they can crowd, this time they have to follow protocols. We have to observe proper protocols while in school, and we have to do sanitation measures. One expectation that if precincts closed at 7 p.m. last time, maybe this time it may be 9 p.m. or 10 p. m., depending on the COMELEC, because of the time allotment for voters, then social distancing, as maybe they will only allow from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. to line up,” he added.
Marchell also said that they were not worried over possible conflicts with their teaching duties as long as they have “training or dry run with the COMELEC before the elections, to at least get familiarized with what the do’s and don’ts are during election proper.”
Apollo added that teachers would have to manage their time well if they would still be expected to carry out teaching-related obligations while prepping themselves for a different kind of elections.
“We would have two weeks to produce, check, and other things we need to do. So therefore, if they know that they will be serving, the teacher should have good time management. We should have double time so we can finish before election day or the seminars, sealing, and other election activities,” he said.
Department of Education (DepEd) Department Order No. 029 series of 2021 already marked off May 2 to 6 and May 10 to 13 as “National Elections-related Activities” and May 9 as the date of the election.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Sayno clarified that public school teachers are no longer required by Republic Act No. 10756 to provide their services during election time.
He stated that while public school teachers are the “first priority” when it comes to rendering service for Election Boards, other persons may also be tapped for the said election duties, including:
- Private school teachers;
- Employees of national government agencies;
- Non-government agencies like the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) and the National Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL); and
- Regular voters provided that they meet qualifications laid down by the Rep. Act. No. 10756.
Prior to the enactment of Rep. Act No. 10756, public school teachers were mandated by Batas Pambansa Blg. 880 (Omnibus Election Code) to render service during election day.
He also discussed that the Electoral Boards are fully managed by the COMELEC, appointed from a list provided by the DepEd Division of Iloilo City to them.
There would be trainings for members of the Electoral Boards on the familiarization of using VCMs and guidelines, with general instructions for electoral boards, their functions especially on election day, and final testing and sealing of VCMs, which is set from May 2 to May 7, 2022.
DepEd supervising officers will also be appointed by the COMELEC to monitor progress in each of the polling centers, and technical support staff will be provided to ensure smooth processing of votes in the VCMs.
Medical personnel will also be deployed to polling places to monitor compliance with COVID protocols as well as to be on standby for any medical emergency.
As to compensation, he mentioned that COMELEC En Banc Resolution No. 10727 already laid down the provision of honoraria and other allowances as also provided for in Rep. Act Np. 10756.
Under Resolution No. 10727, Chairpersons of Electoral Boards are entitled to P7,000, while their Members are entitled to P6,000 each.
They are also entitled to P2,000 travel allowance (P1,000 for election day and P1,000 for final testing and sealing), and Anti-COVID-19 allowance of P500 each.
Sayno also assured that in case of death, the COMELEC has already prepared death benefits for them and their family members, as well as legal assistance if there would be court litigation.
He said that members of the Electoral Board can expect their compensation to come in 14 days after the election.
“They can be assured that these will be released 14 days after the election day, unlike before that there were many delays. We have laid down the possible problems with the elections and other processes,” he said in a phone interview.
The list of members of Electoral Boards, according to Sayno, is expected to be released by the 3rd week of January 2022.
This story is part of the Philippine Press Institute-Hans Seidel Foundation 2021 Journalism Program: Civic Journalism in the Time of Pandemic with support from the Hanns Seidel Foundation.