Remembering the Comelec Walkout of February 9,1986 After the Snap Election
Twenty-seven years ago, on Feb. 9 of 1986, “thirty-five tabulators/computer workers, officially composed of 30 women and 5 men manning the Comelec’s quick count computer terminals “walked out of the PICC Plenary Hall in protest of what they said was the cheating they were being made party to” (Alex Baluyut) referring to the tabulation results of the 1986 Philippine Presidential Snap Election.
For quick recall, in the face of escalating public discontent and under pressure from foreign allies, Marcos called a snap presidential election for 1986, with more than a year left in his term. He selected Arturo Tolentino as his running mate. On the other side of the line, the opposition united behind Benigno Aquino’s widow, Corazon, and her running mate, Salvador Laurel.
Two days after the snap election, and with the tabulations still going on, the 35 computer programmers/technicians who were hired for the 1986 Comelec National Tabulation Project walked out of the PICC Plenary Hall which served as their workplace for the COMELEC Quick Count (which took so long actually) when their superiors started to fiddle with the results. According to them, they walked out for a basic professional reason; to quote, “we did not want ourselves to be used in any way that violates fundamental professional ethics.
By their own account, ”The Philippine International Convention Center became a sea of people shouting, clapping and cheering for them as they walked out. Embraced by a human cordon from PICC to Baclaran Church, they realized it was not going to be the simple drinking session they had planned” after the stressful decision to let go of the anomalous tallying.
Their group retreated to Baclaran Church, where they told waiting news reporters that Cory Aquino “was ahead, according to our computers, not decisively, but ahead,” until their superiors started to fiddle with the results. U.S. Senator John Kerry, one of the visiting observers from the U.S. that time, observed, “These people are angry enough that they’ve walked out. They’re terribly scared. They’ve taken refuge in this church and that’s significant.”
“On that very night of the walkout, before the altar at the Redemptorist Baclaran Church, and in front of hundreds of media people, Jules Valderrama of the “walkouters” read the group’s official statement about why they walked out. Linda (Kapunan) Angeles-Hill (one of the walkouters, too), answered questions fielded by the newsmen. It was the first and only time they spoke as a group in a press conference. Fr. Joaquin Bernas advised them to issue a statement as it was the only way the crowd would disperse.”
To quote the official statement of ‘The COMELEC Tabulators Who Walkout Out”:
“We are computer technicians who were hired for the 1986 Comelec National Tabulation Poject. We walked out of the project on February 9, 1986 for a basic professional reason: we did not want ourselves to be used in any way that violates fundamental professional ethics.
We were made to believe from the start that the job was going to be a professional one. The honor, responsibility and challenge that we saw in the project were enough to vindicate the hard work and long nights spent developing the computerized system before it was to start operating on February 7, 1986.
We emphasize that it was a spontaneous act of protest; we have no leader, we are not syndicated, nor do we wish to be linked to any partisan motives. None of us has any political affiliation. We are just independent-minded persons whose only desire is to preserve the purity of our profession.
When the discrepancy between the computer tabulation reports and the figures on the tally board was detected, the immediate reaction was one of indignation and utter frustration. It hurt us to see a deliberate betrayal of trust. It did not matter who was winning or losing; cheating whether by 1 or 100,000 is still cheating. It was an insult to our most basic sensibilities, both moral and professional. And we did not want to have anything to do with it.
The walkout was an escape from an intolerable situation. We just wanted to leave the place and go to some place where we can “drink our blues away”! But as we left the Plenary Hall, we were mobbed by people whom we didn’t know, and we didn’t have a choice but let ourselves be led to Baclaran Church in the confusion that followed. Shocked and scared, we were helpless.
To think that all we wanted to do was be true to ourselves and to the job that we do best, under threat of losing what was otherwise a respectable job at the National Computer Center.
This is our story for everyone to know. We also wish to deny the allegations that:
- We were ordered to cheat Cory;
- We visited the NAMFREL Headquarters;
- We are hardcore oppositionists out to sabotage the system as part of Autumn Leaves, Capricorn, or whatever;
- We were dismissed for incompetence at 10:00 that evening;
- We were reacting to the heckling of the crowd at the Plenary Hall Gallery;
- We have “admitted” we were wrong and are now regretting what we have done; and any other fantasies that anyone wants to ascribe to us.
We are therefore releasing this statement to Bulletin Today, Daily Express, Times Journal, Business Day, Malaya, Daily Inquirer, Manila Times, Veritas, Mr.& Mrs., and all other local and foreign media who care to let the public know the truth.
After the presscon, the group spent the night at the Baclaran Church parish center before proceeding to Linda’s house in Camp Aguinaldo. They were left with no choice, but to wait until the media people left before they could sneak out quietly.
Afterwards, the Kapunans’ Home in Camp Aguinaldo became their refuge where they stayed during the most crucial days after their walkout. The group recalls how Msgr. Cesar Pagulayan came to say mass, and “ likened it to the plight of the first Christians hearing mass in caves”. The walkouters left only after Cardinal Sin had them fetched and transferred to Ateneo under his protection.
They stayed at the Loyola House of Studies (Ateneo de Manila) for a night and had to leave because it “was strange having too many female voices in a seminary”. They were transported the following evening in heavily armed vehicles to a retreat house under the care of nuns.
Maleen Cruz Ngan recalls, “we rode the military jeep, with UZI at our feet. And I remember we were told to bring wet towels (tuwalya) to cover our eyes with… and to write the phone numbers sa talampakan, etc.. that really scared me.”
In their own words, “The Cenacle Retreat House became our temporary home. Our families were not informed where we were so they cannot be tortured into telling. We heard mass every day, spent a lot of time contemplating our fate. The food, the camaraderie and the ambiance made it a peaceful refuge for us, but the walls of the Cenacle House saw it all — the laughter we shared, the fun we had, and the fear we kept inside.”
Finally, they were able to leave by February 20, 1986; two days before the EDSA revolution started.
The “Walkouters” are Linda (Kapunan) Angeles-Hill, Myrna “Shiony” Asuncion-Binamira, Jane Rosales-Yap, Cooly Culiat-Medina, Alicia Torres, Ernie Alberto, Marisa Briones-Allarey, Marissa Almendral, Gi Antonio-Silva, Rory Asuncion, Bot Bautista, Erlyn Barza, Thess Baltazar-Roberto, Mina Bergara, Nori Bolado, Zoe Castro, Charles Chan, Achie Concepcion-Jimenez, Erick Celestino, Marissa Contreras-Legaspi, Maleen Cruz-Ngan, Dennie Estolas-Vista, Naz Gutierrez III, Luchie Lavin, Mario Lavin, Rubi Macato-Slater, Euly Molina-Legro, Nitro Palomares-Castro, Maite de Rivera, Bing Romero-Justo, Vangie Saludares, Irma Sunico-Buno, Jules Valderrama, Celine Vinoya-Rivera, and Bambi Flor-Sena.
News releases told us that “the final tally of the National Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL), an accredited poll watcher, showed Aquino winning by almost 800,000 votes. However, the government tally showed Marcos winning by almost 1.6 million votes. This appearance of blatant fraud by Marcos led the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines and the United States Senate to condemn the elections. Both Marcos and Aquino traded accusations of vote-rigging. Popular sentiment in Metro Manila sided with Aquino, leading to a massive, multisectoral congregation of protesters and the gradual defection of the military led by Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile and Acting Chief of Staff Fidel V. Ramos. It must be noted that prior to his defection Enrile’s arrest warrant for graft and corruption was about to be served. The “People Power movement” drove Marcos into exile and installed Corazon Aquino as the new president. At the height of the revolution, Enrile revealed that his ambush was faked in order for Marcos to have a pretext for imposing martial law. However, Marcos maintained that he was the duly elected and proclaimed president of the Philippines for a fourth term. (From: ”The Philippine Presidency” )http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=US_QGVTkywE)
As we all know, EDSA Revolution ensued. The Philippines was praised worldwide when the so-called bloodless revolution erupted, called EDSA People Power’s Revolution, on February 25, 1986 marking a significant national event that has been engraved in the hearts and minds of every Filipino. This part of Philippine history gives us a strong sense of pride especially that other nations had attempted to emulate what we have shown the world of the true power of democracy.
And the walkouters? Yes, they joined in the People’s Revolution – together.
After the whole ordeal as a team and the camaraderie which developed during their hiding days, what else to expect, but deep friendship. Little did they know that their strict adherence to professional ethics would land them as momentous heroes and then, as lifetime friends.
After the walkout ordeal, most of them continued to pursue their IT careers. Some of them changed careers outside the IT industry or just retired from their active work. Most of them have families of their own now. Some stayed in the Philippines and some are now living in other parts of the world like the USA, Canada and Australia.
Fortunately, the group is still intact, still communicating and able to hold reunions once in a while (thanks to social media).
However, one of the 35 “walkouters,” Marisa Briones-Allarey has passed on. More or less seven of them are still in Manila and they meet at least once a year (on their anniversary or when one of the others come home from the US, Canada or Australia). They keep in touch via email, Facebook and visit each other whenever possible.
That momentous ordeal has somehow created a lifetime bond that one is not to forget the others.
And the walkouters? What do they have to say now about the whole momentous experience?
“During those 12 days in February 1986, we went from being computer programmers/tabulators to heroes to saboteurs to “marvelous”. They say we could have been killed during those days, but we had so many people thinking of us, praying for us, loving us. And we found strength in each other — not as heroes, but as FRIENDS.” – by Achie Concepcion-Jimenez
Surely, the walkouters feel pride at their very own wall inside the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Museum, Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines, where they went last November 10, 2012 for another nostalgic reunion.
Hurray to all of you, Walkouters of 1986!
Being already a voter and a new professional myself at the time, that walkout somehow stirred me into thinking that if this group of young professionals were willing to “protest the dishonest actions of their superiors” without any apprehension, braving the possible ire of their superiors or whoever was behind the “manipulations”, how about the rest of the Philippine population to which I belong? It seemed like it wasn’t just a matter of who was really ahead in the tabulations, but rather, what irked more was being made instrument to a fraudulent act. It all goes back to values….our GMRC lessons.
It also left me musing…
Could it be that the walkout served as the “spark” which prompted countless Filipinos towards Edsa’s People Power Revolution?
If 35 young people ages 21-27 (more or less) were able to stand up for what they believed was proper and ethical, even at the jeopardy of their career (and possible threat to their security?), can’t the rest of the voting Filipinos do the same? Stand up for what is right at the present time?
Hmmm… Perhaps we need another batch of “walkouters” to stir the Filipinos into action again. Hmmmm….