COTABATO CITY, Philippines – The family members of school teacher Neljane Camartin have been calling her all night to ask when she can go home.
Eleven hours after the first call was made, Camartin is still inside the Shariff Kabunsuan Cultural Complex auditorium, determined to bring her precinct's 302 votes to the Cotabato City Plebiscite Board of Canvassers.
Along with other Plebiscite Committee chairpersons who supervise polling precincts, Camartin fell in line at 8 pm on Monday, January 21, carrying the election returns from her precinct at the Datu Usman Elementary School. At 7 am the next day, she is still in line. She has hardly had any sleep.
“Honestly, sobrang pagod talaga kami. Until now nandito pa kami naghihintay – usad pagong talaga. Wala kaming rest (Honestly, we are so tired. Until now, we are still here waiting – it's really at a turtle's pace. We’ve had no rest),” she tells Rappler.
While the auditorium has plush and wide seats, the Plebiscite Committee chairpersons barely have time to enjoy the comfort as they have to move seats every few minutes whenever a chairperson completes submitting election returns.
“Kung hindi ka magmove, iba naman ang uupo. ‘Yan pinakamahirap na part (If you don’t move, another one will sit there. That’s the most difficult part),” Camartin says.
WATCH: School teacher Neljane Camartin lined up for 11 hours to submit her precinct's election results: 'Gusto ko umuwi pero wala akong magawa, I have to finish the job.' #BangsamoroVote pic.twitter.com/CZPjMIJBWi — Pia Ranada (@piaranada) January 22, 2019
Meanwhile, school teacher Vivian Uy has been in the auditorium since 7 pm on Monday, straight from the Cotabato City Pilot School where she carried out her duties as a plebiscite committee member.
Uy, Grade 5 math teacher, says she has been awake for more than 24 hours since teachers were also called to be at the Cotabato City Hall as early as 4 am before voting in the Bangsamoro plebisicte. Besides the sleepless night, Uy says most of her peers in the auditorium, like her, have not had the chance to eat.
Photo by Sofia Tomacruz/Rappler
“Pagkatapos ng pagboto, diretso na kami dito tapos sama-sama kami sa isang kotse. Paglabas ng school, diyan 'yung mga supporters at hindi kami pinadaan sa dami nila,(As soon as the voting ended, we went straight here, together in one car. Many supporters were right outside the school and we had difficulty passing through)," she says.
That night, outside the auditorium, other teachers slept on the floor beside their precinct's ballot boxes. They couldn't leave until their Plebiscite Committee chairperson had submitted the precinct election returns. With a security escort, they, as a group, would have had to bring the ballot boxes to City Hall for safekeeping.
Photo by Pia Ranada/Rappler
When teachers take charge
Camartin's long hours devoted to the Bangsamoro plebiscite has forced her to make adjustments. She has placed her one-year-old twins in the care of her mother and aunt.
“Gusto ko umuwi pero wala akong magawa, I have to finish the job; kung anong inumpisahan (I want to go home but I can’t do anything, I have to finish the job; what I started),” she says.
Uy's children have been looking for her as well, but she shares that her phone had run out of battery at this point. She is not worried, though, as her children know she is safe.
WATCH: School teacher Vivian Uy says being here gives her mixed emotions. She’s excited, tired, hungry, and sleepy but still troops on. She says it’s part of her service as a government worker #BangsamoroVote @rapplerdotcom pic.twitter.com/kHJWJh2W8e — Sofia Tomacruz (@sofiatomacruz) January 22, 2019
Despite her sleepless night, Camartin has no regrets about volunteering to be a Plebiscite Committee chairperson.
“Wala kasi it’s a part of history talaga. Gusti ko rin magserve. Public servant 'man tayo lahat. Maganda talaga 'yung experience na naging part ka ng history ng BOL,” she says.
(No [regrets] really because it’s part of history. I also want to serve. We are all public servants. Being part of BOL’s history is a great experience.)
This is the reason she volunteered for the job, aside from the monetary compensation, which she needs for her graduate studies. Camartin is pursuing a Master's degree in English Literature.
Plebiscite Committee chairpersons get a P6,000-honorarium and a P500-meal allowance.
Their work is no walk in the park. They are in charge of making sure voters in their precinct properly cast their vote. All these votes are under their care. At the end of the voting period, the votes are counted and inputted into election returns which have to be brought to the city board of canvassers for tallying.
Photo by Manman Dejeto
Camartin also had to deal with irate residents who couldn’t vote because their names were not on the Comelec master list.
“They scold you because they think you are Comelec and you took out their names. You have to explain to them properly why they didn’t get on the master list and that you aren’t from Comelec so you had no way of taking out their names or adding other names,” she says in Filipino.
'Part of history'
But alongside the drudgery are the moments that make the job worth it.
“The most fulfilling part, the part I enjoyed the most, is telling people to line up and then they do as they are told. Then after delivering the ballots we are holding, because you have to secure each ballot of the voters,” says Camartin.
Uy likewise says that while she may be physically tired, her high spirits have never waned. She knows she has done her job as both a government worker and a member of the plebiscite committee in this historic vote.
"Part po ito ng responsibilidad as government servants so dapat gawin namin ang tama...[at] alam ko naman na importante ‘tong hawak ko (This is part of the responsibility of government servants so we need to do what is right...and I know the importance of what I'm holding)," Uy says.
By around 8:30 am on Tuesday, Januar 22, Camartin is finally able to leave the auditorium. Soon, she will be home with her family, eyelids heavy but heart full. – Rappler.com
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Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.