Comelec, Palace fight over budgetBy Michael Lim Ubac
Philippine Daily Inquirer
The Commission on Elections (Comelec) says it needs a bigger budget in 2013 as it is an election year, but Malacañang appears to be in no mood to grant it.
Under the P2-trillion national budget for 2013 presented to Congress by President Benigno Aquino, the Comelec was allotted only P8 billion, slashed by 67 percent from the P24 billion originally asked for.
Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes protested the drastic cut, warning that the Comelec may have to revert back to manually counting the ballots in next year’s elections.
At a Palace briefing Wednesday, presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda dismissed Brillantes’ complaint, insisting that the budget allotted for Comelec in 2013 was more than enough to fund an automated balloting for the midterm polls.
He said the poll body could always tap into its considerable savings to augment its regular budget.
“They have enough savings so that should not be a problem,” said Lacierda, who claimed that he had been informed by Budget Secretary Florencio Abad that the poll body had ample savings.
Lacierda also said the Comelec should plead with Congress, not with the President, for any budgetary increase.
“If Chairman Brillantes feels that it is something worth discussing (during) the budget presentation before Congress, maybe he can justify the need for a budget increase,” he said.
Brillantes on Tuesday warned of a return to manual elections for next year’s polls if his agency’s 2013 budget would not be restored to P13 billion as originally agreed.
The Comelec chief protested against the Department of Budget and Management’s (DBM) slashing the Comelec’s budget to P8 billion even though it had initially pegged the poll body’s budget at P13 billion.
Brillantes said the Comelec needs the full P13 billion to successfully run the 2013 automated elections. If the amount would not be restored, the Comelec would have no choice but to resort to manual polls, an exercise that he refuses to supervise.
“If we go back to manual, I’m not willing to administer [it]. I will not be there if it’s manual,” he told a House suffrage committee hearing.
Brillantes, an election lawyer before becoming Comelec chief, later told reporters that he has been dealing with matters related to manual elections for 25 years, and he was tired of it.
He said he had sent a letter to Abad Wednesday, explaining why the Comelec would not be able to carry out its job next year with a budget of only P8 billion.
Brillantes said Abad may have misinterpreted the status of the Comelec’s funds, and wrongly thought that the poll agency still had billions in savings.
Abad earlier said the poll body had P7 billion for the purchase of the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines for the automated elections from Smartmatic Inc., but only P1.8 billion was paid to Smartmatic, leaving the agency with substantial savings.
But Brillantes said the P1.8 billion was only for the hardware and software and that the poll body needed at least P6 billion more for the needed services in the May 2013 elections and even for funds for the October 2013 barangay (village) elections.
The suffrage committee members said they would try to help the Comelec get back its original P13-billion budget by realigning some funds.
Cavite Representative Elpidio Barzaga said a manual-election scenario would be “a step backward.”
“We will do every means in order to provide the necessary funds for the Comelec in order to have automated elections in 2013,” Barzaga said.
According to Brillantes, the DBM had originally set the Comelec’s 2013 budget at P13 billion even though the poll body had proposed a higher amount.
Still, the Comelec accepted the P13 billion, but asked for another P3 billion to P4 billion for the barangay elections.
The DBM not only did not grant the request, it even slashed the proposed P13 billion by P5 billion, thereby reducing it to P8 billion.
This is unacceptable if the country wants to have automated elections, said Brillantes.
He said the P13 billion would go to the teachers who would administer the polls, support for military and police personnel who would assist the Comelec, as well as other expenses for the local and national elections, including the polls for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, and the barangay elections. With a report from Leila Salaverria