Aquino to mediate Abad, Brillantes rowBy Michael Lim Ubac
Philippine Daily Inquirer
President Benigno Aquino on Thursday said he was willing to act as a “referee” between Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Sixto Brillantes as the two officials clashed over the drastic cut in the poll body’s proposed 2013 budget.
Mr. Aquino noted that there seemed to be “insufficient dialogue” between the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and the Comelec over the issue.
Brillantes the other day warned that the country may have to revert to manual balloting in the May 2013 elections because the allotment of P8 billion for the Comelec was simply not enough to fund automated elections.
He even threatened to quit as he said he had no desire to preside over a manual vote. But on Thursday Brillantes had a change of heart, describing the threat as an “outburst” during a heated moment with the media.
Mr. Aquino said Abad and Brillantes clearly needed to meet and talk again “so that there will be a convergence of needs and funding.”
“As for me, I’m used to act as a referee (so) we will talk to both of them, and it is our obligation to have a peaceful and credible election next year,” he said.
The President expressed willingness to reconsider restoring the 67 percent that was cut from the P24 billion budget that the Comelec had asked for.
“Let’s give the necessary tools to those needing it. If it would be demonstrated that there is (a budget) deficiency, it is our obligation to fill it up,” he said.
Abad, however, stood pat on the DBM’s assessment that the drastic cut from the proposed P24 billion to P8 billion was justified.
“The Comelec indeed proposed a total of P24 billion for their 2013 budget. However, after diligently evaluating the commission’s requirements for next year, the DBM was able to set their total budget to a reasonable P13.4 billion. This amount would have been enough for the Comelec to conduct honest, orderly and fully automated elections in 2013,” he said.
However, the initial P13.4-billion budget ceiling was later adjusted to P8.3 billion, following a “careful study of the Commission’s status of allotment, obligation and balances (SAOB) as of March 31, 2012,” he said.
The SAOB revealed that the Comelec was able to generate P5.2 billion in savings early this year by exercising its option in its contract with Smartmatic-TIM to buy the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines that were used in the 2010 elections, which cost only P1.83 billion.
Thus, the DBM reduced the Comelec’s original budget ceiling by the amount of their savings, bringing their total budget to P8.4 billion, Abad explained.
Additionally, the SAOB showed that the Comelec has unobligated appropriations amounting to P6.1 billion from 2008 to 2012. Together with its P5.2-billion savings from the PCOS machine purchase, the Comelec’s total unobligated balance is already P11.3 billion.
Abad emphasized the need to study the Comelec’s proposed budget against the commission’s actual yearly expenditures, noting that year after year, the poll body spent less than what was allotted to it.
For instance, in 2010, the Comelec spent only P8.3 billion of its P10.78 billion budget.
“Our review of their previous allocations vis-a-vis their actual budget utilization history helped us trim their 2013 budget to a more realistic level,” said Abad.
Brillantes earlier explained that the Comelec did accept the P13 billion figure but had asked for another P3 billion to P4 billion more for the barangay (village) elections next year.
However, the DBM instead slashed the P13 billion to P8 billion, prompting the Comelec chief to warn that the poll body would be forced to abandon automated elections or do away with the elections altogether. He also threatened to quit.
The Automatic Election System Watch on Thursday criticized Brillantes as being “alarmist and irresponsible” for floating a “no election” scenario without basis.
AES Watch convenor Nelson J. Celis urged the Comelec to disclose to the public a full report on the expenses of the 2010 automated elections.
Congress had appropriated P11.2 billion for that exercise, of which P7.2 billion was allocated for the contract with Smartmatic.
AES Watch last April petitioned the Supreme Court to direct the poll body to open the door to public bidding for a cheaper election technology for 2013 after the expiration of the contract with Smartmatic.
The high court in June ruled in favor of the Comelec, saying that the option to purchase the Smartmatic PCOS machines had not expired and that it was a cheaper option. With Kristine L. Alave