The Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) has allowed the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to use 75 percent of the ballot boxes containing votes under protest by Interior Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas for next year’s elections, saving the government more than P160 million.
In its resolution, the tribunal granted the Comelec’s request to reuse 57,255 ballot boxes out of the 76,340 covered by Roxas’ electoral protest against Vice President Jejomar Binay provided that the election body set up adequate guidelines and safeguards for their retrieval and collection.
Roxas was the vice presidential running mate of President Aquino in 2010 but lost to Binay. The PET hearings on his protest have yet to be concluded.
Election Commissioner Rene Sarmiento said that with the favorable decision, the Comelec would be spending only P56 million for the retrieval of the ballot boxes instead of P290 million if it were to purchase new ballot boxes for the 2013 elections.
“Definitely, we will be able to save millions of pesos because of this decision,” Sarmiento told reporters in an interview on Friday.
He added that aside from the minimal retrieval expenses, the Comelec will only have to spend for less than 20,000 ballot boxes still needed for the upcoming elections.
In its earlier appeal for the release of the ballot boxes for reuse, the Comelec stressed that the funds necessary to purchase new ballot boxes could be channeled to the procurement of other equally important supplies and services related to the upcoming polling.
Congress allotted the commission a total of P7 billion for the automation of next year’s elections.
The Comelec spent the bulk of the budget on the purchase of more than 81,000 voting machines from its technology provider, Smartmatic-TIM.
In a 15-page resolution, the tribunal said it was authorizing the Comelec to immediately commence the retrieval process of the ballot boxes from the precincts that functioned during the previous election as well as the transfer of their contents to other designated boxes.
Under the agreement allowing the reuse of the ballot boxes under protest, the election body was also instructed to transfer the ballots to the remaining 19,085 boxes, which will be marked as “Committee Boxes,” and to provide the tribunal with a working schedule of the actual retrieval.
The PET guidelines call for the creation of committees for each municipality where the ballot boxes are to be retrieved; an inventory for each ballot box and the presence of citizen’s watchdog groups during the transfer of the contents of the boxes, among others.