Bigger budget sought for Comelec for 2022 elections
MANILA, Philippines—An opposition senator on Thursday (Oct. 22) expressed support for a bigger budget for the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to prepare for the 2022 presidential elections in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros said the Comelec would need additional funding for “major health adjustments” needed as a result of the health crisis.
“We still do no know when we will have the vaccine, so we have to consider health concerns for the Comelec budget leading up to 2022,” she said.
“We have to ensure the elections don’t become a super spreader for COVID-19 infections,” she added.
The Comelec, at a budget briefing, presented a proposed P14.56-billion budget for 2021. This included funds for renting vote counting machines (VCMs) and printing and distribution of supplies for the 2022 presidential elections.
Hontiveros said 2021 “will be our transition year into the new normal.”
“We want to encourage as many people as possible to still go out, register, and exercise their democratic right to vote, despite the extraordinary circumstances,” Hontiveros said.
She said she would further study and take a closer look at the proposed increase in the Comelec budget and identify sources of the funds.
“This is a pandemic-response election that can dictate the direction and the acceleration of our recovery from this crisis,” said Hontiveros.
“Let us just make sure that this will not hamper the right to suffrage of our citizens,” she told Comelec officials at an online hearing.
The senator said the country had about 9.1 million senior citizens and persons with disabilities, who are most vulnerable to COVID-19. This is approximately 14 percent of all registered voters, she said.
The proposed budget increase, Hontiveros said, would go to defray the cost of additional VCMs as the Comelec is set to reduce the number of people allowed per cluster precinct on voting day.
“We have to find the safest and most efficient option to retain the integrity of our elections. The pandemic should not serve as an opportunity for others to wage (sic) any wrongdoing,” she said.
According to Hontiveros, a portion of the Comelec budget should also be allotted to online registration of voters as a health precaution and to allow younger people to register. The registration period will run from January to September 2021.
Voters aged 18 to 30 years old comprised 33 percent of all voters in the 2019 midterm elections, Hontiveros said.
Senate President Protempore Ralph Recto asked the Comelec to submit to the committee its plans in 2022, in anticipation of the pandemic, and the corresponding costs so that the Senate could help in additional funding.
Comelec Chair Sheriff Abas said the election body was considering a longer voting period—two to three more days—which could require an additional P1 billion for salaries of teachers on election duty.