Senate will block move to waive poll safeguards in budget measure
MANILA, Philippines — Senate leaders shot down an alleged attempt by one of their colleagues to insert a clandestine provision to waive election procurement safeguards in the 2021 general appropriations bill (GAB), which over the weekend triggered fears of electoral shenanigans less than two years before the 2022 polls.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara, chair of the Senate finance committee, pledged to thwart such a move during the upcoming bicameral discussions on the P4.5-trillion budget measure, though neither confirmed that “someone at the Senate” had made the proposal as alleged by an election lawyer.“We are checking on that, but the SP (Senate President)’s directive is clear on that matter not to allow any such attempt,” Angara said in a Viber message.
“Cannot allow. I’m looking into it already!” Sotto wrote on Twitter on Sunday evening in reply to election lawyer Emil Marañon, whose tweet had sparked the discussion.
Marañon said “someone at the Senate is now attempting to insert a provision in the GAA (General Appropriations Act) giving Comelec (Commission on Elections) carte blanche authority to waive/disregard all the requirements and safeguards in Section 12 of the Automated Election Law (Republic Act No. 8436 as amended by RA No. 9369).” He did not identify the person or his source.
“THIS IS VERY DANGEROUS,” his tweet said.
“With this, Comelec can now adopt an untested new system or it can waive all safeguards, mandatory tests, certifications, review by political parties and election watchdogs, among others,” he said in a subsequent tweet.
He warned that “[should] this happen, the upcoming election can no longer be trusted.”
In a second tweet, Sotto said it would be “easy to shoot down the proposal.”
“Provisions of a general law cannot amend the provision of a special law. Republic Act No. 8436 as amended by [RA] 9369 is a special law while GAA is a general law,” the Senate leader said.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson echoed Sotto’s argument in a message to reporters, as he noted two points: Firstly, “the GAA can only contain provisions that are consistent with appropriations; and secondly, being a general law, it cannot amend a special law which Republic Act 8436 as amended by Republic Act 9369 is.”
The section in the law referenced by Marañon and the senators authorizes the Comelec to procure election supplies, equipment, materials, software, facilities and other services, “subject to accounting and auditing rules and regulations.”
It requires that the system procured “must have demonstrated capability and been successfully used in a prior electoral exercise here or abroad.” But it also said participation in the 2007 pilot exercise shall not be conclusive of the system’s fitness.
Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon said it would be dangerous if the poll body waived safeguards in selecting automated systems.
She said on Twitter, “Thank you SP. If you waive [the] bidding requirement of prior track record it is very risky. Worst scenario: chaos nationwide, allegations of fraud. No credible elections.”
“Good that SP is looking at an attempt to insert in the GAA power of Comelec to waive [the] bidding requirement of suppliers’ prior successful track record in automated election,” she added.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon told reporters that he also received the same information, but could not say if it was in the version already approved by the Senate last week.
The Senate on Thursday passed its version of the GAB, a month after receiving the version approved by the House of Representatives. A bicameral conference on the bill is scheduled today.
Drilon said he advised Angara that such a provision “could be unconstitutional as a rider since it had nothing to do with the budget.”
“If it is there, I do not know who authored that amendment,” he also said. “Moreover, if true, it will amend the Procurement Law, which cannot be amended by inserting that clause in the GAA. Senator Angara committed that he will not allow the insertion of that provision.”
In a statement from Camp Crame, detained opposition Sen. Leila de Lima said there was no excuse for the Comelec not to undergo regular procurement under its 2021 appropriations.
“I urge my colleagues in the bicameral panel to be vigilant against any dangerous amendments like this. I pray for my colleagues’ success for the sake of our country,” she said.
—With a report from Dona Z. Pazzibugan
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