Poll execs’ reshuffle ‘sets dangerous precedent’
Nine election officers from various towns in Lanao de Sur province have opposed their reassignment and replacement two weeks before Monday’s national and local elections, which they said violated the Omnibus Election Code.
A member of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Friday also questioned the move made on April 26 by Regional Election Director Ray Sumalipao which was approved by Comelec Chair Saidamen Pangarungan.
The nine election officers were among the 41 poll workers who were ordered reassigned to various posts and areas in Sumalipao’s April 28 memo.Lanao del Sur, Pangarungan’s home province, is part of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), where about 200 teachers on Friday also complained against being excluded without explanation from serving in Monday’s polls.
According to Commissioner Marlon Casquejo, who heads the May 9 election steering committee of the Comelec, the reshuffling of the 41 poll workers left seven areas with no election officers, while some provincial election supervisors were demoted to election officers.This “sets a dangerous precedent,” Casquejo said in a memorandum to the other commissioners, adding he was making a “gentle reminder” to the en banc, or the commission as a whole, of the possible consequences of the reassignments so close to the polls.
The nine election officers wrote Pangarungan on April 28 asking him to reconsider their reassignment to the Office of the Provincial Election Supervisor.
They said the move “constitutes a constructive dismissal” as they would not be able to perform their duties as poll officers.
Worse, they were to be replaced by lower ranking election assistants, some of whom do not have civil service eligibility and had no poll work experience.
The poll officers cited their participation in the preparations for the balloting, including the finalization of precincts, application for digital signatures, training for the electoral boards and technical staff, which manifested their willingness to carry out their duties to ensure “orderly, honest, peaceful and credible” elections.
“Absent any ground to disqualify us from serving as election officers, we firmly believe that we can meet the demands required by the job and respond to any election-related exigencies,” the election officers said.
Casquejo said that a certain Atty. Ramil Comendador, supposedly from the law department of the Comelec’s head office in Manila, was assigned as acting election officer of Lanao del Sur’s Picong municipality. After checking, however, he found no employee by that name in the law department.
“If gone unnoticed, we will be allowing a non-Comelec to chair the canvassing in the municipality of Picong,” he said.
No reason given
In his memorandum, Sumalipao directed the election officers to assume their new assignments “effective immediately” and to “ensure proper turnover of properties, documents, other responsibilities and apprise successor of the status of the various preparations” for the elections. He did not explain the reasons for the reshuffle.
The office of Pangarungan said that it would look into the matter.
Casquejo said that Pangarungan “should have been careful” in reshuffling poll workers as it “disrupts the preparation of the election on the ground.”
He cited Section 56 of the Omnibus Election Code, which states that no changes in the composition and assignment of field offices shall be made within 30 days before the polls.
“The last-minute reshuffling or assigning election assistants (EA) as election officers will create disorder in the implementation of the digital signature as they will chair the board of canvassers,” Casquejo said in a separate memorandum on May 2.
“These EAs are not trained to use the digital signature, much more, to perform the function and duties of a canvasser,” he said.
About 200 teachers in Cotabato City protested against their removal from a list of teachers who were supposed to serve as members of electoral boards on Monday.
“We were surprised to learn about these hasty changes,” one of them, who requested not to be identified, told reporters.
She said their replacements were mentors from Madaris (Islamic schools) who had no training for poll duties, specifically in handling the vote-counting machines (VCMs).
She said they were told that the replacement was ordered by the BARMM’s Ministry of Basic, Higher and Technical Education (MBHTE) but no explanation was given.
Education Minister Mohaqher Iqbal said the reshuffling was normal and allowed by law to help improve teachers’ services, such as during the elections.
Sumalipao said the replacement was covered by a memorandum of agreement (MOA) between the MBHTE and then Comelec Chair Sheriff Abas. The MOA gave the MBHTE the authority to recommend teachers to serve in the polls.
But Sumalipao added that only teachers with certification from the BARMM Ministry of Science and Technology or Department of Science and Technology could operate the VCM and therefore could serve in the polls.
Mobarak Pandi, the MBHTE chief information officer, told the Inquirer that it would be the Comelec that would decide on the changes in the composition of the electoral boards.
“The role of the MBHTE is only recommendatory. We only submitted the recommendations of the school division (heads), who are the ones who really know who among their ranks are willing and able to serve in the elections,” Pandi said.
Poll watchdog Kontra Daya convenor Danilo Arao said that the Comelec should be “transparent as regards what needs fixing as this could be a major reason for the attempts to replace the trained teachers.”
Without elaborating on the specific reasons, Comelec Commissioner George Garcia said at the Laging Handa briefing on Friday that the poll body had to reassign field officers in the Bangsamoro region to “fix some issues” in certain areas.
He also said that the Comelec would abide by its own guidelines that only members of the electoral boards could serve during the elections.
According to former Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez, revamps in connection with the holding of an election were usually carried out at the end of the year prior or in December, five months before the polls.
In January 2016, the Comelec reshuffled its field officials who were told to assume their new assignments not later than Feb. 9 of that year, or the start of the campaign period, in a bid to erase doubts about their partiality and integrity in conducting the elections in May that year. —WITH REPORTS FROM EDWIN O. FERNANDEZ, BONG S. SARMIENTO AND INQUIRER RESEARCH
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