Petitioners hit Comelec: P5B in savings, not a cent for recall
MANILA, Philippines–The civil society group that spearheaded the recall petition against Puerto Princesa Mayor Lucilo Bayron are up in arms over the decision of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) suspending all proceedings for recall petitions for lack of funds, saying the constitutionally mandated exercise needs only P8.5 million while the election body has P5 billion in savings.
Comelec resolution No. 9882, which suspends all processes for recall on account of lack of funds, stays because the Comelec does not entertain motions for reconsideration, according to Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes.
There are two recall petitions pending at the Comelec: One against Bayron and the other against Bulacan Gov. Wilhelmino Sy-Alvarado.
Alroben Goh, main petitioner for recall elections against Bayron, questioned the Comelec position that it could not set the recall elections in motion due to budgetary constraints. Recall is an important facet of democracy enshrined in the Constitution, a fundamental right of every Filipino citizen, Goh said in a press statement.
Goh recalled that the Comelec conducted special elections in three separate instances despite the absence of specific line-budget in the past. One was held in the first district of Ilocos Sur in 2011, another was held in Zambales in 2012 and a plebiscite for the creation of Davao Oriental was held last year. Goh took note of the information gathered by the petitioners that the petition for the recall of former Gov. Abraham Mitra, supposedly funded by the commission, was dismissed for lack of time.
Power to realign
“Under the Constitution, the Comelec chairman has the power to realign items in the election body’s budget,” Goh said.
“According to the Comelec office in Puerto Princesa City, conducting recall exercises against incumbent Bayron would require only P8.35 million—P350,000 for the verification of signatures and P8 million for the actual conduct of elections. The Comelec has more than sufficient funds for the exercise. How can they deny such a measly sum, to the disadvantage of the more than 40,000 voters who signed the petition?” Goh said.
Two Comelec commissioners, Grace Padaca and Luie Tito Guia, dissented with the majority decision on the Comelec resolution.
Padaca said the lack of a specific line-item appropriation in the national budget does not deter the Comelec from conducting and supervising an electoral exercise that was legally called upon by the people.
Not right or logical
Guia said the resolution did not seem right or logical.
“Why would Congress give salary to Comelec field employees and provide for the maintenance and other operating expenses for recall votes, among others, when at the same time it refuses to fund the very conduct of recall elections?” Guia said.
Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III had counseled the Comelec to use the P5 billion savings to fund these electoral processes.
“The Commission on Elections cannot simply suspend the conduct of recall elections and should instead use its P5 billion savings to fund the polls,” Pimentel said.
“Recall is an item in the Comelec’s budget, therefore, the Comelec can use its savings of around P5 billion for the recall petitions pending before it and not use lack of funds as an excuse not to implement the law,” Pimentel added.
Former Puerto Princesa Mayor Edward Hagedorn, meanwhile, said he had nothing to do with the recall petition filed against the incumbent mayor. He said that “it is on record that I even encourage my supporters to give their full support to Mayor Bayron, who used to be my vice mayor, right after his election as mayor.”
“I did not encourage the recall petition but I also cannot stand in the way of the movement that only seeks to restore Puerto Princesa’s premier position as a model for tourism and environmental protection,” Hagedorn said.