DBM slashes COMELEC’s proposed budget for 2021 by more than half

Marje Pelayo   •   September 25, 2020   •   213

MANILA, Philippines — The Commission on Elections (COMELEC) is asking Congress to increase its budget for next year as it prepares ahead for the 2022 presidential election.

The poll body initially proposed a budget of almost P23.7 billion for next year, but this has been slashed by more than half.

The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) approved only P10.41 billion for COMELEC’s 2021 budget.

According to COMELEC Spokesperson Director James Jimenez, a huge portion of the slashed amount was intended for measures that will be adopted during the 2022 national elections amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

The COMELEC was planning to rent additional vote counting machines.

“Iyong gagawin namin sa present budget, kung iyan lang ang maibigay sa amin, is ire-refurbish namin (What we will do with the present budget — if that’s the only amount we have — is to refurbish),” COMELEC Chairman Sheriff Abas.

Around P65.4 million voters, an increase of 13.76 percent from last elections, are expected to vote in 2022.

“Kapag marami ang botante at nagsisiksikan sila sa isang makina, medyo unsafe iyan pagdating sa situwasyon natin ngayon na pandemya (If there is a huge voter turnout and everyone flocks to one machine, that’s unsafe given the current situation in this pandemic), ” explained COMELEC Spokesperson Director James Jimenez.

Based on COMELEC’s plan for the elections, the number of voters inside precincts would be reduced from 12 to 5 to maintain safe physical distance.

COMELEC is also mulling on holding the election for more than one day to reduce the number of voters coming to the venues.

The online filing of candidacy is also being considered.

Meanwhile, Agusan del Norte representative Lawrence Fortun is worried about the turnout in the 2022 elections if the poll body fails to convince Filipino voters that it is safe to go to polling precincts physically.

“If COMELEC cannot assure our voters of their safety, considering that electoral activities really draw large crowds, many might not be able to vote,” Fortun said,

The poll body is also waiting for election-related bills to address fears of virus transmission.

These include early voting for persons with disability and senior citizens, as well as voting via mail.

COMELEC also plans to apply the best practices in other countries who have held elections in the middle of the pandemic, such as South Korea.

There is also a bill that aims to push for hybrid elections.

However, COMELEC estimates that P50 billion to P60 billion will be needed for hybrid elections. MNP (with reports from Rey Pelayo)

Comelec to revert weekday schedule for voter registration on Nov. 9

Aileen Cerrudo   •   October 22, 2020

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) announced on Thursday (October 22) that it will revert to weekday schedule for voter registration beginning November 9.

When Comelec resumed voter registration last September 1, it was scheduled to be conducted from Tuesdays to Saturdays.

Comelec Spokesperson James Jimenez said reverting to the weekday schedule will provide the agency time to disinfect offices on Saturdays.

“The Commission on Elections deems it necessary to revert to the weekday schedule to make way for Saturday disinfection days in all Offices of the Election Officer nationwide,” he said.

However, the Comelec official clarified that voter registration in areas under localized Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) will remain suspended.

Comelec also reminded the public that minimum health safety protocols will also be implemented during the registration to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

“Wearing of face mask and face shield is mandatory, the number of people to be allowed inside the COMELEC office will be limited to ensure compliance with physical distancing requirements, and applicants are encouraged to bring their own pens,” Jimenez said. AAC (with reports from Aiko Miguel)

Ex-Comelec chairman Jose Melo passes away

Robie de Guzman   •   October 19, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Former Commission on Elections (COMELEC) chairman Jose Melo has passed away, the poll body’s spokesperson announced.

In a message posted on Twitter, Comelec Spokesperson James Jimenez said Melo died on Sunday night. He was 88 years old.

“Sad news tonight. Just received word that Chairman Jose A.R. Melo, former SC Justice, and the COMELEC Chairman who oversaw the country’s transition to full automation from 2008 to 2010, has passed away. He was 88 years old,” Jimenez said.

He, however, did not disclose the cause of Melo’s death .

Prior to leading the poll body, Melo served as Supreme Court Associate Justice for nearly 10 years.

Duterte calls Congress to special session to resume 2021 budget deliberations

Robie de Guzman   •   October 9, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte has called Congress for a special session to resume deliberations on the proposed national budget for 2021.

In a statement, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the special session is scheduled for October 13 to 16, 2020.

Roque said the president’s move through Proclamation No. 1027, aims to “to resume the congressional deliberations on the proposed 2021 national budget and avoid any further delays on its prompt passage.”

The chief executive also certified the General Appropriations Bill which seeks to allocate P4.5 trillion budget for next year as urgent.

On Thursday, Duterte urged lawmakers to resolve the leadership row at the House of Representatives and to immediately pass the 2021 national budget.

He also appealed to the solons in the lower chamber not to drag him into the issue.

House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and Marinduque Representative Lord Allan Velasco are embroiled in a speakership controversy.

On Tuesday, Cayetano abruptly moved to pass the proposed spending measure on second reading and suspend the session until Nov. 16. This move is seen to prevent Velasco from taking the post despite their term-sharing agreement brokered by Duterte.

With the suspension of House sessions and the bill approved only on second reading, lawmakers have raised concern that the budget proposal may not be approved on time and may lead to a re-enacted budget.

Cayetano, however, maintained that there is still enough time for approval once the House resumes session in November.

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