(UPDATE – 11:02 p.m.) MANILA – The Senate Finance committee took less than 15 minutes to approve on Thursday the 2018 budget of the Committee on Elections, but that was not the main concern when senators met Comelec officials.
In its presentation, Comelec asked for more than P16 billion as its budget for 2018, of which P11 billion will go to preparations for the national and senatorial elections for 2019.
What became cause for concern, however, was how much the poll body has so far spent to print ballots for the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections, originally scheduled for October 2017, and which will be reset next year after the House of Representatives and the Senate separately approved its resetting to 2018.
In response to senators’ queries, Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista said the poll body has thus far spent P600 million to print 26.2 milion ballots for the barangay elections, and 1.6 million ballots for the SK polls.
The Comelec had for months been begging lawmakers to promptly legislate the new date for the elections, after both chambers indicated their intention to reset the exercise. However, the Comelec was forced to start the preparations, including ballot printing, in the absence of legislation mandating a deferment, until this week.
On Wednesday night, the Senate voted 17-1 to reset the elections, just days after the House voted on it.
Thus, Sen. JV Ejercito asked Chairman Bautista on Thursday, at Comelec’s budget hearing, if the ballots thus far printed, with the “October 2017” mark, can still be used for the Congress-mandated reset, or the 2018 elections.
Bautista said he is inclined to re-purpose the ballots which have thus far been printed, in order not to waste the funds used. The only problem is the date. Bautista suggested that Congress pass a resolution authorizing Comelec to use ballots marked “October 2017” for the 2018 reset barangay and SK polls.
Commissioners Christian Robert Lim, Luie Tito Guia and Abas were inclined to agree with this proposal, but Commissioner Rowena Guanzon balked at it.
She would rather print new ballots than risk a legal question later, arguing that the law requires all ballots must reflect the exact date of an election.
Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara pointed out that simply setting aside the “October 2017” ballots will mean wasting hundreds of millions.
Chairman Bautista offered another option: put stickers with “May 2018” printed on them to be placed over the “October 2017” on the ballots.
Printing such stickers, however, could also entail further costs – though not as much as the P600 million thus far spent for printing.
The Comelec will also need to issue a resolution on whether or not to use the October 2017 ballots for May 2018.
And, because the commissioners are not unanimous on the matter, the en banc will meet on the matter next week, with the option voted on by the majority being endorsed as the final solution.
There being no other controversial items in the 2018 budget of Comelec, it was quickly approved at the Finance committee level.
Meanwhile, part of the 2018 budget that the Finance committee approved are the funds to procure
machines for ballot printing and for implementing biometrics.
Comelec officials explained they did not seek new funds for the barangay and SK polls since funds had already been allotted for such, or P6 billion. Of that, P600 million has been used for the ballot printing so far, but the balance will be used for the re-scheduled May 2018 barangay/SK polls.
Click and watch this video report below: