Comelec may need P6-8 billion for federalism plebiscite

MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) may need P6 billion to 8 billion for a plebiscite on the Philippines' proposed federal constitution, Comelec Chairman Sheriff Abas said on Monday, August 6.

"We will need to request budget from you. I think the projection is probably P6 [billion] to 8 billion ($113 million to 151 million) nationwide," Abas said in Filipino during the Comelec's budget briefing at the House of Representatives.

Abas said the plebiscite would likely be manual under the poll body's current rules, but if a new charter mandates that it be automated, "then we will automate it."

In an interview with reporters after the budget hearing, Abas also said the Comelec would need around 4 to 5 months to prepare for a nationwide plebiscite. This is because it needs to subject election supplies, such as paper, to bidding under the procurement law.

What if the Comelec holds the plebiscite alongside the midterm elections on May 13, 2019?

Abas said he needs to read the approved charter to answer this question. 

But if the plebiscite happens on May 13, 2019, the Comelec might have to rush its preparations. While the Comelec needs 4 to 5 months to prepare, the current Constitution states that the plebiscite should be held not later than 90 days, or 3 months, after Congress approves the constitutional amendments.

Former chief justice Reynato Puno, chair of the Presidential Consultative Commission on the new charter, said a plebiscite should take place by mid-2019. Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno said there is no need for a separate budget for this if the plebiscite is held alongside the 2019 midterm elections.

The possible plebiscite, however, is not the only thing that the Comelec will need to manage in the next few months aside from the 2019 polls, which is a gigantic logistical challenge in itself.

The Comelec will also need to spend around P854 million ($16 million) for the plebiscite on the newly signed Bangsamoro Organic Law, which aims to create a more powerful Muslim region in the southern Philippines. Abas said the plebiscite on the BOL would likely happen in December this year or early January 2019.

The Comelec is a 7-member body whose 3 members are new to the job – after former chairman Andres Bautista resigned and commissioners Arthur Lim and Christian Lim retired. – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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