MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) said it has no funds in its proposed 2015 budget for plebiscites on charter change and the Bangsamoro political entity.
At the House hearing on the Comelec budget on Thursday, September 4, Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr said they had initially requested P36 billion ($826.3 million*) from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).
However, DBM lowered the poll body's budget to P16.9 billion ($387.9 million), as reflected in Comelec's National Expenditure Program (NEP) which was presented to the House appropriations committee.
The allotments removed from Comelec's budget proposal include P7 billion ($160 million) for a charter change plebiscite, P679 million ($15.5 million) for the plebiscite on the Bangsamoro political entity, and P321.5 million ($7.3 million) for recall elections.
Talks of amendments to the 1987 Constitution surfaced in August when President Benigno Aquino III admitted that he is open to charter change, including lifting presidential term limits.
Meanwhile, the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in March signed a historic peace agreement that will give rise to a new political entity in Mindanao to be known as the Bangsamoro. The passage and approval of the Bangsamoro Basic Law is needed to proceed with the plebiscite. (READ: New deadline: Bangsamoro bill in Congress before Sept 13)
Comelec also asked P321.5 million to act on pending recall petitions and conduct recall elections, but these funds were not approved by DBM. Currently, there are 4 recall petitions filed before Comelec, including those in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan. (READ: Comelec budget at stake: Justify failure to hold recall polls)
In addition, the following funds related to voter's registration for the 2016 national elections were removed from Comelec's 2015 budget:
During a break in Thursday's budget hearing, Brillantes said that for the voters' registration, they could tap savings that could be incurred from the purchase of precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines for the 2016 elections.
The DBM, for its part, explained during the budget hearing that expenses related to overseas voting could be sourced from Comelec's savings as well.
Despite the reduction or removal of some items, Comelec's 2015 budget is 487% higher than its 2014 budget of P2.9 billion ($66.42 million). The increase was primarily because of the poll body's preparations for the 2016 elections.
The P12.6 billion ($288.49 million) allocated for preparatory activities for the 2016 polls includes the purchase of additional PCOS machines. The amount also includes P1 billion ($22.88 million) to purchase biometric voter's identification devices to be used on election day.
The poll body also plans to test touchscreen voting using direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machines in select metropolitan areas in 2016.
Meanwhile, the Sangguniang Kabataan (SK or youth council) elections would take place around February 2015. This was originally scheduled in October 2013, but was postponed to give way to the passage of SK reform legislation. – Rappler.com
* $1 = P43.57
Michael Bueza is a researcher and data curator under Rappler's Research Team. He works on data about elections, governance, and the budget. He also follows the Philippine pro wrestling scene and the WWE. Michael is also part of the Laffler Talk podcast trio.