House panel okays P11.3-billion automation fund for 2010 elections

Published by rudy Date posted on January 28, 2009

The House of Representatives appropriations committee approved yesterday a P11.3-billion supplemental budget for the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to use for the automation of the 2010 presidential elections.

The panel of Quirino Rep. Junie Cua also amended House Bill 5715 seeking to make the biometrics system in the cleansing of voters list “mandatory,” and for the poll body to use the funds solely for automation.

Meanwhile, Comelec Chairman Jose Melo said they have asked the House to earmark some P93 million for the holding of recall elections for governor in Pampanga and Sulu and for mayors of various towns “in case we decide in favor of those who filed the recall petitions,” he said.

“We don’t have a budget for recall elections. Unless we are given a budget, we cannot do that.”

The Comelec is now hearing recall petitions against Pampanga Gov. Ed Panlilio and Sulu Gov. Abdusakur Tan and five town mayors.

The retired Supreme Court justice said under the law, the poll body must hold a recall election one year before the next scheduled elections.

“In view of the May 10, 2010 elections, the proceeding must be held on May 9, 2009,” he said.

“That means we have to resolve the recall petitions in February or March because we have to give time for preparations. We are doing our best to do this.”

Melo told the House appropriations committee that the cleansing of the voters’ list has been “ongoing,” and that “more than 50 percent” have been purged.

“We already have the list,” he said. “It’s all a matter of reaching the people.”

Melo said the remaining 25 million voters “will have to go to the Internet” and check if their names are on the Comelec website.

“The Comelec can’t go to each and everyone of them (voters),” he said.

Citizens’ groups are also helping them identify persons who have already been included in the Comelec biometrics system, Comelec Commissioner Rene Sarmiento said.

The biometrics system recognizes a person’s biological data or, in this case, data pertaining to a voter’s thumbprint, face, eyes, height and weight. In short, it highlights the distinctness or uniqueness of one person against another.

Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. said there is no need to increase by P2 billion the budget for poll automation because Comelec already has P800 million “left over” from its 2008 budget and a separate P1.4 billion “embedded” in the 2009 national budget.

“Since they have fiscal autonomy, these leftover funds don’t expire,” he said.

“This is for the purpose of automating the elections, nothing else.”

The amount is “over and above” the P11.3-billion supplemental funds, the former Camarines Sur lawmaker said.

Early in the hearing, Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez moved to send back the bill to the House committee on electoral reforms of Makati Rep. Teddyboy Locsin.

The purging of the voters’ list is more important before any automation can be taken up, he added.

Parañaque Rep. Roilo Golez agreed with Rodriguez.

However, Locsin pointed out that the Senate and House panels have agreed to put this on hold in deference to the Comelec Advisory Council.

“It’s pointless to bring this back to the committee,” he said.

“It’s up to the advisory council to decide. It’s in the law. It’s out of my show. We have to pass the automation law, otherwise, no law can ever leave the committee.”

But Rodriguez was unconvinced, which drew the ire of Locsin.

“This is not for TV purposes, Mr. Chairman!” he shouted, forcing Cua to suspend the hearing.

Rodriguez later shook hands with Locsin. – Delon Porcalla
with Sheila Crisostomo, Philippine Star

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