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Comelec chief threatens to quit

MANILA, Philippines - Commission on Elections Chairman Sixto Brillantes yesterday threatened to resign over what he described as the “wrong” decision of Budget Secretary Florencio Abad to cut the Comelec’s budget for the May 2013 elections.

“If our election budget is not restored, we will be forced to abandon automation and go back to manual. If that happens, I will not be there to preside (over the balloting process),” Brillantes told the House committee on suffrage and electoral reform.

When asked by reporters after the hearing if resignation was what he meant in his statement, he said, “Yes, I have been saying that all along.”

In a recent television interview, Brillantes said going back to the old cheating-prone manual system of voting was not an option for him and the Comelec.

“We cannot go back to the Stone Age,” he said.

The May 2013 voting will be the first election Brillantes and other new members of the Comelec will preside over since their appointment by President Aquino.

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He said he would send a letter today to Abad to explain why the Comelec would not be able to carry out its tasks next year with an appropriation of only P8 billion.

Reached for comment, Abad insisted that the Comelec has enough funds for next year’s balloting.

He said the original approved budget of the poll body for 2013 was P13.417 billion.

“But since we saved P5.166 billion from buying the Smartmatic precinct count optical scan or PCOS machines (P7 billion for new PCOS machines minus P1.833 billion for Smartmatic PCOS), we deducted the P5.166 billion from their budget. So what appears now in the proposed 2013 national budget is P8.146 billion,” he said.

“But if you add the P5.166 billion (to P8.146 billion), they have more than P13 billion for the 2013 elections. On top of this, as of the end of March, they still had more than P6 billion in unobligated funds. That means that they can have more than P19 billion for next year’s elections,” he stressed.

However, Abad added that the Comelec seems unwilling to use its savings for the 2013 polls.

Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr., who chairs the House committee on suffrage and electoral reform, said Brillantes and Abad should sit down together to reconcile their figures.

“Going back to the manual system after the automated election in 2010 is not an option for us. I think that President Aquino will not allow a return to the old system. Next year’s election will be the first electoral exercise to be held under his stewardship,” he said.

He noted that the Comelec chief himself, based on his testimony, was apparently not sure about his own budget figures.

Barzaga made the observation after Brillantes told the committee that the Comelec made a mistake in computing its 2013 funding proposal at P24 billion.

“We erred in that proposal. We made a new computation that brought down the amount by P6 billion to P17 billion. And the DBM (Department of Budget and Management) approved P13 billion. And we told them we can live with that, despite the fact that it was P4 billion less than what we wanted,” Brillantes said.

He said Abad cut the Comelec budget further to P8 billion after the Supreme Court allowed the poll body to buy for P1.8 billion the 80,000 Smartmatic PCOS machines used in the 2010 elections.

Responding to questions from Barzaga, Brillantes said P13 billion was the minimum amount the Comelec needs for the 2013 elections.

That is on top of the P10 billion appropriated for the commission in the 2012 national budget, of which P7 billion is for automation and P3 billion is for operational expenses, he said.

Barzaga asked Brillantes to give him the specifics of and justifications for the amounts the Comelec is asking for.

He said he would discuss the commission’s funding request with fellow Caviteño Joseph Emilio Abaya, chairman of the House appropriations committee. 

‘Alarmist’

At the Senate, Sen. Franklin Drilon slammed Brillantes for his “alarmist” no-election scenario in 2013.

“Absolutely, Brillantes’ warning has no basis and is uncalled for. I am totally disappointed,” Drilon said in a statement.

“The conduct of a clean, honest and orderly election is Comelec’s obligation under the Constitution, and failure to conduct the 2013 election is a culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust,” said Drilon, who chairs the Senate Committee on Finance.

“To say that the Comelec is lacking in funding is completely not true,” he added.

Drion explained that there is no way the Comelec would run out of budget for the upcoming elections because Congress has already provided the agency, in this year’s budget, with “sufficient” funding for the conduct of the automated national and local elections in 2013.

Of the P10.11-billion budget of the Comelec for 2012, Drilon said P7 billion was allocated for preparations for the 2013 elections.

Christina Mendez, Delon Porcalla, Paolo Romero

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