‘Not enough allocation for poll result transmission’

Jess Diaz - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Voters will be able to vote for President Aquino’s successor and other candidates in the May 9, 2016 elections, but their votes may not be transmitted and counted.

The Commission on Elections (Comelec), which has awarded two contracts worth P8 billion to Smartmatic-Total Information Management Corp. (TIM) for the supply of vote-counting machines, has no funds for the transmission of votes.

The Comelec has made a last-minute request to the House of Representatives for the allocation of additional funds amounting to more than P1 billion for next year’s elections.

The request includes about P500 million for the cost of transmitting votes from 110,000 clustered precincts to various tabulation centers – from the district level to towns, provinces and cities up to the Comelec and Congress.

The Comelec is the body tasked to canvass votes for senatorial candidates, while it is Congress that is empowered to tabulate votes for presidential and vice presidential aspirants.

Reached for comment, Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab, appropriations committee chairman, confirmed that the Comelec has indeed submitted an additional funding request.

“We are considering it. If indeed they have no funds for the transmission of election results, we will have to give them. Otherwise, the votes will not be transmitted and counted,” he said.

He said the vote transmission funds would be included in the funding for the 2016 polls in the proposed P3.002-trillion national budget for next year.

Ungab heads a select committee tasked by the House to finalize the budget proposal before it is printed and sent to the Senate.

The Comelec initially awarded a P1.7-billion contract to Smartmatic-TIM for the lease of 23,000 precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines.

Subsequently, it gave Smartmatic-TIM another contract worth P6.7 billion for the lease of an additional 77,000 units of vote-counting machines after the same supplier refused to refurbish Comelec’s 100,000 PCOS for lack of time.

PCOS machines are supposed to automatically count the votes and electronically transmit these to various tabulation centers.

Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. of Dasmariñas City in Cavite, former chairman of the House electoral reform committee, said Smartmatic-TIM’s contract in the 2010 elections included the cost of printing ballots and vote transmission.

“The Comelec had a bundled cost then. However, in 2013, they unbundled the cost. Thus, there were separate budgets for the PCOS, printing of ballots and transmission of votes,” he said.

He said the present Comelec, which has a new chairman in Andres Bautista, has apparently followed the 2013 practice.

Budget documents submitted by the Comelec to the House appropriations committee show that the poll body has P12.6 billion this year for preparations for the 2016 elections and P6.3 billion for next year for the conduct of the balloting, for a total of P18.9 billion.

Based on the commission’s own submissions, of the P6.3 billion available next year, P2.8 billion would be for “personnel services,” while P3.5 billion would be for maintenance and other operating expenses.

Its listing of expenses does not include the cost of transmission of election results.

The biggest expense items in the list are P1.5 billion for per diems for public school teachers who will serve in the board of election inspectors in the precinct level, P840 million for overtime pay, P1.2 billion for training and seminar, P1 billion for “other services,” P755 million for supplies and materials, P279 million for freight and transportation, P155 million for honoraria and P225 million for wages.

P1-B additional budget

Bautista said they have requested for P1 billion in additional budget from Congress as they are aiming for 100-percent election results transmission rate in May 2016 polls.

He noted the vote transmission rate in the 2013 mid-term polls was only 76 percent and they intend to increase this to 100 percent in next year’s elections.  

“We were asked by Congress about the transmission rate in 2013, which is 76 percent. They asked us how we can increase so we told them that the solution is to get satellite and we need around P1 billion for that,” he added.

The Comelec is planning to acquire broad global area network, a form of satellite that can be used to transmit the votes from areas that have low or no mobile phone satellite coverage. – With Sheila Crisostomo

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