Congress makes teachers’ poll duty optional, hikes allowance

Marvin Sy (The Philippine Star) - January 27, 2016 - 9:00am

MANILA, Philippines – Congress has approved a measure that will make election duties voluntary for public school teachers in the country.

With the House of Representatives deciding to adopt the version of the bill approved by the Senate, the measure can now be sent to the President for signing.

Senate Bill 2178 or the proposed Election Service Reform Act (ESRA) would allow public school teachers to turn down poll duties, which have been mandatory for them during past elections.

For the teachers who opt to continue serving as Board of Election Inspectors (BEI), the bill also provides that they would get a higher honorarium.

The House has passed the proposed ESRA, where the honorarium would be increased from P3,000 to P6,000 for the chairman of the BEI, P3,000 to P5,000 for BEI members, P3,000 to P4,000 for supervisors of the Department of Education, and P1,500 to P2,000 for support staff.

Their travel allowance would also go up from P500 to P1,000.

In the past, most BEI members were public school teachers. The BEI is the panel that conducts the balloting process in the precinct level.

The proposed ESRA makes election duty on the part of teachers voluntary, instead of compulsory as the election law provides.

Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, chairman of the Senate committee on electoral reforms and people’s participation and sponsor of the bill, said the measure will “give the public school teachers the liberty to choose whether to serve in the elections as Board of Election Inspectors or not, by way of making the election service optional to protect them from political pressures and consider their personal welfare.”

Pimentel said that the increase in honoraria should take effect in this May’s elections.

In order to ensure the timely payment of the honoraria, the bill provides that the person who caused the delay would be held liable for an election offense.

The bill also grants five days of service credit instead of three days to all government officials and employees serving as members of the electoral boards, DepEd supervisor/official and support staff.

The measure also grants an increase in the death benefits from P200,000 to P500,000 and the medical assistance in such amount as may be “sufficient to cover for medical and hospitalization expenses until recovery” of injuries sustained while in the performance of election duties.

“We must ensure that the very people whom we rely on to manage the conduct of elections in this country are properly cared for, so that they may continue to preserve, with utmost pride and passion, the very foundation of our democratic system – an utterly free, honest and orderly election,” Pimentel said.

Senate Bill 2178 was introduced by Sen. Paolo Benigno Aquino IV and considered similar bills authored by Sens. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Loren Legarda and Pimentel.

Rep. Antonio Tinio of party-list group Alliance of Concerned Teachers, one of the authors of the ESRA in the House, said although election duty would be voluntary, many teachers would still volunteer to serve in the BEI.

He said the proposed law also provides legal assistance to teachers serving as election board.

“Considering the increase in honoraria and the solid package of benefits and legal assistance, teachers opting out of election service will be the exception, rather than the rule. Teachers will continue to serve in the overwhelming majority of polling precincts nationwide and they will do an even better job,” he said.

More than 630,000 public school teachers across the country are required to perform election duties and are usually not compensated right away in spite of the risks involved in their duties.

“It is only timely that we give our teachers better benefits and options regarding their poll duties, given the risks they take in ensuring that elections are facilitated in a proper and clean manner,” Senate President Franklin Drilon said.

Tinio, for his part, thanked Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II for the passage of the measure.

“Their support was crucial in securing House approval, given the limited session days remaining and the difficulty in achieving a quorum,” Tinio said.

“We dedicate the passage of the bill to the memory of Filomena Tatlonghari, Nellie Banaag and other teachers who gave their lives while serving in elections,” he said.

Tatlonghari was killed in a ballot box-snatching incident in Mabini, Batangas in 1995, while Banaag died when armed men burned down her school during the 2007 elections.

Meanwhile, the Senate also approved Senate Bill 886 defining the role of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) during elections.

“Allegations regarding the involvement of certain members of the AFP affecting the results of elections have been plaguing this country and reached its pinnacle sometime in June 2005 when the so-called ‘Hello, Garci’ scandal broke out,” Pimentel said.

The bill aims to limit the role of the AFP during the elections to “only maintaining peace and order” when there are “no available units or members of the Philippine National Police” in the area or when there is a need to augment the PNP units in a certain area.

The AFP personnel are prohibited from taking part in activities related to handling and opening of ballot boxes, counting, tallying and canvassing of votes and proclamation of winning candidates during any electoral exercise. – With Jess Diaz

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