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News Commentary

Comelec finds self scrounging for cash

- Jose Aravilla -
From out-of-stock bond paper to generators that conk out, the country’s election body is pushed further into the Dark Ages.

A power outage hit the Commission on Elections head office last week that sent all its employees home. The Comelec has generators, but there was no fuel to run them.

The incident was the latest proof that the Comelec is in dire financial straits.

Employees have been complaining of lack of office supplies and delays in the payroll, especially in the provinces.

Instead of relaxing during lunchtime, employees used the time to hold two separate mass actions demanding the release of their benefits.

During last Thursday’s blackout at the cramped and poorly ventilated office, employees were told to go home at about 1 p.m. after efforts to make the generators work seemed futile.

"I think it even took another hour before power was restored after we had left," said a Comelec employee who requested not to be named.

While darkness surrounded the poll body head office, its top officials led by Comelec Chairman Benjamin Abalos were in Clark Field in Pampanga for a conference.

Ironically, they were talking about the oft-shelved modernization program of the country’s election system.

Abalos gave his nod for the employees to be sent home than sweat it out in their office while waiting for power to be restored.

An employee lamented: "What I do not understand is why they had to go all the way to Clark Field when in fact we do not have money for our basic needs at the office."

Prior to the elections held last May, the Comelec rank and file had complained of various problems hounding their office — photocopying machines were dying to be repaired, bond papers were out of stock, among other needs. The matter was eventually resolved.

Comelec Commissioner Resurreccion Borra, in an earlier interview, admitted the poll body is now operating on a "shoe-string budget" as the budget department has yet to release some of its funds.

The Comelec’s had used up its savings in the last elections, including its botched modernization project worth some P3 billion.

Last May’s elections were supposed to finally usher in computerized voting and counting.

But voters went back to the traditional way of casting ballots and counting was done manually after the Supreme Court nullified a Comelec contract with the suppliers of automated counting machines (ACMs) due to irregularities in the bidding process.

The Comelec and Mega Pacific Consortium — which provided 1,991 ACMs that were supposed to be used in the last polls — are now embroiled in a legal battle before a Makati court.

With the deal nullified, the poll body is demanding a return of the more than P1 billion it already paid to the private consortium. Mega Pacific, in turn, is demanding the balance of their P1.3-billion deal. It said it was not its fault that the deal was invalidated.

The Office of the Solicitor General is handling the case in behalf of the Comelec.

But Comelec Commissioner Florentino Tuason Jr. has said they are looking forward to a compromise agreement that could pave the way for a computerized barangay elections in 2005.

Allegations of poll fraud and cheating highlighted the May elections apart from commonly experienced poll problems like missing names in the registration and violation of election laws by candidates and their supporters.

BUT COMELEC COMMISSIONER FLORENTINO TUASON JR.

CLARK FIELD

COMELEC

COMELEC AND MEGA PACIFIC CONSORTIUM

COMELEC CHAIRMAN BENJAMIN ABALOS

COMELEC COMMISSIONER RESURRECCION BORRA

DARK AGES

LAST MAY

MEGA PACIFIC

OFFICE

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