Lawmakers in both chambers of Congress supported the grant of an additional fund of at least ₱8 billion for the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to purchase more vote-counting machines (VCMs) and augment its manpower for the May, 2022 elections.
During the meeting of the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on the Automated Election System Wednesday, September 15, on the Comelec’s preparations for next year’s polls, Commissioner Marlon Casquejo said the amount includes the purchase of an additional VCMs necessary to enable the poll body to further reduce the number of voters in voting precincts.
From the over 1,000 voters that flock each precinct during elections pre-pandemic, the Comelec is looking at reducing the capacity to 800 to ensure compliance in physical distancing and other health protocols, as COVID-19 continues to be a threat in the country.
The Comelec initially requested for an additional fund of P1 billion in its budget to procure 10,000 more VCMs, but was granted only an augmentation of P500 million, Casquejo said.
Comelec chairman Sheriff Abas earlier reported that no company would take part in their bidding, finding the poll body’s offer of ₱60,050.35 per unit too cheap.
Casquejo also told lawmakers that as early as 2019, they have been asking for increased allocation for the said purpose, to no avail.
But Senator Imee Marcos and Caloocan Representative Edgar Erice still found the 800 too many, doubting that the voting precincts can accommodate all voters even if voting hours are extended beyond the current eight hours.
“‘Yong 800 talagang kulang na kulang yan kahit na 12 to 14 hours niyo pa gawin (That 800 threshold might not be enough even if you extend the period to 12 or 14 hours)…I doubt it very much if we can accommodate 800 voters per precinct,” Erice said, citing the huge voting population in his city.
Erice suggested the capacity be further reduced to 600 voters per precinct.
Aside from the VCMs, more pressing challenge, according to Casquejo, would be how to compensate teachers for the additional hours that they would be working.
The Comelec and Department of Education have agreed to increase the honoraria of teachers who will serve as electoral board and poll work by ₱3,000.
“Sa kasaamaang palad, na-slash po ‘yong budget ng ating mga teachers. Sana maibalik, kasi talagang magkakaroon tayo ng extension of voting hours (Unfortunately, the budget for our teachers was slashed. I hope this will be returned, because we will really have to extend the voting hours),” Casquejo told the lawmakers.
“Baka magkaroon tayo ng five-hour extension tapos baka hindi natin mabigyan ng additional honorarium or additional personnel ‘yong ating voting center (We might have a five-hour extension and we cannot give our teachers additional honorarium or addition personnel in our voting centers),” he added.
Citing their computation, he said: “We need at least an additional of ₱8 billion.”
“Maybe the committee can help the Comelec para pakiusapan natin ‘yong (to plead the) national government to provide P8 billion. Maliit na halaga ‘yon para sa safety ng voters, para sa maayos na eleksyon (It’s a small amount to ensure the safety of voters, and to ensure an orderly election),” Erice said.
“Sige, sama-sama tayo d’yan. Ilagay natin yong ₱8 billion na kinakailangan ng Comelec (Okay, we’re in this together. Let’s give the ₱8 billion the Comelec needs),” Marcos agreed, alluding to the ongoing budget deliberations in Congress.
The Comelec is set to conduct a simulation of the voting plans on Sunday, September 19, to determine how many hours would be necessary to accommodate voters.