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Comelec needs P16.8B to ensure clean presidential polls in 2016?

Filipino taxpayers will shell out P16.8 billion or six times more than the P2.8-billion budget of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) in 2014 just to ensure a clean presidential election in 2016, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph G. Recto said yesterday.

Citing the briefing paper of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) detailing the menu of the 2015 budget, Recto said P3.76 billion would be used to buy 41,800 precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines at a cost of P90,000 each aside from assorted new equipment it plans to buy in the estimated sum of P11.43 billion.

Recto said if the P16 billion cost to hold an election becomes a regular request every three years, “then there is no harm in looking for other means on how to bring down the cost of administering elections in this country.”

“There are good and competent men in the Comelec like Chairman (Sixto) Brillantes (Jr.). We have to get their side and also the views of other stakeholders who are likewise well-meaning,” he said.

“But what I am interested in knowing is if this will be a recurring expense. If this is what we will have to shell out every time we hold an election, which in this land is once every 500 days,” Recto said.

Aside from the national, the Sangguniang Barangay (SB) and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elect members every three years.

JOB FAIR

On the last two alone, 672,442 officials are elected, a chairman for every SB and SK in 42,028 barangays and seven council members for each SB and SK.

In addition, about 18,050 national and local posts are elected.

“We have ‘job fair’ every three years to allow people to hire close to 700,000 officials and the manner of hiring them is the one that’s expensive,” Recto said.

“We can only hire less than a thousand doctors, probably a hundred PhD scientists and about 10,000 policemen every three years but we recruit elected officials in bulk, by the hundreds of thousands during the same period,” he said.

He said the final 2016 election tab could be higher as the P16.8 billion is just the request of the Comelec for preparations to be done a year before.

“That amount does not include the funds required for election year proper,’’ he added.

“Kung ganun kalaki ang gastos, maraming magtatanong kung bakit tayo bibili ng ganun kadaming PCOS machine na gagamitin lang once every three years gayong mas kailangan natin ng (If the election expense is that much, many will ask why are we buying PCOS machines that will be used only once every three years when we urgently need) dialysis machines o X-ray machines,” Recto said.

Recto expressed optimism that the national government has the funds to buy the additional 40,000 PCOS.

“The question is do we need to buy these machines at that price? Are these good machines? I am surprised it costs that much,’’ he said.

“We have 45,00 barangays and roughly 80,00 PCOS machines (nationwide). We have two PCOS machines per barangay. Comelec wants one PCOS machine more per barangay which has at present two PCOS machines each. It probably wants three PCOS per barangay to reduce waiting time. I am surprised it costs P90,000 per PCOS machine,’’ he added.

When asked by the Manila Bulletin if the elections would still be relatively clean should the government fail to fund the requested P16.8 billion budget for the Comelec, Recto replied in the affirmative.

DISPROPORTIONATE

Recto said the proposed P11.4 billion for new Comelec equipment is 19 times bigger than the proposed P592 million for NAIA (Ninoy Aquino International Airport) expansion, 28 times of what we will pay 398 new DoH (Department of Health) doctors in 2015, two and half times the total senior citizens pension of some 739,000 elderly.

“It is three and a half times of what our national vaccines and immunization budget is for next year, 11 times bigger than the Community Mortgage Program budget, and 22 times bigger than the Quick Reaction Fund of the Department of Agriculture for calamities,” Recto said.

Recto stressed that he is not blaming the Comelec.

Probably what is at fault here is that we have so many government units, which create many positions up for grabs, which invite many candidates, who in turn will be chosen by a large voting base,” he said.

On top of the P11.43 billion for capital outlays, another 2016 election-related expense frontloaded in the 2015 budget is P1.2 billion for “preparatory activities” including voter’s registration, he said.