MANILA, Philippines - Administration and opposition lawmakers pressed yesterday for the passage of a bill that would make election service of public school teachers voluntary and allow other qualified individuals to do poll duties.
Pending in the House committee on suffrage and electoral reforms chaired by Capiz Rep. Fredenil Castro are four bills making election service voluntary for public school teachers and other qualified citizens.
The measures under scrutiny by the committee are: House Bill 444 authored by Reps. Antonio Tinio of the ACT Teachers party-list; HB 3205 filed by Erlinda Santiago of the 1-SAGIP party-list; HB 3255 of Eric Olivarez (1st District, Parañaque City); and HB 3514 authored by Ma. Leonor Gerona-Robredo (3rd District, Camarines Sur).
Under Republic Act 6646 or the Omnibus Election Code, public school teachers cannot refuse to serve as members of the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI), Special Board of Election Inspectors (SBEI), Board of Election Tellers (BET), and Special Board of Election Tellers (SBET).
They can only refuse to serve if the concerned teacher is related within the fourth degree of consanguinity or affinity to any of the candidates or spouse; is sick or pregnant or otherwise physically incapacitated.
“Elections are fundamental to a democratic country like the Philippines. Election service is an essential civic duty that should be made available to all concerned and qualified citizens, providing greater opportunities for people’s participation in this democratic process,” the authors said.
The bills collectively propose to institutionalize the benefits and privileges of BEI, SBEI and BET members, including compulsory insurance coverage with the Government Service Insurance System; legal assistance and indemnification; honoraria and allowance; voting privilege in the precinct where he or she is assigned on election day; and option of public school teachers to participate as BEI members.
Robredo’s bill further defines and lays out a standard system in the provision of honoraria, allowances and insurance coverage as well as private legal assistance and security measures to the members of each specified board.
“These intend to keep our teachers safe and provide them the needed protection against any election-related harassment,” she said.
Olivarez said in other countries, election tellers for BEI are not necessarily public school teachers but they come from all sectors of society.
“In fact, the worldwide trend is to open up election service to citizens of known probity and competence and not limited to teachers,” he said.
Santiago’s version provides for regular and adequate training for all BEI members and institutionalizes the provision of security for them to be provided by law enforcement units under the direction of the Commission on Elections (Comelec).
“Our election laws provide for the participation of other sectors in elections such as the local government units, military and police, poll watchers and canvassing watchers. Getting other sectors to fill BEI positions will no longer be a new development,” Santiago said.
Tinio said mandatory election duty has long been an additional burden borne by public school teachers hard pressed to provide quality education to the Filipino youth, in the face of low pay and difficult working conditions.
“In order to alleviate their plight, teachers must be given the freedom to choose whether or not they want to fulfill the roles of the BEI,” Tinio said.
Among the many unfortunate incidents of violence against teachers during election duties, Tinio recalled that in 1995 teacher Filomena Tatlonghari was shot and killed in Mabini, Batangas for refusing to surrender a ballot box to armed men.