Senate grills Comelec on property purchase

By RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 30 2012 08:22 PM | Updated as of Aug 31 2012 04:22 AM

MANILA, Philippines – Senators skipped questions on the 2013 budget proposal and preparations for the 2013 midterm elections  of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) during the Finance Committee hearing for the 2013 General Appropriations Bill.

Instead, senators focused on Comelec's alleged unauthorized purchase of a property for its future building.

The Comelec presently rents at the Palacio del Gobernador from the Intramuros Administration for its headquarters.

Finance Committee Chairman Senator Franklin Drilon said the Comelec committed a gross violation of the Constitution after it was revealed that in their COMSTRAT Plan or strategic plan for 2011 to 2016, it already paid some P250 million for the purchase of a property from the Philippine Reclamation Authority.

“What they did was appropriate savings to activities that they determine is needed. There is P3.5 billion in savings over the years. They already paid P250 million. They said there's a balance of P1.07 billion. Did you have authority to use these savings to buy land and building? Their theory was, this is our savings, therefore we can use it for land and building,” said Drilon.

Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes cited the fiscal autonomy of constitutional commissions in realigning funds from their savings.

Brillantes explained that the poll body hoped to fund the purchase and construction of their building from savings from Comelec expenditures that will be incurred in the coming years.

"Wala pa ho iyan. Lote pa lang hinuhulugan. We did buy a lot pero huhulugan namin baka ibenta namin if ‘di makatayo ng building. The building is a distant plan,” said Brillantes.

Drilon, however, said Comelec can only realign to savings to budgetary items already existing in the budget, and not create new budgetary items.

"Comelec said without any item for building, they realigned savings of P2.83 billion for purchase of land and building which had no item in the budget. They became Congress. We did not authorize you to purchase a lot under the GAA [General Appropriations Act],” he said.

Baguio cottages

Tension over the Comelec's budget rose again after Senate Minority Leader Alan Cayetano, a critic of Brillantes, grilled the poll chief.

Cayetano had asked about the budget for the refurbishing of Comelec's controversial Baguio City cottages and beds, to which Brillantes snappishly remarked:

"The refurbishing of Comelec cottages were planned out as early as 2009. DPWH gumastos ng una, pati furnishings, dapat sa kanila eh. We’re prepared for the problem of Taguig."

It was an apparent reference to the Comelec's recount of the votes for mayor in the city.

Cayetano's wife Lani is facing an electoral protest by retired Associate Justice Dante Tinga, who was Brillantes' former client when he was still a practicing election lawyer.

Cayetano told Brillantes to stick to the issues.

"Ano legal basis niyo to use money sa savings? Can we stick to the issues rather than going from bed to Taguig to Director Sumalipao?"

Drilon suspended the proceedings, and told everyone to review their interpretation of the constitutional provisions on budget and expenditures, citing the effects of the clashing interpretations on the budget of other agencies which enjoy fiscal autonomy.

The hearing is set for resumption on September 13.

Meantime, the poll body confirmed before the committee that it has reached an agreement with the budget department for an augmentation fund of P5.2 billion for the preparations for the 2013 midterm elections.

This, in lieu of the budget that was slashed from the 2013 budget proposal of the Comelec by the DBM.