MANILA — Newly appointed poll body chief George Erwin Garcia on Wednesday vowed to institute structural reforms in the Commission on Elections and elevate standards of competence of its officials and employees.
His marching orders to Comelec personnel: “Do the right thing. We are here to protect democracy and affirm the mandate of the people."
Garcia presided over his first en banc meeting Wednesday a day after taking his oath before a judge.
His appointment paper signed by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. was received by the Commission on Appointments on Monday.
Garcia assured the public he would remain impartial and independent, vowing to protect the institution and inhibit from cases involving former clients, including Marcos.
"Kung anuman ang kaso na darating sa amin, iyong mai-involve siya o kahit na sinong kliyente ko before na nahawakan ko, whether in the past, mark my word, definitely, I will inhibit,” Garcia said.
He said he did not expect the appointment, has not spoken with the President about it, and learned of it only upon receiving a copy of the appointment paper from the CA.
Among Garcia’s plans is to open all procurement to the public and involve all stakeholders, create a Comelec academy to train all Comelec personnel on the agency's work, create Comelec marshals to enforce the agency's orders, and create the office of Comelec spokesperson as a permanent entity.
He plans to lead the poll body’s first flag raising during the pandemic on Monday.
Garcia said he hopes to include in the poll body’s budget proposal next year the construction of a building for the Comelec that will house offices and warehouse as well, to do away with leasing offices that cost the poll body about P70-75 million.
Garcia is thankful to Budget Secretary Amenah Pangandaman, who he said expressed openness to the construction of the building at the Comelec’s 3-hectare property in Macapagal Avenue, Pasay.
The building would cost P8.2 billion but he said even an initial amount would do to start the construction process.
Prepararions for the barangay and SK elections, meanwhile, are underway in the absence of a law postponing the polls.
Garcia is in favor of proceeding with the polls, saying it is the “best symbol of democracy”. But he said the poll body would abide by any decision of Congress on it.
The poll body, he said, is also preparing for plebiscites including on a proposal to divide Maguindanao into two provinces.
Asked about the veto of a law granting tax exemption to poll workers, Garcia said he respects the President’s power to veto, saying the poll body could just increase the pay for teachers serving in elections or participating in trainings.
Meanwhile, the Comelec reiterated that all of its servers and secure vaults are safe, intact, undamaged and unaffected by the Sunday fire that hit the reception area of the Information Technology Department at the 7th floor of Palacio del Gobernador.
Comelec law department director and acting spokesperson John Rex Laudiangco led reporters to a tour of the area to show that all vaults and servers are safe and that no data were compromised, pointing out that the electronic election results and data remains to be on live posting, both at the Comelec official website and the Election Results Website.
Back-up data of election results kept at the Comelec’s secured vaults are safe, as well as voter’s registration data.
The Bureau of Fire Protection’s initial investigation showed the fire may have been caused by an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) unit under a computer table.
“Hinihintay po natin ang kanilang final report. But it appears and it is apparent already na wala po talagang foul play, wala pong design, wala pong arson kundi talaga pong mayroon silang tinitignang faulty equipment or electrical wiring po,” Laudiangco said.