Comelec chair says not enough funds for Bangsamoro plebiscite, teachers' honoraria

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 24 2018 08:21 PM | Updated as of Sep 25 2018 10:56 AM

MANILA - The Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Monday raised three concerns with the Senate finance committee, as the panel approved the its budget for 2019, which has been cut by more than half.

The Comelec initially proposed a P24.975-billion budget for 2019 but the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) slashed it to P10.279 billion. 

This is P5.783 billion lower than the current P16.152 billion budget of the commission.

Comelec chairman Sheriff Abas said the proposed 2019 budget will result in a deficiency of P1.5 billion needed for the honoraria and travel expenses of teachers, as provided under the Election Service Reform Act (ESRA) of 2016, which provides for increased benefits for teachers.

“The DBM basis is the basic [pay] in the 2016 elections. But since the promulgation of the ESRA Law, it was increased so therefore we have a difference,” he told the Senate committee in a hearing.

Abas also noted that the DBM only allocated P189 million for the Overseas Absentee Voting Continuing Registration and Expenses for the Office of the Overseas Voting. 

Based on the briefing papers of the Legislative Budget Research and Monitoring Office submitted to Legarda, this is over P2 million lower than the actual expenses of P192 million in the 2016 elections.

In addition, Abas said the Comelec was not provided with P857 million for the plebiscite on the Bangsamoro Law scheduled on January 21, 2019.

“That’s understandable,” Sen. Legarda said, in reference to the Bangsamoro Law plebiscite.

“That’s a law that’s newly passed by Congress. It’s certified urgent, passed in the middle of the year so it’s understandable it was not funded in the 2018 GAA (General Appropriations Act) which was signed into law in December 2017,” she added.

The Bangsamoro Organic Law, signed by President Rodrigo Duterte in July this year, paves the way for wider self-rule for the Muslim minority in the south.

It is one of the requirements under a 2014 peace agreement between Manila and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the country's largest Muslim rebel group.

It will install a Bangsamoro political entity in place of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and is envisioned to grant wider self-rule to predominantly Muslim provinces and cities.

Legarda promised to look for funds to meet Comelec’s concerns and passed the DBM’s proposed budget within 10 minutes.