MANILA— Several senators on Thursday agreed to increase the Commission on Elections' (Comelec) budget next year to help the agency ensure that the 2022 presidential elections would not be a COVID-19 "super spreader."
Under the proposed 2021 budget, the Comelec will get P14.56 billion to prepare for the 2022 national elections, which is half of the original funding it asked from the Department of Budget and Management.
"Hindi natin alam kung kailan magkakabakuna, kaya health concern pa din ang budget ng Comelec leading up to 2022," said Sen. Risa Hontiveros, who will defend the poll body's budget in the Senate plenary next month.
(We still don't know when a vaccine will come out that's why the Comelec's budget leading up to 2022 should still include health concerns.)
While the government expects to procure COVID-19 vaccines by next year, the Comelec may have to add health and safety measures in 2022 to ensure the elections don't become a super spreader for COVID-19 infections," she said.
"We want to encourage as many people as possible to still go out, register, and exercise their democratic right to vote, despite the extraordinary circumstances," she said.
"We cannot allow COVID-19 to stand in the way of our democracy," she said.
Among the proposed solutions to decongest and observe proper physical distancing in polling precincts is to hold a 2-day voting, Comelec chair Sheriff Abas said during his agency's budget hearing in the Senate.
The Comelec usually allocates P1 billion for the payment of teachers who man and facilitate voting in nearly 100,000 polling precincts nationwide, he said.
"Mag-dodoble po kami ng bayad sa mga teachers... Kung 2 to 3 days [ang voting], malamang twice or thrice [the usual budget]," he said.
(We will have to double the payment for teachers... If we will extend voting between 2 and 3 days, most likely, we will need to have twice or thrice the usual budget.)
"Kung mage-extend din tayo, hihirit din kami ng additional para sa mga magbabantay sa botohan," he said.
(If we are going to extend, we are also going to ask for additional funds for those who will guard the voting.)
The limited budget will also affect the Comelec's ability to "procure or rent" new vote counting machines needed for the 2022 national elections, he said.
Hontiveros told Comelec officials that she is willing to push for a higher budget for the poll body, provided that the agency would ensure that no party would profit from the procurement of election paraphernalia.
"This is a pandemic-response election that can dictate the direction and the acceleration of our recovery from this crisis," the senator said.
"We have to find the safest and most efficient option to retain the integrity of our elections. Hindi dapat maging opportunity ang pandemya para gumawa ng kalokohan (The pandemic shouldn't become an opportunity to do irregular)," she said.
Sen. Sonny Angara, meanwhile, earlier proposed allowing seniors and PWDs to vote ahead of regular election day to space out the number of people coming to precincts.
Pampanga Rep. Mikey Arroyo, meanwhile, pushed for the postponement of the 2022 elections due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Comelec said virus woes could be addressed without deferring Filipinos' exercise of their right to select their leaders.