Senators to oppose alleged bid to allow Comelec to waive automated poll equipment tests

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 29 2020 08:07 PM | Updated as of Nov 30 2020 07:03 PM

A woman feeds her accomplished test ballot during the final testing and sealing (FTS) of vote counting machines (VCMs) at Pastulan Village, Hermosa, Bataan, Friday, May 6, 2016. 
Jun Dumaguing, ABS-CBN News/file

MANILA (UPDATE) - Senators on Sunday said they would block attempts to insert a provision in the 2021 General Appropriations Act that would allow the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to waive tests and certifications for the security of equipment that will be used in automated polls.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon earlier said they received information that there will be an attempt to insert a provision in the spending bill to authorize the Comelec to waive safeguards in the procurement of equipment and materials guaranteed under the Automated Election Law, Sen. Sonny Angara told ABS-CBN News in a text message.

"I was alerted by the Senate President today about this possibility and instructed to guard against any such provision being inserted before Congress ratifies the budget," he said.

Angara will head the 12-member Senate panel during bicameral deliberations on the 2021 national budget beginning this week.

Senate Committee on Electoral Reforms chair Imee Marcos, who will participate in the bicameral conference, said she is also against the inclusion of the said provision.

"I just saw this reported amendment but am completely opposed to waiving procurement safeguards," Marcos told ABS-CBN News in a separate text message.

"No, I have no clue who its author might be," she said when asked if her Committee was informed of a proposal to waive safeguards for the procurement of election equipment.

Sotto said he is already "looking" into the matter.

"Cannot allow. I’m looking into it already!" he said in a tweet.

'UNCONSTITUTIONAL'
Senators Drilon and Panfilo Lacson called the proposed provision "unconstitutional."

"The General Appropriations Act can only contain provisions that are consistent with appropriations," Lacson said in a text message to reporters.

"If true, it will amend the Procurement Law, which cannot be amended by inserting that clause in the General Appropriations Act," Drilon said in a separate statement.

Detained Sen. Leila de Lima slammed the proposal, saying the person who pushed for it should be treated as an "an enemy to our people and our democracy."

"Any attempts at negotiated procurement for election equipment can only be seen as negotiating the elections itself," she said.

Lawmakers have yet to say which party pushed for the inclusion of the questionable provision.

Under the P4.5-trillion 2021 national budget, the Comelec is expected to receive at least P14.56 billion to prepare for the 2022 national elections.

Congress is expected to begin bicameral deliberations on December 1, and submit the spending bill for President Rodrigo Duterte's signature by mid-December ahead of the expiration by yearend of the current budget.

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