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Senate panel defers Comelec budget hearing over failure to submit requested documents

A Senate finance subcommittee on Monday deferred the deliberations on the Commission on Elections (Comelec) budget for 2023 until further notice due to the poll body's failure to submit necessary documents.

Senator Imee Marcos, who presided over the hearing as Senate finance panel vice-chairperson, said the poll body failed to submit any of the documents that will provide information on five issues that should be addressed by the Comelec.

Marcos said these documents include pertinent data on the "outrageous demand" of additional P10 billion for the Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan Elections in October 2023, the performance in the OFW voting which is "while improved continues to be more or less miserable," the update on workers compensation including the issue in taxation, the Smartmatic contracts with the Comelec, and the poll body's plan to address vote buying which was widely observed during the 2022 elections.

Comelec chairperson George Garcia said they will abide by the postponement of the hearing on the commission's 2023 budget and they will submit the documents that were requested.

"Likewise, we will make a computation as regards the barangay and SK elections including what is being required by the chairperson when it comes to overseas voting," he added.

Garcia said they are prepared to answer the queries of the senators but some of the Comelec officials failed to prepare the summary of the information requested by the lawmakers.

For her part, Comelec finance officer Catherine Isip said the poll body has yet to discuss further the information that was required by the Senate panel.

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel did not object to Marcos' motion to postpone the deliberations. 

Pimentel told the Comelec that they are expecting all government agencies to be prepared not only on the figures and the amounts in the budget but also on the issues related to their operations and their mandate.

"We want you to be prepared kasi sometimes we ask questions na hindi namin alam ang sagot, but most of the time we ask questions alam namin yung sagot," he said. 

'Huge amount'

In an interview with reporters, Marcos highlighted the senators' concern over the huge amount that the Comelec is requesting for the next Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan Elections.

"Pinagpipilitan pa rin nila na kinakailangan daw nila ng additional P10 billion on top of the P8.4 billion na nasa kanila na. Saan ka naman nakarinig ng eleksyon na magkaka-total ng halos P19 billion. Higit pa sa presidential elections? Parang hindi naman angkop," Marcos told reporters.

Apart  from this, she mentioned that Pimentel wanted to inquire about the trust fund of the poll body which she said has no "accounting" measures.

Marcos also took a swipe at the commissioners who were not present at the Senate hearing on the Comelec's proposed budget because they were travelling.

She said she is also putting extra effort to deliberate the commissions budget for next year.

"Siguro mas mahalaga lakarin nila yung budget nila dito," she said.

Although she expressed disappointment over the postponement of the Comelec budget hearing, Marcos said she has no desire to delay the plenary deliberations of the commission's proposed funding for 2023.

In a separate interview, Garcia apologized for their failure to comply with the documents requested by the Senate panel.

He likewise admitted that the demands of the senators are "reasonable" as these are the issues that should be addressed by the Comelec.

On the requested budget for the BSKE, Garcia explained that they are basing their request on the projected number of voters which is guided by the data from the Philippine Statistics Authority as well as their election records.

"As of kanina, we are able to arrive at least P4 billion na dagdag ng gastos. Isipin niyo po from as high as P10 billion, the commission was able to squeeze and reduce to P4 billion. So we are hoping that that amount is acceptable to our good senators," he said. — RSJ, GMA News