Bautista quizzed on integrity of future elections

House members quizzed Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairman Andres Bautista on a number of issues during the hearing on the agency's proposed budget for 2018, which include the agency's ability to ensure the integrity of future elections to the Comelec's failure to submit its annual financial statements.

The lawmakers grilled Bautista during the hearing of the committee on appropriations chaired by Rep. Karlo Alexei Nograles (1st District, Davao City) on the Comelec's P16 billion proposed budget for next year.

Rep. Joel Mayo Almario (2nd District, Davao Oriental) sought Bautista's opinion on the lawmaker's proposal to reduce the number of voters per precinct while going back to the system of hybrid or manual voting with the ballots to be electronically transmitted. He said the proposal would ensure the integrity of the election results.

The idea would be if we reduce the number of voters per precinct to 100 voters, start the voting at 6 a.m., end it at 12 noon, so right away magbibilangan na and by 3 pm probably tapos na, may resulta na. We will not be compromised by the cover of darkness, lalo na pag brownout. By 5 pm or 6 pm alam na ng lahat ang resulta. The problem there is the availability of classrooms as precincts and availability of teachers. You are already thinking of voting in the malls, gawan na lang ng paraan. But the idea is lessen the number of voters per precinct para half day lang, tapos agad, said Almario.

Bautista said Almario's proposal is similar to the Patas proposal of former Comelec Commissioner Gus Lagman which involved manual vote counting but the transmission is electronic. He said when Lagman submitted the proposal in 2015, the Comelec had a pilot project of simulated elections based on his proposal in Bacoor, Cavite.

Medyo masalimuot at mahirap ipatupad. At that time, di po mas maganda dun sa sistema na ginamit natin nung 2013 and 2016 elections. There are cost considerations if we minimize the number of voters per precinct. Comelec balances the cost benefit analysis to implement our mandate to have an orderly elections, said Bautista.

But Almario said the principle should be convenience must be subservient to integrity. Ang dapat nating ipairal is still the integrity of the elections no matter how masalimuot it is. Kung kaya gawin, kung mahal gawin, basta yung integridad (of the election results) is protected. Kaysa naman mabilis nga, electronic nga, pero ang daming duda. From the program itself may duda na, to the implementation, source code my duda na. That is what we are trying to avoid, that the integrity of the results will be compromised, said Almario, a member of the Commission on Appointments.

Rep. Vicente Veloso (3rd District, Leyte) asked Bautista if the Comelec has plans to reorganize or reassign Comelec registrars who are involved in irregularities.

Bautista said usually during an election, the Comelec reshuffles the various field offices. He enjoined the lawmakers to report to the Comelec any irregularities or abuses committed by election registrars so this can be properly investigated.

Veloso said the reshuffling should include the voters' registration. which is before the election, because in his experience, there were voters coming from places outside of his district who were registered in his district. That's why I'm asking if this includes registration, he said.

Bautista said the reshuffle usually does not include the registration period, but assured Veloso they will note his observation.

Veloso also asked Bautista what is the basis of the Comelec chief's statement that should the October 23, 2017 barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections not push through, the budget for this will be carried over as a continuing appropriation until the elections is finally held.

As a constitutional commission, it is deemed to be a continuing appropriation, and therefore we are able to use it even without Congress re-enacting the budget, said Bautista.

Veloso, however, said his understanding of fiscal autonomy is that another branch of government cannot intervene on an agency's budget. Iba ang pagkakaintindi ko ng fiscal autonomy, di ka pwedeng pakialaman ng another branch of government.

Veloso also reminded Bautista that the budget process is guided by the following: Section 25 Paragraph 1, Section 24, and Section 29, Paragraph 1 of Article VI, and the Revised Penal Code Article 220. Malversation po yun if you spend it for purpose other than what is intended for. Ang pagkakaalam ko di pwede yung nila-lump up mo yung pera as saving, said Veloso, a former Associate Justice of the Court of Appeals.

Meanwhile, Rep. Makmod Mending, Jr. (Party-list, AMIN) asked Bautista why the Comelec failed to submit on time its financial statement for 2016 per the Commission on Audit (COA) report.

Automated yung elections natin pero yung accounting (system) ng Comelec hindi. Is it a trend that every after election, the Comelec fails to submit its financial statement. Nung 2013 elections, the Comelec also failed to submit its financial statement (that year), said Mending.

Bautista referred the matter to Comelec Director for Finance and Services Division Cita Castillon. Castillon confirmed the COA observation that the Comelec has not submitted its financial statement as of December 31, 2016.

Because manual pa ang aming accounting system and we have a centralized accounting system. Considering po na election year ung 2016, medyo madami po ung transactions namin. At saka di pa kami naka-eNGAs (Electronic New Government Accounting System). As of the moment, natapos po namin yung training sa eNGAS. Hopefully po sa 2017, we can improve the submission of financial statements. There was a time naman po in the past, before 2013, our submission of financial statements was not that delayed, said Castillon.

Source: House of Representatives

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