2019 polls, BOL plebiscite preps bugged by fund lack

BUDGETARY woes continue to mar the preparations of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) for next’s year national automated elections and plebiscite for the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL).

The poll body on Monday said voters should brace for longer lines in the next elections since they will forced to increase to 1,000 the number of assigned voters per vote counting machine (VCM) in the 2019 elections from just 800 in the 2016 polls.

“I could just imagine this will lead to really long lines [come the elections],” Caloocan City Second District Rep. Edgar Erice said at the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on Automated Election System at the Senate.

To offset the effects of the long lines, Comelec Executive Director Jose Tolentino said they will extend the voting period for the May 2019 polls.

“From just 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., we are now considering holding the elections from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.,” Tolentino said.

The Comelec said it was forced to raise the number of voters for each VCMs after they suffered a shortage in the number of the contingency machines in the 2016 elections.

In 2016 the poll body only had 1,500 VCMs for contingency for 85,000 voting precincts.

The Comelec was unable to increase the number of its VCMs since it only received a limited budget to purchase the VCMs it leased from Smartmatic International.

With only about six months before the next elections, it said it could no longer address the issue even if it gets enough funds to purchase additional machines since the process would have to go though bidding.

Training roadblock

THE Comelec is now also facing another challenge in providing the necessary two-day training for the 170,000 Board of Election Inspectors (BEIs) on how to operate the automated election system (AES) for the 2019 elections.

It said the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) only granted P1.7 billion of the P5-billion budget it requested for the said project.

Comelec Chairman Sheriff Abas pointed out this was insufficient for them to effectively conduct the training. “The budget they granted us is roughly only P1,200 per participants. We already conducted a survey [for venues] and none of them agree with such a rate,” Abas disclosed.

Sen.  Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III expressed concern over this setback in the preparations of the Comelec since it could translate to more errors in the performance of their BEIs.

In previous automated polls, Pimentel noted there were several cases wherein BEIs did not fill the right forms or correctly managed the VCMs.

Abas appealed to the DBM or Congress to grant them an additional P3 billion so they can upgrade the BEIs’ training in time for the elections next year.

Instead of training just two of the three BEIs per election precinct as done in previous polls, he said they are targeting to extend the training to all of the 255,000 BEIs for the 2019 elections.

Aside from the handouts and practical training, Tolentino said they will also provide trainees with video materials.

The Comelec is targeting to complete the BEI training from February 4, 2019, to March 30, 2019.

Unfunded plebiscite

Meanwhile, yet another unfunded initiative of the Comelec is the upcoming plebiscite for the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL).

Abas said they are still awaiting word from the DBM on their requested P850-million budget for the plebiscite scheduled on January 21, 2019.

“We asked [for] authority from DBM so we could source [funds] from our savings plus our preparatory [budget]…. We hope we could get it by December,” Abas said.

While waiting for the fund, the poll chief said they are currently finalizing the list of “contiguous areas” which will participate in the plebiscite. He said the hearing for the screening of the applicants is ongoing.

“This will then be raffled to the commissioners, who will decide which will be included in the plebiscite,” Abas said.

The Comelec is targeting to release the complete list of participants for the plebiscite in December.


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