The Legal Network for Truthful Elections (LENTE) has released a statement regarding the importance of strengthening the independence of the Commission on Elections (COMELEC). Here it is in full below:
“For the past few months, we have seen Chairperson Garcia actively advocating for COMELEC to have its own office space. We welcome and support this advocacy of Chairperson Garcia. We have seen firsthand how the lack of space for COMELEC to call its home has hampered its operations, and more importantly, its independence.
As we support this advocacy, we also call on the COMELEC to also advocate for its field office to have its own office space and to hire its own personnel. Because of Section 55 of the Omnibus Election Code, local government units provide for the office space of the offices of municipal election officers, city election officers, and provincial election supervisors. Section 55 of the Omnibus Election Code provides that:
Sec. 55 The local government concerned shall provide a suitable place for the office of the provincial election supervisor and his staff and the election registrar and his staff.
Clearly, the independence of COMELEC is affected by this existing legal framework.
Since the 17th up to the 18th Congress, LENTE has been actively pushing for the COMELEC Integrity Bill, a measure that seeks to strengthen the field offices of the poll body by providing their own suitable office spaces and adding more election assistants thereto.
The purpose of the bill is to give meaning to the constitutional guarantee of independence. Salient provisions of the bill include i) the construction of the independent municipal, city, and provincial COMELEC field offices, ii) the automatic creation of positions of election officers and election assistants in a new city, municipality, or provincial electoral district, iii) the transfer of all COMELEC Field Offices from LGUs to their independent offices within a period of five years from effectivity, iv) the increase in election assistants based on the number of registered voters and v) the prohibition of transferring LGU personnel to local COMELEC offices aside from the Provincial Election Officer Supervisor, Election Officer, and Election Assistants.
During the 18th Congress, the COMELEC Integrity Bill was able to hurdle the Committee on Appropriations and eventually passed into third reading on August 24, 2021. The appropriations provision was consulted with the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and was validated through their issuance of a position paper. In the position paper issued out by the DBM, it states that the amount needed for the funding requirement may be sourced from the Total Continuing Appropriations of the COMELEC. In the Senate, the bill underwent two committee hearings and directed the COMELEC to devise the five-year transfer plan.
At present, the 19th Congress legislators who filed the bill are Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, Rep. Johnny Pimentel, Rep. Juliet Marie Ferrer, Rep. Marlyn L. Primicias-Agabas, Rep. Eric Go Yap, Sen. Imee Marcos, and Sen. Joel Villanueva. Notably, Sen. Imee Marcos adopted the bill and even included the same in Senate Bill No. 2521 or the New Omnibus Election Code.
In upholding the integrity of our Philippine elections, LENTE reiterates its calls for COMELEC National to include in its lobbying and advocacy campaign the similar needs of our COMELEC field offices to ensure its independence. Likewise, LENTE calls on our legislators in the Senate and the House of Representatives to establish a robust and independent COMELEC and to recognize the LGU’s stake in election administration lamentably acts as a sword of Damocles, and subjects the local COMELEC to the imminent and ever-present peril of lack of office space, manpower complement and funding for its operations.”
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