The proposed budget of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) for 2015 will soar to P16.8 billion — or six times its 2014 budget of P2. 8 billion — an increase Sen. Ralph Recto described “as a high price we’re being told to pay to have clean elections in 2016.”
Recto said P3.76 billion of the Comelec budget will be used to buy 41,800 precinct count optical scan or PCOS machines at a cost of P90,000 each.
In all, the Comelec is eyeing to buy P11.43 billion worth of assorted new equipment, according to a briefing paper by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) on the highlights of the P2.6 trillion 2015 national budget.
The new PCOS machines, the DBM paper said, will augment the 80,000 units in the poll body’s inventory.
On top of the P11.43 billion for capital outlays, another 2016 election-related expense frontloaded in the 2015 budget is P1.2 billion for “preparatory activities” including voter’s registration, Recto said.
The Comelec is targeting a 4-percent increase in the number of registered voters which stood at 54,051,626 in August last year.
Pending the submission of the details of the mulled PCOS purchase, Recto said he was withholding judgment on whether its multi-billion price tag is justified.
“There are good and competent men in the Comelec like Chairman Brillantes. We have to get their side and also the views of other stakeholders who are likewise well-meaning,” he said.
“But what I am interested in knowing is if this will be a recurring expense, if this is what we will have to shell out every time we hold an election, which in this land is once every 500 days,” Recto said.
Aside from national elections, elections are also called for Sangguniang Barangay (SB) and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) posts every three years.
On the last two alone, 672,442 officials are elected, a chairman for every SB and SK in 42,028 barangays and seven council members for each SB and SK.
In addition, about 18,050 national and local posts are elected.
“We have ‘job fair’ every three years to allow people to hire close to 700,000 officials and the manner of hiring them is the one that’s expensive,” Recto said.
“We can only hire less than a thousand doctors, probably a hundred PhD scientists and about 10,000 policemen every three years but we recruit elected officials in bulk, by the hundreds of thousands during the same period,” he said.
Recto said if the P16-billion cost to hold an election becomes a regular request every three years, “then there is no harm in looking for other means on how to bring down the cost of administering elections in this country.”
He said the final 2016 election tab could be higher as the P16.8 billion is just the request of the Comelec for preparations to be done a year before. “That amount does not include the funds required for election year proper.”
“Kung ganun kalaki ang gastos, maraming magtatanong kung bakit tayo bibili ng ganun kadaming PCOS machine na gagamitin lang once every three years gayong mas kailangan natin ng dialysis machines o X-ray machines,” Recto said.
Recto said the proposed P11.4 billion for new Comelec equipment is 19-times bigger than the proposed P592 million for NAIA expansion, 28 times of what we will pay 398 new DoH doctors in 2015, two and half times the total senior citizens pension of some 739,000 elderly.
“It is three and a half times of what our national vaccines and immunization budget is for next year, 11 times bigger than the Community Mortgage Program budget, and 22 times bigger than the Quick Reaction Fund of the Department of Agriculture for calamities,” Recto said.
But Recto said he is not blaming the Comelec.
“Probably what is at fault here is that we have so many government units, which create many positions up for grabs, which invite many candidates, who in turn will be chosen by a large voting base,” he said.