Comelec budget at stake: Justify failure to hold recall polls

MANILA, Philippines – Until the Commission on Elections (Comelec) is able to give a "satisfactory explanation" on why it has refused to conduct recall elections despite its mandate and the availability of funds, a congressman said he would ask the House not to approve the agency's proposed P16.9-billion 2015 budget just yet.

Palawan Representative Douglas Hagedorn questioned the poll body on Thursday, September 4, regarding its failure to hold recall elections in recent years.

Specifically, he said, Comelec has refused to hold such election in his province's capital city, Puerto Princesa, where the poll body itself found sufficient the recall petition against Mayor Lucilo Bayron in March.

Hagedorn's sister in law, Elena Hagedorn, lost to Bayron in the 2013 elections. Al Roben Goh, the city information officer of Elena's husband former Mayor Edward Hagedorn, initiated the recall petition, citing "loss of trust and confidence" in Bayron after a series of alleged deterioration in the peace and order situation of the city, its tourism performance, among other governance issues.

Comelec determined in March 2014 that the petition is sufficient, but there were no funds left to continue with the process of recall, including the verification of signatures in the petition.

During Thursday's appropriations committee hearing on Comelec's 2015 budget at the House of Representatives, Hagedorn said Comelec has continuing appropriations and savings that the poll body could use to fund recall elections.

He said Comelec has P10.3 billion in continuing appropriations for 2013. Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr, however, said that it was only P3.5 billion.

Hagedorn also noted that as a constitutional commission, Comelec has fiscal autonomy, and that it could get supplemental budget from Congress whenever the need arises.

Only P13 million is needed to conduct the recall elections in Puerto Princesa, claimed Hagedorn.

Risk of technical malversation

Brillantes affirmed that it is Comelec's obligation to conduct recall elections, provided that all requisites have been met.

But he maintained that the poll body did not have funds to push through with the recall elections. He cited a Comelec resolution suspending all recall elections due to lack of funds.

He said that funds for recall elections were included in Comelec's proposed budget for 2015, but it was removed by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).

"We cannot commit funds from the Comelec, and then allow us to be charged with technical malversation if we make the mistake of spending our money for an entire election which has not been budgeted. We don't want to take that risk," said Brillantes.

Hagedorn pointed out, however, that "as far as Comelec's budget is concerned, it is not totally dependent on new general appropriations," because the poll body has continuing appropriations for the exercise. 

Brillantes said realignment of savings is one remedy, but there are limitations to it.

Regarding recall petitions that were not conducted in 2011 and 2012, Brillantes said it was too late because these could not be conducted a year before any general election. Therefore, elections could only take place up to May 2012, as a midterm election took place on May 2013.

Brillantes also said that the poll body needs at least two months to prepare for any recall election. –

Michael Bueza

Michael Bueza is a researcher and data curator under Rappler's Research Team. He works on data about elections, governance, and the budget. He also follows the Philippine pro wrestling scene and the WWE. Michael is also part of the Laffler Talk podcast trio.