Illustration by Alejandro Edoria/Rappler
MANILA, Philippines – Election watchdog Lente criticized the Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Monday, March 28, over the poll body’s plan to buy uniforms for teachers serving as election inspectors in the May 9 polls.
For the first time since it was founded in 1940, the Comelec is set to spend P20.81 million* ($449,019) on uniforms to be worn by members of the boards of election inspectors (BEIs).
The BEIs will wear these uniforms only on election day, May 9.
The Comelec is prepared to buy 277,527 uniforms worth P75 ($1.62) each for the teachers.
In a tweet on Monday, Lente said: “20 million pesos for BEI shirts. 75 pesos each. Is this really necessary? Hello, Comelec.”
Reacting to Lente’s tweet, Twitter user @Komiks13 said, “20 million just for 1 day?”
Lente replied, “Yes. Shirts to be used by our teachers. Branding.”
The item for BEI uniforms is part of a new P22.05-million ($475,588) contract that the Comelec is bidding out for the May 9 elections.
The contract includes an item for 6,158 election day T-shirts for Comelec employees.
The Comelec is set to spend P1.23 million ($26,568) for these T-shirts, worth P200 ($4.32) each.
'Unnecessary waste of resources'
The Comelec on March 22 posted an invitation to bid for the “supply and delivery of Comelec employees’ election day t-shirts and Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) election day uniforms.”
The pre-bid conference is scheduled on Wednesday, March 30, and the submission and opening of bids is on April 13.
Lente described this contract as an “unnecessary waste of Comelec resources.”
“Divert money instead to additional per diem of BEIs,” the election watchdog said Sunday, March 27.
Teachers this year will get P6,500 ($140.12) for serving as election inspectors, while their election day uniform is P75 ($1.62) each.
Former Comelec commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal, for his part, said it would be wiser for the poll body to devote its energy to a “much more important” matter.
“I think it’s better to focus on the bidding and delivery of thermal paper,” Larrazabal said in a tweet on Sunday, March 27, referring to the paper needed to print voting receipts on May 9.
The uniforms have also sparked concerns that BEIs, by wearing these, could easily be identified by political camps that want to cheat by harming them.
Uplifting 'dignity' of BEIs
Comelec Spokesman James Jimenez, on the other hand, defended the poll body’s plan to buy election day uniforms for BEIs.
He said the election day uniforms, which look like bibs or aprons, can uplift the “dignity” of election inspectors.
Jimenez told reporters, “If you’re looking at making even the election workers aware of the dignity of what they are doing, then you’re also creating another frontline in the battle against election fraud.
“One of the ways that you want to protect the process againt fraud is to make your frontline resistant to that sort of allure, and it’s very important, if you’re going to have people resisting the lure of filthy money, for them to feel the dignity of the work that they’re doing, to feel proud of what they’re doing,” Jimenez said.
He said the Comelec stands a better chance “of instilling that sort of pride” if it has “people who are attired properly.”
“Elections also have to be considered holistically,” the Comelec spokesman added.
'Improving the voter experience'
He continued: “You’re not just looking at the nuts and bolts. You’re not just looking at the bare metal and concrete of the elections. You’re also looking at how it appears, how the experience is, for the voters. And if voter experience is good, then there will be much support for the elections, and thefore I think probably greater credibility.”
Jimenez was also asked about critics who say this move is questionable because the Comelec had “survived” many elections without buying uniforms worth millions of pesos.
Jimenez said it's about “improving the voter experience” – a battlecry of the Comelec under elections chief Andres Bautista. “Sometimes it's not enough to be satisfied with just surviving,” the Comelec spokesman said.
The Comelec under Bautista, who used to run Shangri-La hotels and resorts in the Philippines, has consistently stressed the need to improve its public image.
The Comelec, however, has been plagued with practical issues in running the May 9 elections.
One of these problems is the need to print voting receipts as ordered by the Supreme Court. The Comelec earlier said preparing to issue voting receipts at the last minute will derail its timeline by weeks.
On top of this, the Comelec website was also hacked on Sunday, March 27, fueling fears about the security of votes in the Philippines’ 3rd automated elections. – Rappler.com
*$1 = P46.39
Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at email@example.com.