House of Representatives

Charter change-related? Comelec’s 2024 budget for plebiscites surged by P12 billion

Dwight de Leon

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

Charter change-related? Comelec’s 2024 budget for plebiscites surged by P12 billion
Why did Congress allot a P14-billion budget for Comelec for the conduct of its plebiscites in 2024, when the poll body only wanted P2 billion?

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) does not have a dozen of plebiscites planned this year, yet Congress gave the poll body a budget of P14.2 billion for such electoral exercises for 2024.

That’s a whopping increase of nearly P12 billion, from around P2.5 billion that the Comelec requested.

What gives? Is this related to charter change?

Opposition lawmaker Edcel Lagman certainly believes he has the right to flag the massive increase in the budget allotted to the Comelec for these activities.

He said that P14.2 billion – which is only for one line item in the Comelec’s 2024 budget – is higher than the entire funding of some government agencies this year, such as the Department of Migrant Workers (P9.8 billion), Department of Trade and Industry (P8.6 billion), Department of Tourism (P3.4 billion), and Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development (P3.3 billion).

People’s initiative

It is the House of Representatives which appears to be aggressively pushing for charter change through a constituent assembly, although how exactly, is quite unconventional.

A constituent assembly is one of the methods prescribed by the 1987 Constitution to amend or revise the current charter. But for that to materialize, three-fourths of the members of the House and the Senate must vote in favor of convening themselves into a Con-Ass. (READ: What you need to know about Charter Change)

The 1987 Constitution is silent on whether the chambers must vote jointly or separately. The 24 senators will definitely be outnumbered by the 300-plus members of the House, and an impasse on the manner of voting had essentially killed Con-Ass efforts in the past.

But this time around, the House has decided to pursue a people’s initiative – getting enough signatures that would basically force the minuscule Senate into voting jointly with the House when a constituent assembly is called.

Two lawmakers whom Rappler spoke with – Palawan 3rd District Representative Jose Alvarez and Surigao del Sur 2nd District Representative Johnny Pimentel – confirmed that signature campaigns were underway in their districts, and expressed confidence that the minimum number of signatures has already been met.

The two said the signatures will be submitted to the local Comelec office from January 13 to 16.

“[The Constitution says] only 3% of the voting population is required to sign. But I am targeting 20% of voters here in my district,” Alvarez said. “We are ready to file.”

“Our goal is to open up the economy by amending the Constitution,” Pimentel told Rappler separately. “Our Constitution is very restrictive.”

Once a constituent assembly is called, lawmakers would be able to introduce amendments to the 1987 Constitution. These changes need to be ratified by Filipino voters through a nationwide plebiscite.

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Catfight

For the record, Comelec sought a budget of P43 billion for 2024, arguing it would be the most preparation-heavy year in the run-up to the 2025 elections. The executive branch, however, only proposed P27 billion to Congress, slashing Comelec’s request by P17 billion.

When the budget proposal hurdled both chambers of Congress, as well as the bicameral conference committee, Comelec’s budget was restored to P40 billion, and included the ballooned plebiscite funds worth P14 billion.

“Comelec Chairman George Garcia personally appealed during the budget hearing in Congress to restore their budget,” House appropriations panel Zaldy Co pointed out.

“This is Comelec’s budget. No other agency, not even Congress, can touch or release even one centavo of it. Is Congressman Lagman saying that Comelec commissioners would use those funds for charter change? If he can’t prove it, then he better shut up,” he added.

But Lagman’s argument is this: the bicameral conference committee gave nearly all of the budget that Comelec originally requested, but inserted it in items not related to the 2025 elections.

“Chairman Zaldy Co must be man enough to admit candidly this furtive and malevolent insertion,” Lagman said. “What was given to Comelec was not requested by it in the form of additional appropriation for the charter change agenda.”

Comelec in the middle

Comelec won’t sugarcoat it: the plebiscite budget worth P14 billion can be used in relation to charter change.

“We have the discretion on where to use it as a constitutional body,” Comelec Chairman George Garcia said. “[But when the budget was given], there were no talks on people’s initiative. We only asked that the P17 billion be restored.”

So far, Garcia listed two upcoming plebiscites – both in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

In comparison, the Comelec made do with its P2-billion budget when it held at least six plebiscites in 2023.

The fine print in the budget document raises a lot of questions.

How did the restored budget find its way into the plebiscite category, instead of 2025 election preparatory activities?

Why did the Senate – which makes up half of the bicameral conference committee – allow such an insertion?

What gives? – Rappler.com

1 comment

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  1. ET

    COMELEC Chairman George Garcia can be both honest and lying. He is honest on the matter of using the P14 billion for charter change. But he may be lying when he said that he did not know that it would be used for the People’s Initiative.

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Dwight de Leon

Dwight de Leon is a multimedia reporter who covers President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the Malacañang, and the Commission on Elections for Rappler.