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MANILA, Philippines – Did the Senate fail to spot the almost P12-billion increase in the Commission on Election’s (Comelec) initial budget of P2.5 billion for the conduct of plebiscites in 2024?
Senator Imee Marcos, chair of the committee on electoral reforms, told reporters on Tuesday, January 16, that she was surprised that the bicameral conference committee approved the P12-billion insertion. She said that during budget discussions, it was never brought up that this amount would be for plebiscites.
“Well, nakita natin talaga namang nasingitan kami ng budget tapos napalusutan ng PI [people’s initiative],” she said. (Well, we saw that they got one over us in the budget, and the people’s initiative got past us.)
“[Hindi] na-bring up ‘yan, kahit minsan wala naman binabanggit na Cha-Cha. Wala namang nangyari , wala namang sinabing ganoon. Ang binanggit lang nangangailangan sila. Ang hirit nila para sa opisina, sahod ng mga tauhan, kung anu-anong stipend. Wala namang hiningi na Cha-Cha biglaan sa bicam. Nagulat na lang kami. Bakit sumulpot ang dagdag na P12 billion diyan? Eh P2 billion lang hinihingi,” Marcos said.
(That was never brought up, Cha-Cha was not ever mentioned. It didn’t happen, they never said that it was for that. They only mentioned that were in need. They it was for the office, for salaries of staff, and various stipends. They didn’t ask funds for Cha-Cha during the bicam. We just got surprised. Why was there a sudden P12 billion increase? When they were only asking for P2 billion.)
In an interview with CNN Philippines’ The Source on January 12, Marcos revealed the supposed timeline of the alleged plan to amend the Constitution through people’s initiative. She said that the supposed plebiscite will happen on June 17, which would be certified by and approved by Comelec on July 8.
Kabataan Partylist leaked the same timeline on the same day and called the scheme a “perfect gift” for President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. ahead of his third State of the Nation Address. (READ: Perfect gift’ for Marcos? Group claims Cha-Cha plebiscite eyed before July SONA)
Marcos also flagged the P14-billion budget of Comelec for plebiscites for 2024, saying the commission does not even have a dozen plebiscites planned this year.
“Patuloy akong mag i-imbestiga. ‘Yung P14 billion na ‘yan siguro naman pwedeng gamitin ‘yan para sa gasolina, bigas, ospital, at iba pa,” Marcos told reporters. (I will continue to investigate. The P14 billion can still be used for gasoline, rice, hospitals, and others.)
For election machines?
In a press briefing on Monday, January 15, Senate President Migz Zubiri said that the bicamemral conference committee approved the P12-billion increase in the Comelec budget because they were told that the funds would be used for preparations for the 2025 elections.
“We were told that the budget was for purchasing of machines.…. We thought that it was for the preparations for 2025 elections. That didn’t come from us. Hindi kami nag propose niyan (We didn’t propose it). That’s supposed to be for elections in 2025,” Zubiri said.
The Comelec sought a budget of P43 billion for 2024, for preparations for 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.
But if the budget was really for preparations for the 2025 midterm elections, then the funds should be under the line item preparatory activities for National and Local Elections (NLE) for 2024, which was already allocated P23 billion.
Comelec Chairman George Garcia said that the P14-billion budget for plebiscites can be used in relation to charter change.
“We have the discretion on where to use it as a constitutional body,” 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.” – Rappler.com