Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 30)— A number of senators have opposed an alleged attempt that would let the Commission on Elections waive safeguards in the procurement of equipment and materials for the automated elections.
Reports floated on social media Sunday that “someone at the Senate” is supposedly seeking to insert a provision in the proposed national budget allowing the poll body to waive or disregard the requirements and safeguards provided under Section 12 of the Automated Election Law.
Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, on his social media page, stressed that such move cannot be allowed, adding he is already looking into the matter. He did not give an inkling who that "someone at the Senate" might be.
Cannot allow. I’m looking into it already! https://t.co/ZBP8JJbkZk
— Tito Sotto (@sotto_tito) November 29, 2020
In a separate post, Sotto said the proposal is “easy to shoot down,” as the provisions of a general law (General Appropriations Act) cannot amend those of a special law (automated elections).
This was backed by Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson, who stressed the budget bill should only contain provisions “consistent with appropriations.”
Needless to say, provisions under the GAA must be consistent with appropriations.
— PING LACSON (@iampinglacson) November 30, 2020
Senator Sonny Angara, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said he was instructed to guard against such provision, and to ensure it would not be allowed in the proposed budget measure.
SP @sotto_tito gave very clear instructions not to allow anything like this before we ratify the budget in the coming days/weeks
— Sonny Angara (@sonnyangara) November 29, 2020
Senator Imee Marcos, who chairs the Senate Committee on Electoral Reforms, likewise opposed the proposal which she labeled as a “dangerous precedent.”
“I think that’s a very very dangerous precedent, and we’re very, very scared of that sort of thing. Ayoko nun (I don’t like this),” Marcos said an interview with CNN Philippines’ The Source on Monday.
She noted that the government should open procurement to other poll technology provider companies aside from Smartmatic.
“Other companies should bid and we shouldn’t be completely dependent on Smartmatic as we have been in the past elections. We should open up the procurement to other companies, and make sure that they qualify. But to waive all the procurement laws, I think that’s a very very dangerous thing and we’re not in favor of that at all,” she stressed.
For his part, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon warned such move may be unconstitutional.
“I brought it to the attention of Sen. Angara, advising him that if true, the provision could be unconstitutional as a rider, since it had nothing to do with the budget,” Drilon said in a statement. He added he doesn't know who authored the supposed amendment.
In an interview with CNN Philippines’ Newsroom Ngayon, Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said such proposal did not come from the agency, adding that they do not support the move.
“As far as Comelec is concerned, wala kaming ganyang klaseng proposal and we do not support those moves,” he stressed. “Naniniwala kami na 'yung protection ng batas ay mahalaga para sa integridad ng ating automated election systems.”
[Translation: As far as Comelec is concerned, we do not have that kind of proposal and we do not support those moves. We believe that the protection of the law is important for the integrity of our automated election systems.]
Jimenez also questioned the reliability of the information, “considering that everything that the… Congress does should be on the record.” He added that it is the lawmakers’ role to determine who is behind the move.
Bicameral meetings on the proposed 2021 spending bill are set to begin this week as Congress aims to reconcile conflicting provisions on the measure.