Senate thwarts attempt to waive Comelec procurement safeguard

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    THE questionable provision relaxing procurement safeguards for election equipment which was inserted by an unnamed senator in the Senate’s version of the proposed 2021 General Appropriation Bill (GAB) has already been removed, Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian said during the weekend.

    Gatchalian said Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara, chairman of the Senate finance committee, has updated the senators that the inserted provision has already been deleted.

    Angara did not identify the senator who allegedly made the insertion, Gatchalian added.
    He said the questionable provision was noticed by a group of lawyers who has been closely monitoring the budget process.

    “Sa pagkaalam ko doon may mga advocates, may mga taong tinututukan yung budget ng Comelec at doon nila na-detect, actually hindi nga ‘yung budgetary eh, hindi line item, kung hindi special provision (As far as I know, there are advocates who have been monitoring the budget for the Commission on Elections and it was them who found the provision. Actually, it is not about the budget, it is also not a line item, but it was a special provision),” he said.

    Gatchalian said special provisions in the budget, which may look “innocent,” have the same effect as a law and would impact on the operations of an agency.

    “Special provisions are considered as laws. If it says you cannot spend on something, the agency’s hands are immediately tied. There are special provisions which says you can spend for this item, so in effect an agency is given additional powers,” Gatchalian said.
    He cited the importance of publishing details on the passage of the budget and the activities of the Senate for full transparency.

    “Napakahalaga na pinu-publish ito ng ganito para makita ng taumbayan kung ano ‘yung mga pinag-uusapan natin sa loob ng Senado. Lahat rin ng mga hearings at discussion naka YouTube na ngayon kaya nakikita rin nila kung ano ‘yung pinag-uusapan (It is very important that things like these are published [in the Senate website] so that the people will know what is happening in the Senate. All our hearings and discussions can be watched on YouTube so the people know what’s being discussed in the Senate),” he added.

    Election lawyer Emil Maranon called the Senate’s attention to the provision through a Twitter post last week. He said “someone at the Senate” tried to insert a provision in the proposed 2021 national budget which gives the Commission on Elections (Comelec) the authority to do away with the requirements and safeguards in Section12 of the Automated Election law.

    Section 12 deals with the procurement of election equipment and materials, including its safeguards which says that “the system procured must have demonstrated capability and has been successfully used in prior electoral exercise here or abroad.”

    Senate President Vicente Sotto III immediately directed Angara to verify Maranon’s claim and act on it, stressing that this should not be allowed.