That controversial, dangerous insertion

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    THE Senate is smarting from the controversy created by one of its members — some say it was Sen. Imelda “Imee” Marcos but Senate President Tito Sotto is not sure — who tried but failed to insert in the 2021 General Appropriations Bill a rider provision that would effectively ease the Commission on Elections’ stringent rules on election safeguards.

    Thanks to the vigilance of election lawyer Emil Marañon III and his access to the popular Twitter social media platform, the controversial insertion was exposed and did not materialize. Marañon earlier twitted that the inserted provision would have given the Comelec “carte blanche authority” to waive procurement guidelines in acquiring equipment and software to be used for the 2022 elections.

    ‘But the Office of the Vice President is not convinced, and VP Leni is asking the Senate to dig deeper into this issue.’

    The fact that an ordinary citizen flagged the Senate on the rider’s existence in the enrolled copy of the budget bill that is in the process of delivery to the President’s desk in Malacañang, showed that our senators are not that meticulous in safeguarding the budget measure; we only have one Ping Lacson in that chamber.

    As expected, the senators led by Sotto rejected any attempt to insert into the budget bill the item waiving safeguards in Comelec’s purchase of automated poll equipment. Sen. Leila de Lima was first to notice it, and minority leader Franklin Drilon said he also received that report about the budget bill seeking to amend Section 12 of the Automated Election Law.

    Drilon brought the matter to the attention of Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara, chairman of the Finance committee, advising him that if true, the provision could be unconstitutional as a rider, since it had nothing to do with the budget. “Moreover, if true, it will amend the Procurement Law, which cannot be amended by inserting that clause in the General Appropriations Act. Senator Angara committed that he will not allow the insertion of that provision,’’ said Drilon.

    Lacson, meanwhile, explained that General Appropriations Act could contain only provisions that are consistent with appropriations. Being a general law, it cannot amend a special law which is RA 8436 as amended by RA 9369, Lacson added.

    Several sources had pointed to Marcos as the one responsible for the rider, which she vehemently denied in a radio-TV interview. But the Office of the Vice President is not convinced, and VP Leni is asking the Senate to dig deeper into this issue.

    This episode shows the leaks and holes in the way the Senate does its mandate and responsibilities, and it is best for its leadership to clear the air of doubts.

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