To ensure the independence of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) from any undue influence, Senator Leila M. de Lima has filed a measure seeking to repeal a provision requiring it to rely on local government units (LGU) for its regional offices.
De Lima, who chairs the Senate Electoral Reforms and People’s Participation committee, has filed Senate Bill (SB) No. 1666 repealing Section 55 of Batas Pambansa Blg. 881, otherwise known as the Omnibus Election Code of the Philippines.
“To be able to uphold said Constitutional guarantee, this legislative proposal intends to entrust to the Comelec the responsibility of providing the needed office space for its field offices, without the need for prior approval of the LGU concerned,” she said.
Under Section 55 of the Omnibus Election Code (BP 881), it stated that “the local government concerned shall provide a suitable place for the office of the provincial election supervisor and his staff and the election registrar and his staff.”
The provision further stated that in case of failure of the local government concerned to provide a suitable office, “the provincial election supervisor or the election registrar… upon prior authority of the Commission and notice to the local government concerned, may lease another place for office and the rentals thereof shall be chargeable to the funds of the local government concerned.”
De Lima maintained that the said provision is not in consonance with the character of the Comelec as an independent Constitutional Commission, noting that Article IX-A, Section 5 of the Constitution stated that “the Commission shall enjoy fiscal autonomy…”
“In a possible scenario where a conflict between the Comelec and the LGU arises, the operations of the regional offices could suffer from any direct action by the LGU that owns the facilities where the regional offices operate,” she explained.
“For instance, the LGU could restrict access to the offices, withhold any maintenance work, or interrupt utility services,” she added.
Under SB No. 1666, also known as the Comelec Independent Offices Act, the poll body is mandated to provide new suitable office spaces for its field offices enumerated in Section 53 of Batas Pambansa Blg. 881.
In her proposed measure, De Lima pointed out that Comelec offices should be separate from the offices of the LGUs that currently provide workplace facilities to said field offices.
SB. No. 1666 also mandates Comelec to formulate a plan that will ensure the success of transferring the LGU-controlled facilities to Comelec-owned or -leased facilities within six months upon the effectivity of the measure.
“The plan shall provide for a complete transfer of all COMELEC field offices within five years from the effectivity of this Act,” De Lima noted. De Lima also stated that under the Act, the spending for field offices shall be included in the budget of Comelec in next succeeding General Appropriations Act following the adoption of the Transfer Plan by the Comelec en banc.