By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Senator Leila de Lima is pushing for the establishment of independent offices for the Commission on Elections (Comelec) supposedly to spare the agency from any “undue influence.”
De Lima has filed Senate Bill 1666, or the proposed Comelec Independent Offices Act, which seeks to separate local and regional Comelec offices from local government units (LGUs). She is the chair of the Senate electoral reforms and people’s participation committee.
The De Lima bill wants to repeal the provision in the Omnibus Election Code (Republic Act 881) requiring the Comelec to rely on LGUs for its field offices. If signed into law, it would mandate the poll body to provide new suitable office spaces for its offices.
The detained senator said Comelec offices should be separate from the offices of the LGUs that currently approve and provide them facilities.
“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,” De Lima explained.
“For instance, the LGU could restrict access to the offices, withhold any maintenance work, or interrupt utility services,” she added.
Under Section 55 of the Omnibus Election Code, “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 also stated that in case of failure of the local government concerned to provide a suitable office, the Comelec would also have to inform the LGU before leasing another place for office, since the rentals are charged from the funds of the local government.
De Lima stressed this “not in consonance” with the mandate of the Comelec as an independent Constitutional Commission.
“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 the bill, the expenses for the Comelec field offices shall be included in the agency’s budget in the General Appropriations Act.