The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has no choice but to use refurbished Vote Counting Machines (VCMs) in the 2022 presidential and national elections should the budget cut in their 2021 funding proposal will not be revived.
This was disclosed by Comelec Chairman Sheriff Abas during the Senate Finance Subcommittee’s hearing of the poll body’s budget for 2021.
The Comelec originally proposed P30.673 billion for 2021 considering that it is a preparation year for the 2022 elections.
However, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) slashed it into half, providing P14.6 billion under the National Expenditures Program (NEP).
“‘Yung plano kasi namin dalawang options, either we will lease a new machine or magre-refurbish kami. Ibig sabihin, aayusin namin ‘yung mga old na ginamit namin noong 2019 and 2016,” he said.
“Ang budget namin for lease of new machines, yung prinesent namin sa DBM which is P30 billion. Unfortunately, hindi kami napagbigyan so ang fall back namin is ire-refurbish namin yung 2019 and 2016 na ginamit naming VCM. Kung ire-refurbish namin, gagawin naming parang bago ang mga machines na ‘yon,” Abas added.
Although he said they eye new VCMs given that the next polls will be a presidential election, Abas assured that the refurbished ones will have the same functions as the new ones.
“‘Yung mga bago syempre ‘yon may mga upgrading na gagamitin namin. ‘Pag bago ang machines na ile-lease namin sa durability, mas maganda ang bago kasi naisip namin na Presidential itong 2022. So mas mainam na bago ang gagamitin namin,” he added.
“Pero sa functionality halos the same lang ‘yan. Okay din ang refurbishment.”
The poll official also raised the need for additional VCMs due to the increase in registered voters.
Comelec Commissioner Marlon Casquejo further pointed out that the number of registered voters per clustered precincts will remain the same despite the pandemic due to the lack of VCMs available.
“Even if we refurbish, we lack the VCMs, we are planning in the steering committee that we are going to have 800 voters per clustered precinct because of the pandemic,” he said.
“‘Pag di madagdagan budget namin, we will be forced to go back to 1000 registered voters per clustered precincts,” he added.
For 2022, Casquejo said they are projecting 105,000 clustered precincts and the VCMs available are only at 95,000 including those that are planned to be refurbished.
He said they plan to use the contingency machines just to cope with the insufficient number of VCMs available.
“We can still conduct the elections despite the slash in the budget but still we are requesting for additional machines so that we can push through with the 800 registered voters per clustered precinct,” he added.
Earlier, Comelec said it is expecting more than 65.3 million registered voters in the upcoming elections.