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Senators to block waiving of poll safeguards



The Senate will block any attempt to allow the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to waive safeguards in the procurement of equipment and materials for the automated elections, lawmakers said Monday.

An election lawyer previously raised alarm over an alleged bid by “someone at the Senate” to insert a provision in the General Appropriations Bill (GAB) giving Comelec the authority to disregard all the requirements and safeguards in Section 12 of the Automated Election Law.

The law includes provisions against election fraud. For instance, it states that the “system procured must have demonstrated capability and been successfully used in a prior electoral exercise here or abroad.”

In a Twitter post, Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III noted that such a move cannot be allowed, adding that he is looking into the matter.

“Cannot allow. I’m looking into it already!” he said.

Senator Sonny Angara, chairman of the chamber’s committee on finance, also said he was instructed to guard against such provision and to ensure that it will not be allowed in the proposed budget measure.

Angara will head the 12-member Senate panel during bicameral deliberations on the 2021 national budget Tuesday, as legislators aim to reconcile the conflicting versions of the proposed spending plan.

Senator Imee Marcos, who chairs the Senate Committee on Electoral Reforms, likewise opposed the proposal which she called a “dangerous precedent.”

“I think that’s a very dangerous precedent, and we’re very, very scared of that sort of thing. I don’t like this,” Marcos said a televised interview with CNN Philippines.

She added that the government should open procurement to other poll technology provider companies aside from Smartmatic.

“Other companies should bid and we shouldn’t be completely dependent on Smartmatic as we have been in the past elections,” Marcos said.

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said such a provision in the spending bill “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,” Drilon added.

Senator Leila de Lima also opposed the alleged bid to insert such a provision in the budget bill and urged her colleagues to exercise vigilance “against any dangerous amendments like this.”

“Anyone who seeks to steal our elections is an enemy to our people and our democracy. They should be treated as such,” she said in a dispatch from Camp Crame, where she is currently detained.