Comelec plans ahead of 2016 polls, Bangsamoro plebiscite

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One of the country’s three constitutional commissions, the Commission on Elections (COMELEC), is planning ahead of time for the upcoming 2016 local and national elections.

The COMELEC’s main role is to enforce all laws and regulation relative to the conduct of elections, initiatives, referendums, and recall elections. Their scope of tasks and responsibilities is a very serious and fragile one, especially with the much-anticipated elections in 2016.

Along with the advanced planning, the commission’s poll body is keen on acquiring new optical scan voting machines, particularly over 121,000 units. This would depend on the Congress and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) approval for the commission’s proposed budget of P38 billion for a full automated election, including P11 billion for just the acquisition of the new machines.

James Jimenez, the commission’s spokesperson explained to the Philippine News Agency that the approximate number of 121,000 units of machine is based on their ration of one machine per 600 voters.

“We have already submitted our budget. We will wait until the budget is approved… We will make the adjustment if we do not get the whole budget. It is important to increase the number of machines since the voters are also increasing. If there are many machines, the ratio will change,” he said in his interview.

Jimenez said that the proposed increase on the number of machines is also relative to the increased number of voters every election. Currently, there are more than 52 million registered voters from the May polls of last year.

For the upcoming election in 2016, the commission is expecting to register some three million new voters. The nationwide registration will start on May 6 and will run until Oct. 31, 2015.

If their proposed budget is denied by the Congress, Jimenez said that they will have no choice but to use the new machines together with the old Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines which were utilized in the 2010 and 2013 polls.

An estimated number of more than 72,000 PCOS machines used in the past two elections are in the COMELEC storage area in Laguna.

The commission is also planning to sell some machines to other countries who are planning to automate their elections, according to Comelec Chairman Brillantes. The countries they are looking at are Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Bangladesh, and Nepal.

The PCOS machines were purchased for P1.8 billion from Smartmatic International, which was the automated elections system (AES) service provider in the last two consecutive elections.

Meanwhile, the poll body is waiting for Congress to approve and schedule the plebiscite for the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

“We have not prepared anything yet. Until the legislative side is done, we cannot set the plebiscite. We are ready and prepared since we have activities lined up for the next two years. We have to maintain a little bit of flexibility if it (Congress) will announce the schedule of the plebiscite,” Jimenez said.

He assured the public however that the poll body is ready anytime Congress announces the date of the plebiscite.

However, Jimenez added that, “It’s still premature until they have come up with the law stating when the plebiscite will be held. It would be difficult to actually move things, to commit resources, so we are just waiting.”

The proposed BBL will establish the autonomous political entity named Bangsamoro that will replace the present Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

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