Comelec chairperson George Erwin Garcia (Screengrab from Laging Handa briefing)

MANILA – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Thursday said it is working to further reduce the amount of unliquidated cash advances which was earlier flagged by state auditors.

Speaking at a Laging Handa briefing, Comelec chairperson George Erwin Garcia said the PHP671.47 million in unliquidated cash advances that cover the years 2020 and 2021 has been reduced to around PHP200 million as of August this year.

"May instruction din po tayo sa ating Finance Department na bago matapos ang taon, ma reduce pa ng kalahati yang natitirang PHP200 million na unliquidated cash advances (We have instructed our Finance Department to further reduce by at least half the remaining PHP200 million in unliquidated cash advances)," he added.

In its 2021 audit report, the Commission on Audit (COA) said the amount was broken down into over PHP178.6 million that was granted to officials and employees of the poll body and PHP492.7 million that was given to Special Disbursing Officers.

The state audit body also said the Comelec kept on granting more cash advances to its special disbursing officers, officials and employees despite their failure to settle previous advances, which is prohibited under Presidential Decree (PD) 1445 or the Government Auditing Code of the Philippines.

Meanwhile, Garcia said they are ready to work with the budget to be given by Congress even if it is smaller than what they have originally proposed.

Garcia said the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) only allotted some PHP4.7 billion for the poll body in the proposed 2023 national budget -- much lower than the PHP9.8 billion budget it has proposed.

"Napakalaki ng ibinaba sa aming proposal, siyempre magkakaroon tayo ng budget hearing at susubukan natin na ma-convince ang ating mga mambabatas pero kung yan lamang ang ibigay ay gagawin po namin ng paraan upang mas tipirin at ayusin ang pag conduct ng halalan (It was way lower than what we indicated in our proposal. Of course, we will have budget hearings and we will try to convince our lawmakers. But if this is only what they can give, we will do our best to utilize it and ensure the orderly conduct of polls)," he added.

Garcia, meanwhile, said their preparations for the Dec. 5 Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan Elections (BSKE) are nearly 80 percent complete.

“We are now almost 80 percent complete (in terms) of our preparation for the barangay and SK elections. In the next few days, we will release your resolutions or your guidelines regarding this and of course, we will also start printing our ballots later. So currently, we are all-out in the preparation as if we are not thinking about the possibility that our barangay and SK elections may be postponed,” he added.

He reiterated that election paraphernalia and other supplies that have been procured will not be put to waste in case there is a postponement.

“Those that have bought or those we have already awarded contracts for delivering election paraphernalia or equipment will also be used in the next scheduled polls. That means, it will not be wasted, from the ballpoint pen, from the ballot boxes and then that indelible ink and various other equipment,” he added.

Also, the Comelec chief noted that in case they already printed the ballots and Congress passed a law postponing the 2022 BSKE, the ballots will be used in the next polls.

“As far as the Comelec is concerned, currently, we have a law that stated that there is an election on Dec. 5, 2022 and that is what we will implement. Again, even if a ballot is printed, it will not affect the decision of Congress whether they will postpone or proceed with the election of December 5. The only important thing is, if our Congress, our Executive decides not to proceed with our election on December 5, at least we have a printed ballot that can be used in the next election,” Garcia added.

There are several measures filed before the House of Representatives and the Senate to reset the BSKE either to next year or in 2024. (PNA)