Comelec exempts fuel subsidy distribution from spending ban

By Stephanie Sevillano

September 20, 2023, 5:36 pm

<p><em>Commission on Elections  Chairperson George Erwin Garcia (PNA photo by Yancy Lim) </em></p>

Commission on Elections  Chairperson George Erwin Garcia (PNA photo by Yancy Lim) 

MANILA – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Wednesday approved the request of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) to exempt the Fuel Subsidy Program (FSP) from polls-related spending ban.

Aside from the FSP, Comelec Chair George Erwin Garcia, in Memorandum No. 23-06413 issued on Sept. 20, 2023, also approved the exemption of LTFRB’s Public Utility Vehicle (PUV) Service Contracting Program and the Modernization Program from public spending ban in line with the upcoming elections.

The approval was based on the recommendation of the Comelec’s Law Department, which noted that the exemption “shall not in any manner influence the conduct of the 30 October 2023 Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan Elections (BSKE).”

It was also permitted on the grounds that “it shall not involve any distribution of Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situation (AICS)” for a 10-day period starting October 20, 2023 “except those which are normally given to qualified individuals such as, but not limited to basic needs in the form of food, transportation, medical, educational, burial, and other similar assistance.”

Comelec also clarified that “issuance of a Certificate of Exemption shall not prevent the conduct of preliminary investigation in cases where the prohibited acts as described in Sec. 261 (o) of the OEC (Omnibus Election Code) occur.”

Section 261 of the OEC pertains to the “use of public funds, money deposited in trust, equipment, facilities owned or controlled by the government for an election campaign.”

It identifies the prohibited acts that are considered as election offenses and these are deeds by any person “who uses under any guise whatsoever, directly or indirectly, (1) public funds or money deposited with, or held in trust by, public financing institutions or by government offices, banks, or agencies; (2) any printing press, radio, or television station or audio-visual equipment operated by the Government or by its divisions, sub-divisions, agencies or instrumentalities, including government-owned or controlled corporations, or by the Armed Forces of the Philippines; or (3) any equipment, vehicle, facility, apparatus, or paraphernalia owned by the government or by its political subdivisions, agencies including government-owned or controlled corporations, or by the Armed Forces of the Philippines for any election campaign or for any partisan political activity.”

Earlier in the day, Garcia said the Comelec’s Law Department received the request for exemption on the fuel subsidy Tuesday night.

He assured the immediate granting of exemption to ensure the welfare of affected transport beneficiaries.

"A day of delay may mean life and death to the families of our poor public utility drivers," he added.

Distribution of fuel subsidies was halted in adherence to Comelec Resolution 10944, which prohibits "the releasing, disbursing or spending of public funds for social welfare projects" from September 15 to October 30, 2023 in line with the BSKE.

On Tuesday, the Land Bank of the Philippines (Landbank) said it will resume the crediting of the cash aid once it receives the green light from the poll body.

Some 1.36 million transport sector players, including PUV operators, tricycle drivers and delivery service riders are targeted to benefit from the program.

Under the program, qualified operators of modern public utility jeepneys (PUJs) and UV Express will receive PHP10,000 while operators of other public vehicles will be given PHP6,500; qualified delivery service riders; PHP1,200 each; and tricycle drivers, PHP1,000 each.

Show cause orders

On Tuesday night, Garcia said that as of September 19, the Commission has issued a total of 998 show cause orders to BSKE candidates who may have violated election rules.

He said around 81 candidates have sent their answers.

To date, the poll body's Task Force Kontra Epal is reviewing the answers for "eventual filing of formal disqualification or election offense cases." (PNA)