By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — Employees of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) led by the Alliance of COMELEC Employees in Service (ACES) called on newly-appointed Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes to heed their appeal that they immediately be given their financial incentives in the light of the massive savings the Comelec accumulated in the previous year. The employees intensified their demand after receiving information that bonuses had been given to high ranking Comelec officials last Christmas.
Comelec workers have been holding concerted actions since December 28, 2010 to press for the release of their incentive pay.
In their letter signed by Aces president Luallah Elisa Pama, the Comelec employees said their appeal for i the release of their incentives is not based on shaky or flimsy grounds.
“We maintain that under existing civil service rules, rank and file employees who either contributed to the agency’s productivity or cost-cutting measures are entitled to as much as eighty percent of the agency’s savings from Personnel Services (PS) and Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses (MOOE), in the form of financial incentives,” they said.
“Your Honor – in the midst of a worsening price crisis in the country – we respectfully appeal to your sense of justice and compassion, for the approval and timely release of the requested P50,000 ($1,138) incentive for Comelec employees,” they told Brilliantes.
The union decried the Comelec’s official position that the savings for the year 2010 will be allotted to defray the expenses for the conduct of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao elections in August 2011. According to them, for the Comelec to withhold its employees’ incentives was questionable if not illegal.
“By no stretch of imagination can the Comelec’s savings be used in the ARMM elections as the upcoming electoral exercise already has an appropriated budget,” it said.
Pama said employees of the Comelec would like to believe that the Comelec still has independence and initiative as to how it spends its funds because it still enjoys fiscal autonomy as part of the Constitutional Fiscal Autonomy Group (CFAG).
“But if the Comelec insists on its line of reasoning that the savings for 2010 will be earmarked for the upcoming ARMM polls, we fear that no less than the Commission’s independence and credibility as a Constitutional Body will be put to question and into bad light,” she said.
Pama said the Comelec leadership’s unrelenting position against granting incentives to employees was made even more outrageous and unjust because of the apparent selective granting of bonuses last December.
“We know that former chairman Jose A. R. Melo received P77,653 ($1,768) and all Regional Election Directors got from P48,0000 to P50,000 or equivalent to one month of their salaries last December allegedly “in recognition and appreciation of their contribution to the successful implementation of the May 10, 2010 national and local elections,” she said.
Pama said even Finance Department Director Eduardo Mejos and Comelec’s resident COA Auditor Resurreccion Quieta were also given bonuses, receiving P51,623 and P45,971 respectively.
“In stark contrast, rank and file employees of the Comelec, unlike workers in other government agencies, have not received Christmas Incentive for two consecutive years. We did not get anything in 2009 and 2010,” she explained.
In a previous dialogue between Aces officers and Dir. Mejos, Pama said the finance director explicitly told them that that the Comelec has P2.1 billion ($47.8 million) in savings.
The same was virtually confirmed, she continued, by no less than the former chairman Melo when he told reporters recently the reason why Comelec cannot use its savings to grant bonuses to employees. Melo reportedly said the Congress did not appropriate for ARMM except for P400 million ($9.1 million), so the Comelec will have to spend more than P2 billion for that.”
“We are aware that the Comelec’s budget proposal for the upcoming ARMM polls amounted to about P1.5 billion ($34 million). Even if Congress allotted only P400 million for the said electoral exercise, there will be a deficit of about P1.1 billion ($25 million). If we use the P2.1 billion in savings to cover for the P1.1 billion deficit, the Comelec will still have P1 billion ($22 million) to spare,” Pama pointed out.
The amount, she said, will be more than enough to cover the requested grant of P50,000 incentive for Comelec employees who labored hard during the May 10, 2010 automated elections.
Pama said that even as they welcome the release of the P10,000 ($227) Financial Assistance to COMELEC Employees (FACE) this month, the amount has become inconsequential.
“Most of the employees had already loaned half of it from the COMELEC Employees Development Cooperative (CEDC),” she said.
“The Comelec rank and file is not after the entire savings of the commission. We are only asking for what is rightfully and legally ours.”
In the meantime, the Aquino government is considering proposals to defer the ARMM August 2011 elections.
Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo cited as reasons the current budget deficit and strong political rivalries among Muslim political families. He said the postponement of the regional elections ‘would be beneficial to the government in terms of finances.’
Up for election are the positions of regional governor, vice governor, and members of the Regional Legislative Assembly in Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi provinces and in the cities of Marawi and Lamitan.