IN THE May 10, 2010 elections, the “Ganito kami sa Makati, sana ganito rin sa buong bansa ” campaign slogan was a hit that helped propel its city mayor to the second highest position in the country. But that slogan was likely not referring to the two field offices in Makati of the Commission on Elections (Comelec).
The Makati Comelec offices in Makati are housed on the second floor of the Makati Central Fire Station on the corner of Ayala Avenue extension and Malugay Street. Surrounded by well-designed and expansive edifices, the building’s many shortcomings become even starker.
“It’s really old,” says lawyer Feldon Sadang, District 2 election officer, referring to the building that has peeling white paint in its hallways. He says that compared to the Comelec offices in the cities of Taguig, Pasig, and Manila, the “decrepit” building is the worst Comelec office he has been to.
The condition of the office is so bad that some voters would rather not go to the Comelec if they had a choice. “They [voters] don’t like to come here,” says District I Election Assistant Arnulfo Sy-Changco. “If we have an outstation registration, that’s the time they want to register.” He adds that the voters in his District would complain, “‘When we go up, we are already so tired because the stairs are very steep. Inside, the office smells funky’.”
With a total income of P10.734 billion in 2011 and nearly a billion pesos in Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) share according to its official website, the Makati City government is expected, at the least, to be able to provide well-built and well-equipped government offices to see to the needs of its 529,039 constituents.
By all indications, however, the city government is falling short of providing a suitable office space for the Comelec field offices in the city as required by the Omnibus Election Code (Batas Pambansa Bilang 881).
The 120-square-meter office of District 1 sees to the needs of 193,781 registered voters, among them residents of Forbes Park, Dasmariñas Village, Bel-Air, Magallanes and other areas known to be the subdivisions of the wealthy. The nearly identical District 2 office, meanwhile, services 205,000 registered voters residing in 13 barangays that include Cembo, Comembo, Pembo and others areas where “Makati residents with low-income reside,” Sadang says.
Interestingly, unlike District 1 residents, those from District 2 seem to find no problem going to the Comelec office. In fact, Sadang says his office faces the “consistent problem” of registrants flocking to their office in the last few weeks of the registration period.
Sadang also says his office’s current location is better than being housed inside the premises of the city hall. This is despite the rundown condition of the building, which, Sy-Changco explains, is a symbol that the Comelec is not indebted to the incumbent officials. “We are not pressured,” he says. “We are not pampered. The way you look at the office, you will see if they are loved or not.”
Asked what improvements he wanted to see in his office, Sy-Changco says that the “conjugal” comfort room, which is shared by male and female employees, needs to be fixed. But he says he is satisfied with the size of his office, which is “just enough” for his 17 personnel, nine of them contractual employees. They will have to monitor 26 candidates vying for various elective posts in the district.
With only seven election assistants in District 1, each election assistant will have to see to the needs of 35,000 voters. But Sy-Changco is not too concerned about that kind of ratio, saying that the Comelec head office has addressed the problem through “emergency recruitment” or giving them supplemental personnel.
By comparison, District 2 has a slightly larger number of personnel: seven permanent staff, seven casual employees, and five supplemental staff.
The two Comelec district offices in Makati get their budget from the Comelec head office, which also provides them with office supplies. Sy-Changco adds, though, that the city government provided District 1’s chairs and desks. (District 2’s office furniture came from the head office.)
“Generally, our office is okay,” Sy-Changco says, adding that they do not lack equipment. In fact, they even have a line printer that makes the overwhelming paperwork easier. The District 1 office has four air-conditioning units, a water dispenser, and a refrigerator. While there is a separate room for storing files, stacks of papers are nevertheless piled on the staffs’ desks.
But there are times when the funds from the Comelec head office aren’t quite enough to cover all the expenses of the two offices. In such cases, Sy-Changco says he and his colleagues either use their own money or ask assistance from non-government organizations and watchdogs like the Parish-Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV). Sometimes they request from the city government, especially when there are “emergency purchases” needed.
But he says that while his office accepts aid from the city government, he is wary of asking for help too often from the incumbents. “That’s dangerous,” says Sy-Changco. “They might ask for many favors in return.”
Sadang, for his part, says that it is only in “very exceptional cases that we request from the city of Makati.” This is even as he admits that his office sometimes runs out of funds. Without revealing the exact amount, Sadang also says that while his office receives a mobilization fund from the main office, this is only during election time. He remarks, “I cannot say that we are well-provided when it comes to supplies because sometimes we use our own money to get things done, especially those that are urgent.”
Still, he clarifies that the bad condition of their office does not affect their work. “As long as the supplies are coming,” he says, “we are (content) with what we have.”
He notes, though, that it is hard for Comelec field personnel to remain “100 percent independent” from the local government, especially for those whose offices are housed inside the city hall. “There’s a certain degree of control by the LGU,” he says. “You cannot eliminate that. That is a sad reality that you have to accept unless you put a robot there.”
Sadang, however, says that the Binays are so well-entrenched in Makati that they do not need to wield influence on Comelec. “Makati residents will always vote (the Binays),” he says. “They don’t need to pander to Comelec.”
Both Sadang and Sy-Changco say that the most pressing need that they want the Comelec head office to address is the financial needs of the poll body’s employees. Says Sy-Changco: “Our only request is for our salary to be increased. That would be better than having more personnel who are not doing any work and receiving low pay.”
Sadang hopes that a wage raise would be among the reforms that the Comelec head office will institute. According to Sadang, lawyers in Comelec “do not receive RATA (Representation and Transportation Allowance). We do not have allowances.” In other government agencies, he says, the RATA ranges from P10,000 to P30,000 depending on the lawyer’s position in the agency. — PCIJ, May 2013