Marikina City

Public market tenant, halo-halo work

WANTED: SPACE. Marikina City’s Comelec office, a 10 x 30-square-meter affair, bursts with files, documents, 19 employees, and a handful of visitors every day. PCIJ Photo by Lavilyn Hysthea Malte

WANTED: SPACE. Marikina City’s Comelec office, a 10 x 30-square-meter affair, bursts with files, documents, 19 employees, and a handful of visitors every day. PCIJ Photo by Lavilyn Hysthea Malte

THE VOTER REGISTRATION period for the May 13, 2013 polls already ended on October 31, 2012. Filipinos aging 18 years and above were given three years to register in their respective districts — an ample time to decide whether one wants to matter in the midterm political census or not.

Yet just a fortnight ago, two Marikina residents in their early 30s arrived at the city’s Comelec field office asking if they could still register for the upcoming elections. The staff explained that they could no longer do so, since the registration period had ended seven months ago. The two Mariqueños then went home, adding to the number of citizens who will not be able to exercise their right to vote next Monday.

That is not a rare scenario in the Marikina Comelec office, says Election Assistant Nellie Gama. “There are many people like them,” she says. “They want to register even if the registration period is already over. We could have had a larger number of voters if they just registered earlier.”

Marikina City, widely known as the “Shoe Capital of the Philippines,” has 424,150 residents, per the 2010 Census of Population and Housing by the National Statistics Office. Its population ranks 11th among the National Capital Region’s 16 cities and one municipality. But the city’s total number of registered voters has reached only 214,108, or just slightly more than half of the city’s population.

Gama says that some residents may not have been well-informed or may not have cared enough to know the affairs of Comelec, which may have caused their failure to register for the upcoming elections.

Public market tenant

The poll body has long been advocating against vote buying and vote selling. It is thus rather ironic that the Comelec field office in Marikina is located on the third floor of the city’s Public Market Building. But then it shares the floor with other local government offices like the Department of the Interior and Local Government and the Department of Labor and Employment. Adjacent to the Comelec office is the Public Market Function Hall and the Bingo Bonanza Center.

Gama says that the City Hall, which is located just a few blocks away, has no room for them. The Comelec’s location is particularly problematic for senior citizens and persons with disabilities (PWDs) who, Gama explains, have a hard time climbing up the stairs to the third floor.

STEP UP. These stairs lead to the third floor of the Marikina Public Market building – that is also home to the city's Comelec field office. PCIJ Photo by Lavilyn Hysthea Malte

STEP UP. These stairs lead to the third floor of the Marikina Public Market building – that is also home to the city's Comelec field office. PCIJ Photo by Lavilyn Hysthea Malte

But even its own staff find it hard to transport office supplies from the Comelec main office to the Comelec Marikina office. Says Gama: “We just consider climbing up to the office everyday as exercise.”

Still, she says that the Comelec Marikina office has always been geographically detached from City Hall. A Comelec Marikina employee for almost 20 years now, Gama recalls the time when the field office was located inside the Marikina Sports Complex. That was back in 1994, when she started working for Comelec. She says the field office was transferred to the third floor of the Public Market Building when its construction was completed in 1997.

“We really want to be transferred to a new location,” Gama says. “It would be better if it will be in the City Hall, hopefully, no higher than the second floor so that senior citizens will not have a hard time climbing.”

Not enough room

Under Article 7, Section 55 of the Omnibus Election Code, the local government is supposed to provide a “suitable” place for the office of the local Comelec. Gama says they have already requested for their transfer to a better location.

But location is hardly Marikina Comelec’s only problem. Its office, which sees to the needs and keeps the files of Marikina’s two districts, is barely 10×30 square meters in size. It can barely fit all its 19 personnel. The election officer has a separate room inside the office while the rest of the area is divided among the voters’ information desk, visitors’ waiting area, and the employees’ tables and chairs. The biometrics room, where election documents are kept, has an estimated area of only 4 by10 square meters.

The Comelec office is definitely no place for claustrophobes. Employees and visitors literally rub each other’s shoulders when walking along the spaces between desks. Piles and piles of election documents are stacked on each desk.

But Gama says that despite the lack of space, bad air does not circulate around the office, literally and figuratively. The office is well-lit and well-ventilated. With four air-conditioning units and two electric fans facing the visitors’ waiting area, the summer’s heat is barely felt inside the office.

Halo-halo’ work

Comelec Marikina’s staff complement — one election officer, five election assistants, six Comelec casuals, and seven supplemental employees from the LGU — is “quite proportionate” to the number of voters in the city, says Gama.

City Election Officer Anthonette Soriano-Aceret spearheads the 19-person team. Since there is only one office and one set of staff for the city’s two districts, Gama says that their work is “halo-halo”. This means that each personnel has no permanent district assignment. Rather, says Gama, they all work for the two districts, which get “equal treatment” from the Comelec staff.

She adds that they have been requesting the city government to provide each district with its own office and own set of personnel. But she concedes that the impact of having only one office and one set of personnel for the two districts is not really “big” as there are not too many differences between the two districts anyway.

District 1 covers nine barangays, while the remaining seven belong to District 2. Despite having a smaller number of barangays, District 2 has 30,000 more voters than District 1 because the city’s most populous barangays — Malanday and Tumana — are part of District 2.

In District 1, there is only one candidate for congressman and 14 bets for the city council. District 2, meanwhile, has two candidates for congressman and 26 bets for city councilors. Marikina City has three candidates running for mayor and two for vice mayor.

In terms of funding and supplies, the Marikina Comelec does not seem to share the problems of its counterparts in the region. Perhaps that is because the Marikina City government plays a large part in providing for the needs of the local Comelec.

Aside from paying the electric bills and covering the other “urgent needs” of the Comelec field office, the Marikina City government shoulders the transportation of office supplies from the Comelec main office in Intramuros, Manila to the city’s field office. The city government also provides for the Comelec’s basic office supplies, says Gama. But she says that she does not know exactly how much the city government’s 2013 budget allocation for her office is. — PCIJ, May 2013