AFTER bearing with cramped and hot offices and old furniture for almost a decade, Cebu City’s poll officers finally got their offices renovated, which cost the City Government some P800,000.
City Hall set aside P1 million for the renovation, including furniture and fixtures, but lawyer Edwin Cadungog said the renovation cost is only around P800,000 so far.
Computers, equipment and supplies for the poll offices will also be purchased by the City, to be charged to the P25-million Election Reserve Fund.
The City’s assistance to the Commission on Elections (Comelec) Cebu City offices raised the eyebrows of the opposition, but a City official assured they are not helping the poll office to get favors in return.
Comelec offices look like a “squatter’s area” and need to be improved to the give the office some dignity, said City Administrator Francisco Fernandez.
Cadungog, election officer for the south district, said they requested for the amount in August last year yet but the funds were made available just last month.
This is why they were forced to proceed with the renovation, even while they are in the thick of preparations for the May 10 polls, he said.
What used to be vinyl flooring that was chipped on the sides is now granite, and the walls on the Comelec north and south district offices at the WDC Building will also get a fresh coat of paint. Partitions will also be replaced.
The renovation, however, left a bad taste in businessman and congressional candidate Jonathan Guardo’s mouth.
He suggested to the city poll officials to just ask for funding from their Manila office, instead of having the City spend for the renovation of their offices.
“Any perception of impartiality would surely be tainted. With Comelec’s huge budget, it is advisable that they source funding requirements from the national office. This is a fierce battle and Tomas will take any undue advantage he can,” Guardo said, referring to Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña, his rival in the south district’s congressional contest.
“As we all know, Tomas is on a buying spree. I hope the Comelec is not on his shopping list,” he continued.
But Cadungog believes a P1-million funding from City Hall for the renovation and the P25-million reserve fund would not influence him and his staff into giving undue favors to city officials who are seeking reelection.
He cited the Commission on Audit and the Department of Budget and Management joint circular, which mandates local government units (LGUs) to assist the Comelec and other National Government agencies.
“Unsaon man paghatag namo ug pabor sa administration candidates sa election na automated man atong election (How can we favor administration candidates when the elections will be automated)? Machines will count the votes. Besides, under the law, the City is allowed to provide assistance,” Cadungog explained.
Fernandez admitted there were delays in the release of the funds, that is why they were not able to process the purchase requests of Comelec immediately after these were endorsed to the City.
He said the assistance to the poll office should not be questioned since the City has also been helping other government agencies, like the police and the Department of Interior and Local Government, among others.
A budget for Comelec’s needs has been set aside for purchase requests that will have to be approved by City Hall, so that no cash will be released to the poll body.
The P1 million intended for the lease-hold improvement was included in the eighth supplemental budget last year, when City officials saw how cramped the poll offices were at the height of the registration of voters.
“Comelec plays a very important role and lisod kaayo na mura silag squatter’s area. We have to improve it to give their office some dignity… We’re not doing it because we’re expecting a favor,” Fernandez said. (LCR)