SouthCot, Koronadal LGUs seek Comelec exemption on public fund outlays

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/2 April)– The local governments of South Cotabato and Koronadal City have asked the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to exempt their emergency financial assistance programs from the ban on the disbursement of public funds during the 45-day election period.

Lawyer Hilario de Pedro III, provincial administrator of South Cotabato, said Tuesday they applied for an exemption from the Comelec central office for the implementation of some of its financial assistance programs, especially those that cater to emergency situations and other immediate needs of poor or indigent residents.

He specifically cited the assistance programs involving disaster relief and rehabilitation, medical and hospitalization, as well as free basic services.

“All these are banned right now based on election regulations. We asked for their exemption so we can continue serving our residents,” he said.

The Comelec banned the disbursement of public funds as part of the prohibited acts cited in Resolution No. 9385.

The prohibition covered the appointment or hiring of new employees; creation or filling up of new positions; promotion or giving of salary increases, remuneration or privilege; construction of public works; delivery of materials for public works; issuance of treasury warrant or similar devices for future undertaking chargeable against public funds; and, release disbursement or expenditures of public funds.

The resolution also prohibited the release of prisoners until June 12.

De Pedro, former three-term governor from 1992-2001, said the provincial government has temporarily suspended the implementation of most of its financial assistance programs and free services pending a decision from the Comelec regarding its exemption application.

But he said the suspension did not cover the assistance and services that are under its regular and institutionalized programs.

“We’re very careful with these programs because we don’t want to face any problem with regards to our compliance with the election laws,” the official said.

Aside from the exemption application, de Pedro said they submitted a list to the Comelec of all infrastructure projects in the province that are being implemented by the provincial government and other agencies.

He said the listed projects are now in the implementation stage and all their preliminary requirements, especially the bidding and awarding, were completed before the March 29 election ban.

“This is to inform the Comelec that these projects were not covered by the ban,” de Pedro said.

Among the major infrastructure projects being implemented by the provincial government are the Allah Valley Community Hospital in Surallah town, renovation of the provincial hospital in Koronadal City and several road projects in the province’s upper valley area.

Koronadal City administrator Cyrus Urbano said they also applied for the exemption from election prohibition of the city’s burial assistance program, assistance to individuals in crisis situation or AICS and other emergency financial assistance initiatives.

He said the application was filed by the City Legal Office before the city Comelec office.

“These assistance programs are temporarily suspended pending the Comelec’s response to our application,” he said.

Urbano said the local government sought for the exemption so it can attend to the emergency financial needs of some residents during the election period.

“We want to have (legal) basis in implementing these programs so we asked for their exemption,” he said.

Koronadal City election officer Evangeline Basan said they have forwarded the city government’s application for exemption to the Comelec central office.

“All these concerns are decided by the Comelec central office,” she said.

If eventually granted an exemption, she said the city government can immediately continue with the implementation of the concerned programs and will no longer be questioned with regards to election-related violations.

Regarding the infrastructure projects, Basan said they required the city government to submit a list of all initiatives that are being implemented through local, national and internationally-funded programs.

She said they have asked the barangay councils to submit a list of projects that are being implemented in their areas to validate the city government’s list. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)