House Suffrage body eyes making election services of over-burdened public school teachers voluntary

Media Coverage,Press May 1, 2015 4:27 PM

Four separate bills making election services voluntary for public school teachers and other qualified citizens are under consideration by the House Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms.

“Elections are fundamental to a democratic country like the Philippines. Election service is an essential civic duty that should be made available to all concerned and qualified citizens, providing greater opportunities for people’s participation in this democratic process,” the authors stressed.

The four measures under scrutiny by the committee chaired by Rep. Fredenil Castro (2nd District Capiz), in chronological order, are: HB 444 authored by ACT TEACHERS Party-list Rep. Antonio L. Tinio; HB 3205 filed by 1-SAGIP Party-list Rep. Erlinda M. Santiago; HB 3255 filed by Rep. Eric L. Olivarez (1st District, Parañaque City): and HB 3514 authored by Rep. Maria Leonor Gerona-Robredo (3rd District, Camarines Sur).

Under Republic Act 6646 or the Omnibus Election Code, teachers cannot refuse to serve as members of the Board of Inspectors (BEI), Special Board of Election Inspectors (SBEI), Board of Election Tellers (BET), and Special Board of Election Tellers (SBET). They can only refuse to serve if: a) teacher is related within the fourth degree of consanguinity or affinity to any of the candidates or spouse; b) sick or otherwise pregnant; or c) physically incapacitated.

Likewise, the proposed measures were one in proposing to institutionalize the benefits and privileges of BEI, SBEI and BET members, as follows: (a) compulsory insurance coverage with the GSIS; b) legal assistance and indemnification; honoraria and allowance; c) voting privilege in the precinct where he/she is assigned on election day; and d) option of public school teachers as BEI members.

Rep. Gerona-Robredo’s bill (HB 2514) further defines and lays out a standard system in the provision of honoraria, allowances, and insurance coverage as well as private legal assistance and security measures to the members of each specified board.

“These intend to keep our teachers safe and provide them the needed protection against any election-related harassment,” Gerona-Robredo said.

Rep. Olivarez (HB3255) noted that in other countries, election tellers for BEI are not necessarily public school teachers but they come from all sectors of society.

“In fact, the world-wide trend is to open up election service to citizens of known probity and competence and not limited to teachers,” Olivarez added.

On the other hand, Rep. Santiago HB 3205 also provides for regular and adequate training program for all BRI members and institutionalizes the provision of security for BEI members to be provided by law enforcement units under the direction of the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

“Our election laws already provide for the participation of other sectors in elections such as the local government units, military and police, poll watchers, canvassing watchers. Getting other sectors to fill-up BEI positions will no longer be a new development therefore,” Santiago explained.

Early bird author Rep. Tinio (HB 444) pointed out that mandatory election duty has long been an additional burden borne by public school teachers who are already hard pressed to provide quality education to the Filipino youth, in the face of low pay and difficult working conditions.

“In order to alleviate their plight, teachers must be given the freedom to choose whether or not they want to fulfill the roles of the BEI,” Tinio stressed.

Among the many unfortunate incidents of violence against teachers during election duties, Tinio recalled that in the 1995 elections, teacher Filomena Tatlonghari was shot and killed in Mabini, Batangas for refusing to surrender a ballot box to armed men.

In 2007, teacher Nelly Banaag died protecting ballots after masked armed men torched two classrooms which served as polling precincts in Taysan, Batangas.

“In the 2010 national and barangay elections, many more unsung heroes faced tremendous odds just to ensure the people’s votes are kept safe,” Tinio concluded. (PNA)

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