December 5, 2023

The Commission on Elections will investigate election boards (EBs) who withdrew during the Oct. 30 polls.

A day after the election, the Comelec reported more than 2,500 teachers in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Abra in the Cordillera, and in the Bicol Region backed out of their duty.

“But what about those very few who on the day of the elections, when the precincts already opened, suddenly withdrew without any notice whatsoever. Complicating this is their refusal to turn over the election paraphernalia to their replacements for no known reason. This must be investigated to prevent similar incidents to happen as things like this may endanger future electoral exercises,” Comelec Chair George Garcia said in a message to reporters.

At the same time, Garcia said serving in polls is voluntary and not mandatory.

“Those who withdrew prior to the election, we respect their decisions as it is an absolute right. Election day duty is not mandatory to teachers,” he said.

On the other hand, a group of teachers said EBs who withdrew on election day have valid reasons not to report for duty.

“The Comelec must know, on a case-by-case basis, why some teachers suddenly withdrew. We are talking about the same areas that the Comelec has traditionally placed under its control during elections. If the teachers in these areas believe that security is inadequate, then it is a failure of the government,” it said in a statement.

“However, if it can be established that these teachers only intend to sabotage or delay the election, which is very unlikely, then they may be held accountable. But if they withdrew because they felt an imminent threat to their life, health, and safety, the Comelec should recognize it. Poll duties are not compulsory after all,” the group added.

Garcia, meanwhile, said they cannot grant the request of the teachers’ group for overtime pay for poll watchers who served for over 24 hours.

He said overtime pay was not included in the budget and EBs are not employees of the Comelec.

“In as much as we would like to give (them overtime pay), there is this joint Commission on Audit-Department of Budget and Management circular which provides only employees of an agency is entitled to claim overtime,” he said.

“The teachers who served as electoral board members are not employees of Comelec. Moreover, the budget provided us did not provide for such an item,” he added.

Poll body data shows that as of Nov. 2, close to 100,000 EBs have already received their honoraria.

Out of the 605,379 teachers who served on election day, 99,801 of them have been paid. – PNA