THE NEWLY-appointed head of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Tuesday gave reassurance that the May 9 national and local polls will be clean and credibleas stakeholders were finally allowed to physically observe the ballot printing process.  

Without compromising the security of the ballots and data cards, we will allow full access to the printing process,Comelec Chairman Saidamen B. Pangarungan said at the ballot printing walkthrough at the National Printing Office in Quezon City.  

Among those present were political party representatives and members of the media.  

“I can assure you a clean and credible elections on May 9,Mr. Pangarungan said. 

The election body started printing ballots in January, but only recently allowed actual observation of the process, citing risks of coronavirus transmission. 

Comelec held a virtual walkthrough of the printing office in January. 

About 73% or 49 million of the 67.4 million total ballots have been printed as of Tuesday, Comelec Commissioner Marlon S. Casquejo, who also heads the election body’s printing committee, said at the event. 

“We are on track with the printing of ballots because we print 24 hours and seven days a week” he added.  

The National Printing Office churns out about 1.1 million ballots daily, according to Comelec Deputy Executive Director for Administration Helen C. Aguila-Flores. 

“Comelec is catching up with the printing of test ballots to be used in testing the vote counting machines days before May 9 due to the delays due to a COVID surge in January,” Mr. Casquejo said. “This is also the reason why we had a late opening to the stakeholders.” 

Meanwhile, a senator on Tuesday urged the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) and Comelec to suspend the implementation of higher withholding tax on poll duty allowance for teachers.   

“I ask that the BIR and the Comelec defer the collection of the 20% tax. Like most of our countrymen, our teachers are just beginning to recover from the scourge of the pandemic, which is why the timing of this tax increase is very wrong and cruel,said reelectionist Senator Ana Theresia RisaN. Hontiveros-Baraquel in a mix of English and Filipino in a statement. 

The withholding tax on travel allowance had increased by three times to 20% this election from 5% during the 2019 polls. 

Based on Comelecs guidelines, BEI (Board of Election Inspectors) Chairpersons will get P7,000 in honorarium and P2,000 in travel allowance. Subjecting that to 20% tax will mean a net pay of a meager P7,200,Alliance of Concerned Teachers Secretary-General Raymond D. Basilio earlier said. 

This is P1,350 lower than their 2019 net compensation of P8,550 after 5% tax was deducted from the P6,000 honorarium, P1,000 travel allowance, and P2,000 training allowance. The small increase in compensation of BEIs is being taken back with the huge and unreasonable 20% tax. Where is the justice there?he added. 

The group also noted that the current travel allowance rate, which supposedly covers expenses pre-elections, on election day, and post-elections may not be enough given increasing fuel prices. 

Election service compensation should be exempt from tax collection, said Ms. Hontiveros. The next best thing we can do is to keep it at 5%. Its the least we can do for them. The 20% withholding tax is just too much.John Victor D. Ordoñez and Alyssa Nicole O. Tan