Senate President Vicente Sotto III shot down an alleged attempt by one of their colleagues to insert a provision in the 2021 General Appropriations Act (GAA) that gives the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) the authority to waive all the requirements and safeguards of the Automated Election Law.

In a tweet, Sotto said: “Easy to shoot down the proposal: Provisions of a general law cannot amend the provision of a special law. RA 8436, as amended by (RA) 9369, is a special law while GAA is a general law.”

“Cannot allow. I’m looking into it already!” the Senate president added.

Echoing Sotto’s statement, Senator Sonny Angara, chairperson of the Senate committee on finance, said: “We are checking on that, but the Senate President’s directive is clear on that matter – not to allow any such attempt to influence the 2022 elections.”

Noting that the provision might be “unconstitutional as a rider since it had nothing to do with the budget,” Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said: “If true, it will amend the procurement law, which cannot be amended by inserting that clause in the General Appropriations Act.”

Senator Panfilo Lacson concurred: “Firstly, the General Appropriations Act can only contain provisions that are consistent with appropriations, and secondly, being a general law, it cannot amend a special law which RA 8436 as amended by RA 9369 is.”

Senator Imee Marcos, the chairperson of the Senate committee on electoral reforms and people’s participation, also expressed her disapproval, saying that she is “completely opposed to waiving procurement safeguards” on automated election equipment.

In agreement with her colleagues’ remarks, Senator Leila de Lima said: “Anyone who seeks to steal our elections is an enemy to our people and our democracy. They should be treated as such. Any attempts at negotiated procurement for election equipment can only be seen as negotiating the elections itself.”

“Our elections are sacrosanct to our democracy, and COMELEC should resist any attempts by anyone to undermine its credibility, no matter who appointed them,” the senator added.

Election lawyer Emil Marañon’s bared over the weekend that someone in Senate is now attempting to insert a provision in the GAA to disregard all the requirements and safeguards in RA No. 9369.

The said law mandates COMELEC to allow the rigorous vetting and testing of hardware and software to be used in voting and counting votes before the polls by public and private watchdogs.

With less than two years before the 2022 national elections, six of the seven COMELEC commissioners are President Rodrigo Duterte’s appointees.

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