Presidential candidate and Liberal Party bet Manuel “Mar” Roxas asked the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) to grant the requests of Local Government Units who have declared a state of calamity to be exempted from the prohibition on the disbursement of public funds during the election period.
In a statement released to the media, Roxas said: “I call on the Comelec to grant the petitions so our farmers and other affected communities can receive the appropriate assistance they need from the government at the soonest time possible.”
“We are faced with a very serious problem and we now ask the Comelec to expedite the solution. This call is an invitation for the Comelec to be part of this solution,” he added.
The El Niño phenomenon has now affected close to a dozen provinces, cities and towns which have been placed under state of calamity due to the devastating effects of the tremendous heat to livelihood. These include Isabela, Quirino, Bukidnon, Davao del Sur, Cotabato, Maguindanao, Basilan, Guimaras, Davao City, Cebu, and Bohol.
In Cebu city alone, it has been reported by the City Agriculturist that the prolonged drought has already damaged at least P13.4 million worth of crops planted in 87.4 hectares of land spread across the city’s 28 mountain barangays.
It can be recalled that the protest rally of farmers and Lumads in Kidapawan which ended up in a bloody dispersal was aimed towards asking the government for more aid to help the farmers bear the negative effects of the drought in their farmlands.
However, there is a legal barrier that prevents the local government units from releasing their calamity funds. The Omnibus Election Code prohibits the release, disbursement or expenditures of public funds during the election period.
Section 261 of the Omnibus Election Code states: “(v) Prohibition against release, disbursement or expenditure of public funds. - Any public official or employee including barangay officials and those of government-owned or controlled corporations and their subsidiaries, who, during forty-five days before a regular election and thirty days before a special election, releases, disburses or expends any public funds for...”
Roxas highlighted the need for local government units to be able to give assistance to their constituents, and be exempted from this ban on disbursement of funds.
“Kinikilala natin ang paghihirap ng ating mga magsasaka at ng kanilang mga komunidad at hindi katanggap-tanggap para sa akin na kung sino pa ang nagbibigay sa atin ng pagkain, sila pa ang nagugutom,” he said.