BSKE coverage reveals urgent need for electoral reform 

THE COUNTRY finally held its long overdue Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan Elections (BSKE) on October 30, 2023. After two postponements, the vote for over 670,000 elected officials at the barangay level proceeded as scheduled. 

Media covered the event, and post-election reports recorded irregularities in the conduct of the vote, as well as cases of violence (See CMFR’s separate story). More significantly, reports picked up the refusal of public school teachers to show up for their duties as Board of Elections Inspectors (BEI) in some precincts in BARMM. Teachers gained a platform, particularly on radio (News5’s Radyo Singko, GMA’s DZBB Super Radyo), to air their concerns related to the compensation they receive for this particular service, namely, asking for overtime pay for extended work hours.

ABS-CBN News Online, GMA News Online and Inquirer.net picked up Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chair George Garcia’s reference to a joint circular of the Commission on Audit and the Department of Budget and Management mandating that only those employed in a particular agency are entitled to overtime pay, to be given by that same agency. Garcia said public school teachers are employed by the Education department, not Comelec. Only Inquirer.net followed up with DepEd about the costs, but did not get a response. 

24 Oras reported Garcia’s addition that from the rates in the 2018 elections, the Comelec increased teachers’ honoraria: from PHP6,000 to PHP10,000 for BEI chairpersons, and PHP5,000 to PHP9,000 for BEI members. 

Tax-exempt compensation 

Reports of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Manila Bulletin, GMA News Online, Daily Tribune, and Rappler also picked up the teachers’ calls for tax exemption of their compensation as BEIs. Both the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) and the Teachers’ Dignity Coalition have been vocal about their position that without tax exemption, any increase in pay becomes inadequate.

In July 2022, Inquirer.net reported that President Marcos had vetoed legislation for exemption of teachers’ compensation for work. The report quoted Marcos saying it would be “inequitable to other persons performing similar activities or services.” He referred to government efforts to improve the tax system, such as removing inequities through the Comprehensive Tax Reform Program as implemented under Republic Act No. 10969 or the Tax Reform Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Act. Cited in the same report, ACT Party-List Representative France Castro criticized the veto as contradicting the Election Service Act or RA 10756. 

With this background, the discussion could have been enlarged with reference to the tax reform laws. Reporters could have also asked about any plan to secure budget allocations for the next election as a way of providing fair and adequate compensation for BEI duties, without a tax exemption. 

Only two reports referred to the veto: Philippine Daily Inquirer and Manila Bulletin Online, but neither one recalled that Marcos explained his decision as based on the tax reform policy. Both reports cited teachers’ groups intent on pursuing the exemption. In the Inquirer report, Garcia said that he would support legislation for teachers’ tax exemption should it be taken up by Congress again.

Lacking knowledge about subject matter 

The coverage showed up journalists’ lack of background knowledge about the issues taken up in their reports. The reliance on quotes and statements do not help the public understand how the government, in this case Comelec, actually fails to address the problems encountered from one election to another. The 1985 Omnibus Election Code has been due for much needed amendments. But there has been scant discussion about this need in media reports. 

This case also demonstrates Congress’ failure to review the contradictions that can result from the passage of laws from year to year. CMFR calls attention to the lack of interdepartmental dialogue required by policy changes. Laws can be made obsolete and outdated, and law-abiding citizens suffer the consequences. 

The teachers’ complaints raised in the coverage of the BSKE in October seem simple enough to report. But the review of coverage revealed the larger picture and the necessary context which needs to be considered, not just by the teachers, but Congress and Comelec.