COMELEC assures grant of Salceda’s request for exemption on poll spending ban for Mayon evacuees

The Commission on Elections (COMELEC) has assured it will grant the request of Albay 2nd District Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda for exemption of the Mayon eruption evacuees from the pre-election spending ban during the forthcoming Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan Elections in October, this year, for humanitarian reasons.

Salceda, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, has made his request in a letter to the COMELEC last July 22. The exemption, he said is urgent specially for government agencies involved in Mayon disaster operations to ensure their emergency humanitarian relief operations can go unhampered.

COMELEC Chair George Garcia on Tuesday assured Salceda his request for the spending ban exemption for the humanitarian aid provisions for the Mayon evacuees will be approved. The Albay lawmaker followed up his request during the recent meeting of the House Committee on Electoral Reforms, where Garcia was guest.

“On the election spending ban, what happens to the evacuees?” Salceda asked. To this, Garcia responded: “For humanitarian efforts, the COMELEC will surely allow” the activities and that “anyone can submit a request for exemption.” 

“Evacuation efforts typically follow a 45-day, 90-day, or 110-day period based on historical experience. Because warning signs of an imminent violent eruption come and go, evacuation efforts must continue until volcanic activity clearly subsides or until a violent eruption actually occurs. Until then, evacuees will require food aid, training activities, cash-for-work programs, and other socioeconomic support to replace economic activities they are barred from doing due to the evacuation orders,” Salceda said in his letter.

Garcia clarified agencies “could proceed with humanitarian activities during the ban,” and assured Salceda the Commission will “act promptly” on his request.

Salceda expressed his appreciation for Garcia’s assurance. Noting the time gap between the filing of his request and the response to it, he said they hope to get the clear and official COMELEC resolution on the matter shortly.

“Clarity is everything for us. We want to abide by the law. And we want to take care of our people. We want to do both. Comelec has the means and the power to help us do both,” he added.

Mayon Volcano has started acting up in June, this year, and local government units concerned have since then evacuated residents from the volcano’s permanent danger zone.   

Foremost among national government agencies Salceda asked to be exempted from the ban is the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), currently engaged in assisting some 39,901 evacuees housed in various evacuation centers around Mt. Mayon. 

“Any minute, Mayon could erupt violently. This could also be a prolonged evacuation effort. Nobody knows for sure. But it’s better to be safe and ready with all the relief programs we need and this could extend beyond the barangay elections,” he noted, adding he has formally asked the Comelec to use its authority under the Omnibus Election Code to grant his appeal.

“Currently. as many as 39,901 residents are directly at risk under Alert Level 3, and a violent eruption could directly impact on at least 103,181 across across the three cities and five municipalities in Albay or 7.5 percent of the population of the entire province,” he said.

“A violent eruption will disrupt various economic activities in the danger zones including agricultural, quarrying, ecotourism and others, which will have indirect effects on the economy of Albay as a whole,” he added.