By Marvin Sy (The Philippine Star) Updated April 05, 2012 12:00 AM
MANILA, Philippines – For the longest time, public school teachers have served as the board of election inspectors (BEI) during elections, not as a matter of choice but as mandated by law.
While these teachers have generally performed well since Republic Act 6646 or the Electoral Reforms Law was enacted in 1987, Senator Manuel Villar Jr. wants to give them an option of performing this function as volunteers rather than it being forced on them by law.
Villar said that the role of BEIs, while rewarding as a public service, carries with it a heavy burden and even risks particularly for teachers assigned in the election hotspots.
“Time and again, the success of national and local elections are rightfully attributed to the competence and hard work of teachers. All too often, teachers on election duty have made personal sacrifices over and above the call of duty,” Villar said.
Two of the more recent and alarming incidents involving BEIs were recorded in the 1995 and 2007 elections.
In the 1995 polls, teacher Filomena Tatlonghari was shot and killed in Mabini, Batangas for refusing to surrender a ballot box to armed men.
The 2007 elections, on the other hand, saw the death of teacher Nelly Banaag who protected the ballots assigned to her while several armed men torched two classrooms that served as polling precincts in Taysan, Batangas.
“Mandatory election duty has long been an additional burden borne by public school teachers, who are already hard pressed to provide quality education to our youth, in the face of low pay and difficult working conditions,” Villar said.
“In order to alleviate their plight, teachers must be given the freedom to choose whether or not they want to fulfill their roles in the BEI,” he added.
Villar has filed Senate Bill 3142 to amend section 13 of R.A. 6646 so that the BEIs would now be composed of volunteers who are registered voters of the city or municipality where they wish to serve on election day.
Under the bill, the volunteers would preferably come from the following sectors: public school teachers, private school teachers, government employees and citizens of known probity and competence.
“Elections are fundamental to a democratic country. Election service is an essential civic duty that should be made available to all concerned citizens. The appointment of BEIs from among the ranks of motivated, civic-minded volunteers will provide greater opportunities for people’s participation in elections,” Villar said.