Senate OKs bill exempting poll workers’ pay from tax

THE Senate on Monday approved on third and final reading the bill providing tax exemption on poll workers’ honoraria, as well as other additional monetary benefits.

The approval spurred the Commission on Elections to thank the Department of Education (DepEd) for solidly backing the initiative, and drew praise from Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, its principal backer.

In hailing passage of Senate Bill 2520, Gatchalian said the measure, once enacted into law, will exempt from income tax the honoraria and other benefits of all workers who served in the May 9,2022 local and national elections. Most of them are public school teachers, who for decades have formed the backbone of election service providers, by comprising the board of election inspectors in the poll precincts.

As coauthor of SB 2520, Gatchalian said it has a provision excluding from gross income the honoraria, travel allowance, and other benefits granted by Comelec to persons rendering election service.

Gatchalian said the measure will apply to the May 9, 2022 local and national elections and thereafter.

As chairman of the Senate Committee on Basic Education, Arts and Culture, Gatchalian has been pressing for “giving poll workers the full amount of their honoraria and other benefits,” saying this would “show the administration’s appreciation for their hard work and sacrifices to ensure peaceful and orderly elections.”

He estimated that around 647,812 personnel from the DepEd rendered service for this year’s national and local polls, of whom 319,317 served as members of Electoral Boards (EB).

“If we don’t impose taxes on the pay and benefits of our teachers, we can best manifest our gratitude and recognition of their sacrifice to ensure clean and orderly elections,” said Gatchalian, partly in Filipino.

He recalled that the election honoraria and allowances were never subjected to tax until the 2018 Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections and the 2019 midterm elections when the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) imposed a 5 percent withholding tax on their honoraria. This year, election honoraria and allowances were subjected to 20-percent withholding tax, sparking protests from teachers, who were backed by the DepEd and Comelec.

The Department of Finance (DOF) earlier maintained that the proposed tax exemption could be difficult to implement and runs counter to the principles of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Law to make the tax system more efficient and equitable.

Gatchalian, however, noted that the tax code already provides for tax exemptions. He earlier urged the DOF and the BIR to submit their proposals on how to give poll workers the full amount of their honoraria and other benefits since elections are only held every three years.

The DepEd thanked  Comelec, meanwhile, for the granting of P2,000 additional honoraria for select teachers for their extended service during the May 9 polls.

“Although it is lesser [than]  our original proposal of P3,000, the Department is grateful to the Commission for listening to our plea for our teachers’ welfare,” the DepEd said.

DepEd, through Secretary Leonor Magtolis Briones and Election Task Force Chair and Undersecretary for Administration Alain Del B. Pascua, immediately coordinated with Comelec on its proposal of providing appropriate and just compensation for teachers who rendered extended hours in the elections due to vote counting machine (VCM) and SD card issues.

In a Comelec order, poll workers will receive an additional P2,000 honoraria across the board.

Moving forward, DepEd is keen to work with Comelec and Congress to institute more beneficial poll-related provisions for teachers who have always been committed to protect the sanctity of the Filipino vote.

Image credits: Nonie Reyes

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