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Business Mirror - Bongbong vs ARMM bill

In The News
24 May 2011

By Butch del Castillo | Business Mirror

business-mirror-opinion-omertaAs of 4 p.m. yesterday, it was almost certain that the administration-backed Senate bill postponing the August 8 elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to 2013 would be sent to the “archives” by the Senate Committee on Local Government headed by Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos.

(“Archives” is the congressional library. The term is used here to mean a burial ground for dead measures.)

Marcos and two other outspoken committee members—namely, Sens. Francis “Chiz” Escudero and Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri—have just returned from Marawi City where they held an on-the-spot public hearing on Senate Bill 2756 to get a firsthand feel of the sentiment of the people in the region. As it turned out, the three senators’ original reservations against the measure were “overwhelmingly” validated. As recounted by Zubiri in a radio interview yesterday morning, a sense of antagonism was palpable throughout the public consultation.

They’re even threatening to rise up in a jihad (or a sort of religious struggle), he said. In other words, the Muslim electorate in the ARMM wouldn’t take it lightly if the Christian-dominated Congress decides to ram this measure down their throats. He said some of those in the hearing even sarcastically suggested that if Congress would insist on passing the measure, it might as well stop calling the region the ARMM. It should instead be called the Malacañang Government in Muslim Mindanao or MGMM.

Zubiri said it was former ARMM governor AlmarinTillah who warned against a reversion to the era of widespread lawlessness in Mindanao in the past. Tillah said peace came only with the signing of the Tripoli Agreement during the watch of President Marcos.

What is especially repulsive to the citizens of Mindanao is the idea that they would be ruled by officials appointed by Malacañang in the next three years until the region’s elections could be synchronized with the national elections.

It was pointed out that while there were postponements of ARMM elections in the past, no postponement lasted for more than six months. The other major difference was that those sitting as incumbents were allowed to serve in holdover capacities.

Appointing caretaker officials who would rule them for three years is another matter altogether. Indeed, where is the autonomy in such a setup?

After having gathered all these inputs straight from the people who would directly be affected by the controversial measure, Senator Marcos was all set yesterday to submit a report on his findings. He was also all set to recommend that the measure be scrapped.

Such a recommendation, however, was not likely to be approved by the majority in his committee, considering that this is an administration-certified bill. But this is the beauty of the move. The recommendation, whether carried or not, would result in the junking of the measure just the same, if only temporarily.

According to the chamber’s rules, a failure to secure the approval of the recommendation could only mean the measure has to be automatically “archived.” But being consigned there doesn’t mean it is permanently dead and gone.

“It’s not really dead, more like a coma,” explained Butch Fernandez, this paper’s veteran Senate reporter. “The measure could easily be resurrected when at least five senators petition that it be retrieved from the archives and reported out directly to the plenary level,” he said.

“And this is what, in all likelihood, would happen,” he added.

But even if, indeed, the measure could still be easily resurrected and brought to the plenary for debates, would there be enough time to approve it? (As every senator is aware, there are only eight session days left before Congress adjourns on June 9.)

There are so many other important measures besides this one awaiting that body’s approval. A full discussion of the pros and cons of postponing the ARMM elections would not be possible.

The senators against the measure would want their stand known—especially by the Mindanao electorate. Zubiri said in the radio interview that there were “many” such senators who were at heart against the passage of the bill. Besides Marcos, Escudero and himself, he mentioned “Miriam Defensor Santiago, Joker Arroyo, Alan Peter Cayetano and Edgardo Angara, to name only some of them.”

One would expect that each of the senators mentioned above would want to register their objections, at least for the record. There’s no telling what dark political consequences could ensue should the bill manage to squeeze through the narrow time frame.

But Senator Arroyo, I am told, still believes this measure is dead in the water. He reportedly told Senate reporters in a matter-of-fact tone that there simply wouldn’t be enough time for a full debate before it is put into a vote.