Business World - Senate starts ARMM poll debate; measure faces rough sailing

1 June 2011

By CERS and NRM | Business World Online

business_worldTHE SENATE started debates yesterday on a Palace proposal to postpone elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), but the bill faces rough sailing after Palace officials failed to convince senators on the need to pass the law.

An indication that the bill is likely to be rejected was the decision of the committee on local governments to archive Senate Bill 2756, the counterpart of House Bill (HB) 4146, which seeks to synchronize ARMM polls with the midterm elections in 2013.

The committee’s decision indicated a rejection of the measure, but committee chairman Ferdinand "Bongbong" R. Marcos, Jr. had the bill retrieved for floor debates upon the request of colleagues.

By recommending to archive the measure at yesterday’s final hearing on the measure, Mr. Marcos told reporters in a briefing that he preempted the Senate’s rejection of the bill since, "the committee report is going to be unfavorable."

The committee’s "questions were not completely answered," he said, and "the bill is ill-prepared. [It was clear that] Malacañang [wanted] to hurry it."

Senators questioned the appointment of officers-in-charge (OICs) once incumbent regional officials end their term on Sept. 30.
In particular, Palace officials were asked on the qualifications and criteria for appointing OICs, a power that will be delegated to the President, and transparency of the process.

Also raised was the bill’s recommendation to synchronize even the terms of ARMM officials.

Under the proposal, those who will be appointed on Aug. 8 will end their term three years later, or on Sept. 30, 2014, but holding polls in 2013 meant that the terms will be cut short.

Local Government Secretary Jesse M. Robredo, who was at the hearing, said the President has residual powers to appoint officials, noting that the bill is in line with the administration’s thrust to institute reforms in the region.

"The bill’s objective is structural reform. May ibang klaseng problema ang ARMM... straktura muna ang ayusin [ARMM has a unique problem. We need to fix the structure]," said Mr. Robredo.

He admitted, though, that qualifications and criteria for choosing the appointees have not yet been drafted and need to undergo consultation.

The Senate has only four session days from today to act on the measure, one of the priorities identified in the Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council.

The House of Representatives has approved its version on third and final reading in March.

Congress adjourns its first regular session on June 10, although the last plenary session is on June 8.

Petition dismissed

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has dismissed a petition against the poll postponement measure, saying it was premature since the bill has not been enacted into law.

In a minute resolution issued yesterday after the resumption of full sessions, the court dismissed a petition for certiorari filed by former Integrated Bar of the Philippines Marawi-Lanao chapter president Alex Macalawi and Association of Barangay Chairmen of Marawi City president Abdul Jabbar Awar which sought to nullify HB 4146.

The petition, which is one of three pleadings which seek to postpone the ARMM polls, claimed that the proposed measure is unconstitutional and contrary to the ARMM law.

The two others have been consolidated and remain pending.