Business World - Senators air concern on poll delay

10 April 2011

By Noemi M. Gonzales | Business World

business_worldApproval of the bill postponing elections in August in the autonomous Muslim region may face rough sailing in the Senate over the constitutionality of appointing holdover officials to elective positions.

This was the sentiment of senators in yesterday’s initial hearing on Senate Bill 2756, which calls for the deferment of elections in the region.

The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which groups Basilan, Maguindanao, Tawi-Tawi, Sulu and Lanao del Sur, including Marawi City, will hold elections on Aug. 8.

Malacañang, however, has proposed that the polls be moved to coincide with the 2013 midterm elections to allow the undertaking of governance reforms in the corruption-plagued region.

The bill so far filed in Congress on the Palace position also allows President Benigno S. C. Aquino III to appoint officers-in-charge (OICs) once incumbent officials end their term on Sept. 30. The OICs will not be eligible for election in 2013.

Senator Ferdinand "Bongbong" R. Marcos, Jr., chairman of the committee on local government, said in the hearing that appointing ARMM officials "could be a reversal of the autonomy" of the region.

"Appointment of officials defeats the purpose of representation and suffrage. I do not think that there are any opposing views that reforms are needed in ARMM, but then again, is this the proper way?" he added.

Mr. Marcos also cited time constraint as another possible roadblock, saying the committee report should be approved before May 2, when candidates start filing their intent to run with the Commission on Elections.

Congress has been on recess since March 26. It will resume session on May 9.

"In my opinion, it will be very hard to fit all that [approval of poll postponement]," he said, citing the need for the bill to be reconciled with that of the House of Representatives in conference committee.

The measure was approved at the House last March 22. The Senate counterpart, filed by Senator Franklin M. Drilon shortly before the break, was an identical version.

For his part, Senator Juan Miguel F. Zubiri told the same forum that the proposal to postpone the ARMM polls is a "recipe for a disaster."

"I agree that we need reforms. I myself am from Mindanao, but can we not do reforms without subverting the people’s will?... The people appointed will have no mandate," he said.

Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse M. Robredo, one of the resource persons, has assured of a screening process for qualified OICs, describing them as "professional managers."

On the other hand, Manuel M. Lazaro, president of the Philippine Constitutional Association, warned that appointing OICs as caretakers will violate the Constitution and the ARMM law.