GMA News - ARMM polls postponement faces tough opposition in Senate hearing

8 April 2011

By Andreo C. Calonzo | GMA News

GMA_onlineA bill seeking to postpone the elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) originally scheduled for August this year to 2013 faced tough opposition from senators during the first Senate committee hearing on the measure on Thursday.

Senator Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., chair of the committee on local government deliberating on the measure, said that postponing the ARMM polls and appointing officials to run the region for more than a year as proposed in Senate Bill 2756 seem to be "problematic."

"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?" Marcos said during the hearing.

Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, meanwhile, described the proposal to postpone the ARMM elections as a "dangerous precedent" and a "recipe for 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.

SB 2756, filed by Senator Franklin Drilon last month, seeks to synchronize the August 2011 ARMM polls with the midterm elections in 2013, supposedly to enable to government to save P1.8 billion set to be used for the polls.

The measure has earlier been certified as urgent by President Benigno Aquino III.

A counterpart bill at the House of Representatives was already approved on third and final reading last month.

Incumbent officials of the ARMM and poll watchdogs likewise expressed their opposition to Drilon's SB 2756.

ARMM regional secretary Ernie Masarong said the Aquino administration should "uphold the rule of law" and let the elections proceed as originally scheduled.

"We are opposing the proposal for the appointment [of OICs] because it’s unconstitutional and violates the law. Overwhelmingly, there is opposition to the bill not only from the ARMM government but from the people in our region," Masarong said.

Edmundo Casino of poll watchdog Automated Election System (AES) Watch meanwhile said that synchronizing the ARMM elections with the 2013 midterm polls will be "operationally difficult."

"As far as the synchronized, automated elections are concerned, it will be too difficult for these two elections to be held simultaneously," he said.

Other groups such as the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) and Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG) have also earlier opposed proposals to defer the ARMM polls. [See: Poll watchdogs oppose plan to postpone ARMM elections]

Reforms for ARMM

Interior and Local Government chief Jesse Robredo, for his part, defended the proposal to postpone the ARMM polls, saying it is "an opportunity to institute reforms" in the region.

"It’s quite obvious that in the years that we had [the] ARMM, it has been a failed experiment. Continuing with the status quo will not change this. Let’s look at this as an opportunity to institute reforms," he said.

He added that deferring the ARMM elections will enable the national government to conduct a thorough audit in the region and to take steps to disarm private armies in the area.

Mindanao Development Authority Secretary Lualhati Antinio agreed that providing the region with a caretaker government will be the best way to give the ARMM a "massive facelift."

“Based on our studies on the ARMM, we really need major reforms in the region. The only way to institute reforms is through a caretaker government," she said.

Former Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr., who authored the Organic Act (Republic Act 6734) which created the ARMM, however, said that these reasons are not enough to "disenfranchise" the people in the region.

"Auditing, disarming private armies and even cleansing voters’ lists are not excuses to postpone elections... I think the certification of this bill [as urgent] is a disaster itself," he said.

Two other senators, Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Francis Escudero, have also earlier expressed opposition to the proposal to postpone the ARMM polls, describing it as "unconstitutional."

The bill will have to be approved at the committee and on the Senate floor for it to be passed.

After this, a bicameral conference committee will be convened to reconcile the respective versions of the House and Senate.

Once the bicameral committee approves the bill, it will be returned to the House and Senate for ratification. It will then be submitted to Malacañang for the signature of the President. — RSJ, GMA News