Malaya - ARMM poll delay faces rejection: Key Senate leaders vocal in opposing move

24 March 2011

By Gerard Naval | Malaya

MALAYA_thumbTHE Commission on Elections yesterday asked the Senate to decide before the end of the week on the fate of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) election after the House of Representatives at around 10 p.m. Tuesday passed House Bill 4146 to postpone the election until 2013. The vote was 191-47-2.

The election has been scheduled on August 8.

"Congress is about to adjourn Thursday or Friday… There will be an interim for so many months, one and a half months at least. Kapag hindi inaksyunan ng Senate agad or unless a special session is called by the President to act on the bill, then this postponement will still be pending up to May 9," said Brillantes.

"Ayaw naming makialam sa mga issues…Gusto lang naming matapos agad yung issue so we can go full-time, full blast in the preparations or just stop altogether," he said.

The Senate is running out of time to pass HB 4146 before senators go on a 45-day Holy Week break.

Majority leader Vicente Sotto III said the Senate can no longer tackle the bill, saying the committee on local government needs to hold hearings.

"When those hearings will start is up to the chairman of the committee on local government," he said.

Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., committee chairman, has been vocal about his opposition to the postponement of the regional elections, saying the administration must first consult with ARMM residents.

The bill can also be referred to the committee on constitutional amendments but its chair Sen. Miriam Santiago is also opposed to postponing the elections.

Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri said the Comelec should be prepared to hold the elections in August.

"Mas mahihirapan yan dito (Santiago’s committee) because mas marami sa aming mga kasamahan ay tumututol. Ako personally sabihin ko na sa Comelec ‘maghanda na kayo, paghandaan niyo na yung elections sa ARMM. Filing na sa May 2," he said.

Militant lawmakers who pushed for the impeachment of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez went against the will of the majority when they voted against the Palace-backed bill.

The progressive bloc composed of congressmen from Bayan Muna, Gabriela, Anakpawis, Kabataan and the Alliance of Volunteer Educators are against the proposal where President Aquino will appoint an officer-in-charge in the ARMM until the midterm elections in 2013.

Teddy Casiño of Bayan Muna said the "euphoria from last Monday’s overwhelming impeachment vote was dashed by yesterday’s (Tuesday) House vote on the ARMM polls, which undermined the principle of Muslim autonomy and self determination."

"We contend that reforms in ARMM require strong political will while respecting autonomy, not dictatorial powers that undermine Muslim autonomy," he said.

The bill, authored by Bai Sandra Sema of Maguindanao, Arlene Bag-ao of Akbayan and Jim Hataman of Basilan, was opposed by congressmen from the ARMM, saying it was unconstitutional.

Minority leader Edcel Lagman, Casiño and Tupay Loong (NP, Sulu) and Crispin Remulla (NP, Cavite) said the bill illegally amended R.A. 9054 or the Organic Act, the law which created the ARMM.

Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga, chair of the committee on suffrage who sponsored the bill, said the measure only amends R.A. 9333 which fixed the date for regular the ARMM elections.

Sema said the August 8 election will "just throw ARMM in a vicious cycle characterized by misgovernance and corruption, which it is currently in."

She said the two-year period "will enable the Commission on Elections to institute electoral reforms such as purging the voter’s list and biometrics voters’ registration."

President Aquino said he believes no one will push for the ARMM bill if everyone is satisfied with region’s current status.

"Kung masaya tayo sa nangyayari sa ARMM, bakit nga tayo makikialam? Pero pag naghanap kayo ng istatistikang mabigat, highest rates of infant mortality, maternal mortality dun. Lack of access to potable water, doon, kidnapping, robbery, bombings – puwede ko bang sabihin, ARMM kayo hindi na kayo Pilipinas, wala akong pakialam sa inyo. Palagay ko naman pong malaking kasalanan yun," Aquino said in an interview.

He said those who oppose the postponement of the elections are the ones who may have benefited from the old system in the region.

"Yung mga gusto pong bumalik sa dating sistema, pasensyahan na lang tayo. Palagay ko yun ang nagdulot ng kadahilanan kung bakit nagkaiwanan na talaga sa ARMM," he added.

Aquino reiterated that by synchronizing the elections in ARMM, the practice of command votes would be eliminated.

"Walang command votes, sa ganung paraan may mandatong mas tiyak, yung mandatong tiyak na iyon ang ang magiging daan para talagang magkaroon ng pag-asenso, at kaayusan, at talagang klarong kasama ang sambayanan sa pagusulong ng progreso lalo na sa ARMM," he said.