By JP Lopez | Malaya
THE plenary debate on the proposed postponement of the scheduled August 8 Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao elections went underway Wednesday night at the Senate with Sen. Franklin Drilon defending his Senate Bill 2756 which seeks to synchronize the regional elections with the local and national elections in 2013.
Local governments committee chair Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who signed Committee Report No. 42 junking SB 2756, questioned Drilon’s contention that local and national elections should be synchronized as provided by the Constitution.
Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. said Malacañang is not yet sure whether it has enough numbers in the Senate for SB 2756 to be passed.
Ochoa said if the Palace fails to get the expected votes in the Senate, there is no other option but to pursue the elections in August.
Drilon said conducting the ARMM elections in August is unconstitutional, noting that the enabling law, R.A. 9333, providing for a desynchronized election, is inconsistent with the constitutional mandate to synchronize local and national elections.
Drilon said the purpose of synchronizing the regional election with the national and local elections is "actually in harmony with the intention of the Constitution to hold synchronized elections."
"We cannot spend public funds for this purpose. The August 2011 ARMM elections must be canceled," he said.
He said the Supreme Court, in the 1991 case of Osmeña et al. vs. Commission on Elections, struck down as unconstitutional R.A. 7056 which called for the holding of a national election on the second Monday of May 1992 and the local election on the second Monday of November 1992 and declared: "It thus becomes very evident that the Constitution has mandated a synchronized national and local election. With the clear mandate of the 1987 Constitution to hold synchronized (simultaneous) national and local election… the inevitable conclusion would be that Republic Act 7056 is clearly violative of the Constitution because it provides for the holding of a desynchronized election."
But Marcos cited R.A. 9057 which specifically de-synchronized ARMM elections "because of the recognition of the particularly difficult and heated nature of the conduct of elections in ARMM."
"There have been in the past, many instances of cheating, abuse and violence in the elections in ARMM. Because of that, it was deemed that the ARMM elections should be held separately so all resources of the government could be brought to bear in the ARMM region to ensure peace and fairness during elections," Marcos said.
Sen. Francis Escudero, chair of the committee on constitutional amendments and revision of codes and laws, and nine other senators signed Committee Report 42 to bring Drilon’s proposal to the Senate Archives.
But with the vote of six – one more than the required five – the bill was retrieved from the archives back to plenary debates.
Five senators at the least would be the next to question the constitutionality of Drilon’s bill next week. Senators are expected to decide on the fate of the measure a day before the Congress adjourns on June 9.
Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri, vice chair of the committee on local government who is next in line to interpellate Drilon, asked colleagues not to railroad the bill just because it has been certified urgent by President Aquino.
"May isa pa naman tayong linggo, next week...This is certified urgent by the President therefore it can be approved on second and third reading the same day but let us not speed up the interpellation process because napakahalaga nito," he said.
Before the Senate opened debates on the proposed poll postponement, Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo, Justice Secretary Leila De Lima and Peace Process Adviser Teresita Deles were seen at the Senate along with Ronald Llamas, presidential adviser on political affairs.
Ochoa also said the issue of who among the candidates in the ARMM elections would be supported by the administration is still being discussed.
The choices include Aquino’s aunt, Margarita Cojuangco, who is running for vice governor under Gov. Pax Mangudadatu.
The Commission on Elections made a final appeal to the lawmakers to once and for all decide on the fate of SB 2756.
"We need them to make a decision since our critical date is June 15," Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said.