BY JP Lopez | Malaya
THE Senate committee on local government chaired by Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and the Senate committee on constitutional amendments and revision of codes and laws chaired by Sen. Francis Escudero yesterday signed the committee report that practically killed Senate Bill 2756 that would postpone the election in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao scheduled on Aug. 8 but the plenary immediately retrieved it from the archives.
In Committee Report 42, the local government panel recommended that the electoral exercise be held as scheduled this August, automatically referring Sen. Franklin Drilon’s SB 2756 to the Senate archives under the Rules of the Senate.
But six senators – one more than the required five – called for the retrieval of the committee report from the archives back to plenary debates.
Those who called for the reconsideration of the proposed measure were Senate majority leader Vicente Sotto III, Senators Teofisto Guingona III, Sergio Osmena III, Antonio Trillanes IV, Francis Pangilinan, and Marcos himself who said debates must not be stifled and the measure should be discussed on the floor.
On instructions of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, Sotto transferred the committee report from its Calendar for Ordinary Business to Special Orders. The Senate will hold an open debate today on both the House and Senate bills.
Marcos clarified that his move to retrieve does not mean "that I am reversing the findings of my committee (rejecting the postponement of the ARMM polls). It is just that the subject is an important subject that needs to be debated."
He said the constitutional issues against the passage of the bill are not for the committee to judge with finality "as the same are within the province of the judicial department."
Marcos also asserted in his report that "making the promise of reform in the ARMM conditional and the condition is the surrender of a fundamental right to elect their own leaders is a resounding no from the committee…the promise of reform and the right of suffrage are not inconsistent with each other."
He said the two bills seeking to amend the ARMM organic law and the reforms sought by Malacañang to be instituted at ARMM could be done by elected officials.
He said cancellation of the ARMM election is against the rationale for the autonomy given to the ARMM.
He also said that the main reason for the postponement has already been corrected by government. On the ARMM election being highly flawed, Marcos referred to the statements of Commission on Elections officials that the questionable names of 90,000 voters at ARMM have already been deleted and that the process of gathering biometrics on ARMM voters is already 80-90 percent complete vis-a-vis the 30 percent completion rate in most parts of the country.
Marcos, after the hearing yesterday morning, said that there was a consensus among senators not to support what he described as "ill-prepared" House Bill 4146 and Senate Bill 2756.
During the hearing, Marcos, Zubiri, Escudero and Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada questioned President Aquino’s power to appoint officers-in-charge for the ARMM posts that will be vacated if the elections are postponed.
"The most contentious part of this proposal is the power of the President to appoint," said Marcos during the hearing.
Escudero said, "You will be substituting the discretion of the President for that of the residents of ARMM." He expressed doubts about the process to be used to choose the appointees.
Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo, presidential adviser on the peace process Teresita Deles, and presidential adviser for political affairs Robert Llamas said Aquino has residual powers to appoint and that it would be more contentious to have holdover officials.
The three Palace representatives admitted that they have yet to finalize the selection process, but Robredo gave the assurance that Aquino will not appoint someone for political considerations.
"The President has emphasized that he’s not interested in getting his man in ARMM, he’s interested in reforming ARMM," Robredo said.
Escudero said conflicting timelines and details confused rather than convinced him to consider the bill. He said he was unimpressed when proponents of poll postponement failed to explain the discrepancy in the election dates and the terms of office of elected officials, thus defeating the purpose of the bill.
Robredo admitted that they indeed overlooked the ARMM election dates and the term of office. He said they will be amending the errors before the committee submits its report to the plenary.
With only four session days to go before Congress adjourns, Malacañang admitted that it is preparing contingency measures in case the bill is not approved.
"There’s still time. But contingencies are already in place," presidential adviser on political affairs Ronald Llamas said.
He did not say what the "contingencies" are.
The Supreme Court yesterday dismissed the petition of lawyer Alex Macalawi of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines-Marawi City seeking to stop Congress from going ahead with its plan to postpone the ARMM elections.
Macalawi said both the Senate and House bills are unconstitutional and violates the ARMM law.
"The Court junked the petition for being premature, as the proposed laws are still not passed by Congress," SC spokesman Midas Marquez said.