Malaya - To postpone the ARMM election or not

16 May 2011

By Ducky Paredes | Malaya Business Insight

malaya_business_insightA READER suggests that President Aquino may face an impeachment trial "if he insists on doing what many legal minds see as a culpable violation of the Constitution." Is this actually possible?

The reader who wishes to remain anonymous says: "The violation has to do with the stubborn desire of PNoy to postpone to 2013 the August 8, 2011 election in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) so that he can act as a demigod in the region by appointing officers-in-charge (OICs) there."

He wonders why PNoy is doing this, even if the President has explained again and again that elections in the ARMM have never been real elections; thus, reforms must be initiated and the best way to do this is to have no elections until 2013 when the ARMM officials will be voted upon at the same time as all officials of the country.

Our reader doubts the President and says that he just wants to be able to give jobs to his party mates. He points out that no less than Peping Cojuangco, PNoy’s uncle, laments the incessant fighting for government positions by the supporters of the President, which should give us an idea why PNoy wants to turn the ARMM’s elective posts into appointive ones.

Former Senate President Aquilino "Nene" Pimentel Jr. who wrote the ARMM Law, also wants to know: ""Why? Has this administration run out of appointive positions that it now wants to dispense to its allies what are elective positions at ARMM?

"Our democracy is being sacrificed by this administration before the altar of political accommodation."

To Mindanaoans, poll postponement is a travesty of their democratic principles as it will deprive Muslim Filipinos of their right to elect their leaders as guaranteed by both the Constitution and the ARMM Organic Law. To them, PNoy’s intention makes a mockery of the democratic legacy of his own parents, especially Cory under whose presidency Muslim Filipinos realized their clamor for self-determination with the birth of the ARMM.

Certainly, going through with the postponment will shave off several points more from PNoy’s thinning popularity

Two petitions have already been filed before the Supreme Court against House Bill 4146, the ARMM poll postponement bill. All that now has to happen for this to become law is for the Senate to pass its companion measure and for PNoy to sign this into law.

Both petitions want the SC to stop any further action by Congress on HB 4146 arguing that this is unconstitutional as it seeks to postpone the ARMM election without the benefit of a plebiscite.

The main argument by the petitioners is that the schedule of the ARMM election was set by the ARMM Organic Law, which is no ordinary law because it was ratified in a referendum. Thus, a simple law that does not pass through a plebiscite, as proposed under HB 4146 and its counterpart measure in the Senate, cannot change the ARMM election schedule.

If the SC finds the move to postpone the ARMM election to 2013 unconstitutional, does it then mean that its proponent PNoy, who even certified it as urgent and because he has been active in meeting congressmen and senators to push it, can be impeached for culpable violation of the Constitution?

Isn’t it ironic that Senator Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos may actually be the one to save P-Noy from possible impeachment? Bongbong is chairman of the Senate Local Government Committee that is handling the counterpart Senate measure to HB 4146. Marcos says that he is not inclined to sponsor a bill that when passed into law will just be declared by the SC as unconstitutional.

Aside from Marcos, Senators Joker Arroyo, Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Edgardo Angara also oppose the ARMM poll postponement.

While a lot of Mindanaoans look at this exercise as a simple power game on the part of Malacañang or a job fair for the stranded politicians of the Liberal Party, I agree with the President that there must be reforms in the way that elections are conducted in the ARMM. Where I disagree with him is on his plan to appoint all of the elected officials of the independent region. I feel he would be wiser to keep the elected officials and investigate before replacing anyone. That seems like a better deal than replacing thousands with personal presidential picks.

While the President may choose as wisely as he can, the reality is that some of those he will pick will turn out to be worse than the ones they replaced. That is a certainty.

On the other hand, an ARMM resident who has been corresponding with me on this issue sent me this SMS text message: "Democracy is not about a sham election that allows a warlord to dictate the result of an election; or the dead, the birds and the bees to vote or voting under the barrel of a gun."