Manila Bulletin - Political spin

17 May 2011

By Elinando B. Cinco | Manila Bulletin

mb_onlineMANILA, Philippines — It is, unmistakably, a political spin that the public is being told these days. Take note of these “feeds”:

They say that synchronizing the ARMM election with the 2013 midterm elections and appointing OICs in the interim is needed to stabilize the peace and order situation in an area wracked by terrorism and armed rebellion.

Postponement, they argue, would allow government enough time to unravel the sophisticated election fraud machinery in ARMM, specifically in Maguindanao, and ensure the sanctity of the ballot in future elections.

They say that the two-year postponement is necessary for the Commission on Audit to conduct a thorough audit of funds given to ARMM over the years.

They even warn that it would only distract from the ongoing peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

And finally, they feed us the line that it would save the government some R1.8 billion.

But behind the curtains, what they are not telling us is this: That the postponement of the August 8 ARMM election would allow President Aquino to appoint his own people, presumably from the ruling party, to key positions in the regional body.

In other words, these appointees would wield vast political power over five provinces and two cities without a valid mandate from the electorate and without being accountable to the people – only to the appointing authority.

With full control of the ARMM bureaucracy for two years, what would prevent the hand-picked leaders from feathering their own nests and trying to consolidate political and economic power for the next two years in preparation for political contests in 2013 and 2016?

Are we to honestly believe that those appointed as ARMM governor, vice governor, and members of the Regional Legislative Assembly would be spending their entire waking hours thinking only of peace and development for the region and devote all of ARMM’s resources to ending poverty?

Those who will be fortunate enough to occupy the top ARMM positions on the basis of their closeness to the Palace occupant can expect to control the substantial ARMM budget, put in place their own people in the lower rungs of the ARMM hierarchy, and thereby influence the outcome of the 2013 and 2016 elections.

Postponement will deprive the people of ARMM their right of suffrage and to choose the leaders that they like, trust and respect in free and fair elections – the hallmark of a true democracy.

Peace and democracy in ARMM can best be served by proceeding with the August 8 election, but with enough safeguards.

These safeguards should include, first of all , the cleansing of spurious voters’ lists that had been a source of electoral fraud in the past.

Second, the government should deploy enough military and police personnel in ARMM during the campaign period to deter any electoral violence or intimidation of voters by private armies of political warlords.

And three, the election should be automated from start to finish to prevent any manipulation of the voting results.

I commend Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, chairman of the Senate Local Government Committee now tackling HB 4146 and the Senate counterpart bill, for asserting the independence of the Upper Chamber.

Senators Joker Arroyo, Miriam Defensor Santiago, Edgardo Angara, and Chiz Escudero likewise deserve credit and encouragement for opposing the proposed ARMM poll postponement.

As for the other senators who are being asked by Malacañang to support ARMM poll postponement, they should go beyond partisan interests and instead think of the larger national interest.

The country cannot afford to leave peace and development in Muslim Mindanao in the hands of people with a doubtful political and economic agenda.

By all means, let’s accelerate peace and development in ARMM. But we can do that only when we have people who have been voted into office by the electorate on the basis of their track records and qualifications, not on their ability to ingratiate themselves to those in power.