WITH the battlecry “Election, Not Selection; Autonomy, Not Autocracy,” a multi-sectoral group composed of over 150 organizations appealed yesterday to senators to vote against two bills seeking to postpone the August 8, 2011 elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
The group, led by PDP-Laban (the former party of the late President Cory Aquino and Ninoy Aquino, the parents of President Benigno Aquino III), stressed that House Bill 4146 and Senate Bill 2756 would deprive the people of ARMM of their right to elect their leaders.
Other members of the group include the Nacionalista Party, Magdalo Group, AKMA-PTM, Maguindanao Provincial Federation of Irrigators, Alliance for Mindanao Genuine Development, Initiative for Green Environment in Mindanao, Ulama Council Region IX, Bangsa Moro Youth Movement, Sulu Sultanate Advisory Council, and the Agthia Center for a Peaceful Mindanao.
They lamented that while the Senate Committees on Local Government and Constitutional Amendments, Revision of Codes jointly opposed SB 2756 and HB 4146 through Committee Report No. 42, a number of senators allied with the administration have resurrected the bills from the archives.
Nonetheless, they thanked the senators who have opposed the cancellation of the ARMM elections, namely Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Joker Arroyo, Edgardo Angara, Juan Miguel Zubiri, Loren Legarda, Francis Escudero, Alan Peter Cayetano, Pia Cayetano, Ramon Bong Revilla, Manny Villar and Bongbong Marcos.
Earlier, Senator Zubiri warned that Malacañang may be using pork barrel blackmail to pressure senators to vote in favor of the bills.
Pork barrel blackmail refers to the promise or threat to either expedite or delay the release of a lawmaker’s Project Development Fund (PDF) allocated for infrastructure projects and other constituency service requirements. This is usually dangled to lawmakers in exchange for their support for administration bills.
Zubiri’s concern was also echoed by Senator Marcos who said that for his part, he would not change his stance as a quid pro quo to his father being accorded a state burial.
“Now, we are asking our dear senators, including those who have resuscitated these abominable measures, to please hear our resounding opposition to poll cancellation and the repulsive move to appoint officers-in-charge in the ARMM,” they said.
“And to President Benigno Simeon ‘Noynoy’ Aquino III, we trust that you will listen to the people’s clamor for elections on August 8, 2011. The restoration of democracy and the creation of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao is President Cory’s greatest legacy,” they added.
Committee Report 42, submitted by the Committees on Local Government and Constitutional Amendments, Revision of Codes and Laws, said that the appointment of OICs by the President is contrary to the letter and spirit of the Organic Law or Republic Act 9054 and guaranteed by the Constitution. HB 4146 and SB 2756, if passed into law, would constitute an amendment to the Organic Law without a provision for the requisite plebiscite.
The report also stressed that the reforms cited by the administration as an excuse to cancel the ARMM elections can be effectively instituted by a set of newly elected officials with a fresh and clear mandate from the people of ARMM on August 8 this year. The groups expressed belief that the majority of the senators would adhere to the principles of democracy and not succumb to pork barrel politics nor become subservient to the dictates of unelected government officials.
It said that the reasons cited for postponement -- to save funds and the need to conduct a clean, orderly and honest election -- have been either corrected by the Comelec or are within the power of the national government to guarantee.
“There is now an awakening in the entire Muslim world. The strong wind of election is now unleashed that change has become the order of the day. Ironically, in Muslim Mindanao, particularly the ARMM, an anachronistic force against election is now rearing its ugly head, in the guise of instituting reforms and synchronization of elections as defined in HB 4146 and SB 2756,” Committee Report 42 read in part.
“We cannot accept HB 4146 and SB 2756 both on constitutional grounds and on its implications to the effort to realize the well-deserved political aspirations of our countrymen in the ARMM. To cancel the ARMM elections, or any elections for that matter, goes against the fabric of democracy, the forces of change and political modernization.
“There is emerging a new Middle East, where Muslims young and old are clamoring, dying in support of free elections. This is their Arab Spring. The people of the ARMM deserve no less. For whatever reasons there may be, elections should never be postponed nor cancelled, and the people’s right to elect their leaders denied.”
The groups also applauded the chair of the Senate Local Government Committee, Senator Bongbong Marcos, who had said that “he would rather not have his late father, former President Ferdinand E. Marcos, buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, if in exchange he would be asked to be a party to denying the people of ARMM their most basic right of suffrage.”
Sen. Marcos further said the Senate is the bastion of independent thinking among statesmen who are elected to serve even the minority and to protect the national interest.
“We have no doubt that like Senator Marcos, our other senators will not allow themselves to be pressured by anyone nor anything so that they can deliberate intelligently on this vital and urgent issue. We hope our senators will transcend party lines and take the democratic and principled position for the holding of the August 8 ARMM election.”