By TJ Burgonio | Philippine Daily Inquirer
A SENATE committee headed by the son of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos yesterday rejected a bill endorsed by President Aquino seeking to postpone elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao until reforms were put in place there.
The committee on local government, headed by Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., submitted a report refusing to recommend the passage of a bill that would postpone ARMM elections scheduled in August.
“The committee report is what it is going to be,” said Marcos after a final hearing of his committee on the election postponement that is being pushed by Mr. Aquino, son of the late President Corazon Aquino who led a peaceful revolt that toppled the Marcos dictatorship in 1986.
“In fairness, nobody in the administration has asked me to change anything,” Marcos said.
Principles of autonomy
He said salient features of the bill, among them allowing the President to appoint officers in charge in ARMM, run counter to the principles of autonomy.
“Legal argument aside, these proposals to cancel the election, appoint OICs, strike at the very heart of the autonomy so hard-fought by our Muslim brothers,” said the senator whose father was taken to task in the 1960s for the so-called Jabidah Massacre, which started from a mission to invade Sabah using Muslim recruits who were later executed to keep the failed mission a secret.
The refusal of Marcos’ committee to endorse the postponement effectively sends the bill to the archives. At least five senators, however, could retrieve it from there and bring it to a vote.
Sen. Franklin Drilon, author of the Senate bill that would postpone the ARMM elections, expressed confidence the bill isn’t dead. “I’m reasonably optimistic that we have the support of the majority,” Drilon said.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, another ally of Mr. Aquino, said senators backing postponement “have the edge.” But they have only four session days until Congress adjourns on June 8.
Marcos said he could have just sat on the bill, but didn’t do it. “It’s too important to let it lapse,” he said.
Marcos and two other senators against postponement—Juan Miguel Zubiri and Francis Escudero—said the postponement was likely to be questioned at the Supreme Court.
Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo rejected a proposal to proceed with the Aug. 8 elections, and synchronize the next elections with the 2013 midterm national elections.
Commission on Elections Chair Sixto Brillantes Jr. said the Comelec’s steering committee had recommended manual elections for the ARMM, which would cost P600 million.
Brillantes said Comelec hasn’t signed any contract for automation because Congress was still deliberating on whether or not to postpone the elections.
Teresita “Ging” Deles, peace adviser to Mr. Aquino, and Ronald Llamas, the President’s political adviser, defended Palace support for postponement.
Malacañang, however, is not giving up on the postponement, according to Edwin Lacierda, one of several spokespersons of the President.
“The Senate has not acted on the bill with finality. Let’s wait for further developments,” Lacierda said.
Abigail Valte, another Palace spokesperson, said the Aquino administration “remains optimistic.”
Valte said the President had met with ARMM governors and officials in Malacañang to discuss the progress of efforts to have the elections postponed.
Relying on LP
Mr. Aquino, she said, asked for the officials’ support for postponement.
“While we understand there are several senators who have been consistently voicing out their objections to it, there are also senators who are said to be supporting the postponement,” Valte said at a press briefing.
Malacañang is relying mainly on the support of senators belonging to the Liberal Party, the ruling party since Mr. Aquino was elected President.
LP senators made the commitment when they were invited to lunch early this month by the President. Aside from meeting with his party mates that included Senators Drilon, Ralph Recto, Francis Pangilinan and TJ Guingona, Mr. Aquino also met with Senators Lacson and Antonio Trillanes IV to seek their support for postponement.
Valte said Malacañang will continue its efforts to “convince (senators) to see our side of things”, as she noted the presence of Robredo, Deles and Llamas at yesterday’s Senate hearing.