By TJ Burgonio | Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—Time is not on the side of the Aquino administration that is intent on postponing the elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), from its original August 2011 schedule to May 2013.
The House has passed HB 4146 providing for the synchronization of the ARMM elections with the midterm elections in May 2013.
Sen. Franklin Drilon has filed a counterpart measure, Senate Bill No. 2756, but the Senate may not have enough time to approve the administration’s priority measure.
“We are very short of time, but we’ll do our best to do what we can in the time available,” Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., chair of the committee on local government, said at the first hearing on the measure Thursday.
Marcos said his committee can report out its findings to the Senate only after Congress resumes sessions on May 9, way past the May 2 start for the filing of candidacy papers.
After that, the bill has to go through the usual legislative process of approval, which could take some time, he said.
Director Ferdinand Rafanan of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said the Comelec is giving the Senate and House until May 20 to adopt a final version of the bill.
“But we prefer a postponement. It will mean less work, and it will save us P2 billion,” he told reporters.
Otherwise, the Comelec is ready to hold the ARMM elections in August as originally scheduled, Rafanan said.
Teresita Quintos-Deles, presidential adviser on the peace process, said the main Muslim insurgencies, the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Moro National Liberation Front, are not posing objections to the election’s postponement.
“The government is not inclined to disagree,” she told the committee.
Besides, she added, holding the elections in August would be a distraction to the talks with the MILF whose key agenda is the amendment of the organic law that created the ARMM.
She said synchronized elections will allow the parties concerned to focus on the proposed amendments to the ARMM law.
Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo has also argued for postponement, saying that this would allow the government to appoint reform-minded individuals to the ARMM until 2013, institute reforms and most important, audit the ARMM funds.
He said that an initial audit of the ARMM from 2009 to 2010 showed some P5 billion missing.
“Unfortunately, some people who perpetrated the malversation are still working in ARMM to this very day,” he said.
However, ex-senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr. and Manuel Lazaro, president of the Philippine Constitution Association, have argued that postponing the ARMM elections was unconstitutional and the appointment of officers in charge by the President was illegal.
Amending ARMM law
A postponement would entail amending the ARMM’s organic law which would require a two-thirds vote of Congress and a plebiscite.
“I was just amazed that there are several Republic Acts that had already been approved in the past, all providing for conflicting resetting of elections. None of these RAs have been the subject of plebiscites,” Lazaro said.
Zabedin Azis, assistant secretary at the justice department, and University of the Philippines College of Law professor Ibarra Gutierrez, have challenged this.
They said that a postponement of the ARMM elections only amends RA 9333, but not the main organic act, RA 9054. Hence, there was no need for a two-thirds vote of Congress and a plebiscite, they said. RA 9333 fixes the date of election of ARMM officials.