Philippine Daily Inquirer – Fierce Senate debate on resetting ARMM polls seen

By TJ Burgonio | Philippine Daily Inquirer

InquirerAn intense debate over the bill seeking the postponement of the August 8 elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) looms in the Senate with the impending release of a committee report adverse to the measure.

President Benigno Aquino III’s allies in Congress, however, remain confident they could muster the votes to approve Senate Bill 2756 and House Bill 4146 before Congress adjourns on June 8.

“Oh yes, I expect a debate in the Senate,” said Senator Joker Arroyo in an interview. “Whether or not it could be voted upon or finished depends on the length and intensity of the debates.”

Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who had indicated that the local government committee which he chairs would submit a report adverse to the bill, will find himself ranged against author Sen. Franklin Drilon and “a good number of senators” who back the bill.

Marcos had said that the bill’s “assault” on the ARMM people’s right of suffrage and its disregard of the region’s autonomy had alarmed the committee. He said the bill would scrap the elections to allow Malacañang to simply “handpick their next leaders.”

Since President Aquino had certified it as urgent during a Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council meeting, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile was expected to support the bill.

Marcos’ submission of an adverse committee report is anticipated by some of his colleagues, and is expected to cause a “complication” in the legislative process—the archiving of the bill.

That’s why the Senate is set to hold a caucus tomorrow to discuss the latest development, keeping in mind its adjournment on June 8, Drilon said.

According to Drilon, there were two options available under Senate rules.

If the bill is archived, five senators could move for its recall and have it calendared for ordinary business, paving the way for a debate and vote.

Or the bill could be placed in the calendar of ordinary business, sponsored and submitted for amendments, and a senator could move to have the committee report amended in favor of the measure.

Either way, Drilon, who along with Senators Francis Pangilinan, Ralph Recto and Teofisto Guingona III, is Mr. Aquino’s party-mate, said they had the numbers to approve it.

“It has a reasonable chance of passing,” Drilon said in an interview. “I’m reasonably optimistic that we have the votes to pass it.”

Even Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III conceded that “a good number” of the 23 senators support the administration measure postponing the elections and holding it with the May 2013 nationwide midterm elections.

“If they have the majority, the committee report can be overturned,” Sotto said.

Marcos is set to submit his committee’s report on Tuesday afternoon after holding a final hearing in the morning. This would give the senators four session days to tackle the measure.

Drilon said the senators should agree during the caucus to “limit the debate” and put it to a vote.

“If there will be some senators who would insist on a lengthy debate, we can’t do anything about it. But there must be a consensus to shorten the debate, and let’s vote on it,” he said.

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