Senator Marcos. Thank you very much, Mr. President, Majority Leader.
I rise today, ladies and gentlemen, on a matter of personal and collective privilege. It is the rule in the Senate that when an adverse Committee Report is filed by a Committee, then that Committee Report is sent to the Archives as we have done here today.
However, the matter at hand is of such great importance and has been a subject of great interest not only to the public but also to the other Senators as well that I felt that it is important to use this privilege speech as a vehicle by which I may, in fact, report to the Body the findings of the Local Government Committee on the subject of the synchronization of ARMM Elections with the National Elections in 2013. I am referring specifically House Bill No. 4146 and Senate Bill No. 2756.
So, today, Mr. President, I will not read the Committee Report as this is rather long and voluminous, I will just go through the main findings of the report so as to give the Senators a good idea about the discussions and the logic behind the conclusions which we have arrived at.
The Committee on Local Government has made 6 findings. So let me go through them in turn.
Finding No. 1
First finding is that, the appointment of the officers-in-charge by the President is contrary to the principle of autonomy which is guaranteed by the Constitution. Mr. President, it is clear that ARMM autonomy is mandated by Article X, Section 1 of the Constitution, wherein it is stated that: "The territorial and political subdivisions of the Republic of the Philippines are the provinces, cities, municipalities, and barangays. There shall be autonomous regions in Muslim Mindanao and the Cordilleras as hereinafter provided."
Furthermore, in Section 18 of Article X, it is stated that: "The organic act shall define the basic structure of government for the region consisting of the executive department and legislative assembly,"--and most importantly--"both of which shall be elective and representative of the constituent political units."
The argument that is made is that the President has the power of general supervision over autonomous regions and therefore, this is sufficient ground perhaps to allow the President to appoint OICs in a hold-over capacity should the ARMM elections be cancelled. However, the President's power of general supervision in our finding is that, that power is precisely for the President to ascertain and to make sure that the officers and the officials and all the entities in ARMM are precisely following the law as it has been written, not to change it. The power of general supervision over LGUs and autonomous regions does not cover appointment and removal of elective officials. Furthermore, Congress may not pass a law increasing the President's power of general supervision.
It is the view of the Department of Justice that the power of the President to appoint interim officials may be justified under the appointing authority of the President under the so-called residual power. And ironically enough, the quoted case is Marcos vs. Manglapus.
Furthermore, it is the opinion of the Department of Justice that the statutory provision on the appointment power of the President of ARMM officers-in-charge is unnecessary.
However, it is our view that this does not apply in this particular case because the exercise of residual powers by the President to appoint is done in the case of a vacancy of an elective position. A vacancy because of death, because of retirement, because of illness, is when those residual powers can be exercised. However, in this case, we do not believe that it applies in this case. Because the scenario now could be that the two bills invoke the President's so-called residual power by deliberately creating the vacuum through the postponement of elections. So it is still within the same measure that gives the President the power to appoint. It is also creating the vacancies which is now claimed to give the President the power to appoint. Hence, it is our view that this method is unconstitutional and contrary to law.
Finding No. 2
House Bill No. 4146 and Senate Bill No. 2756, in effect, amend Republic Act No. 9054, and do not merely amend Republic Act No. 9333. It is argued that the two bills merely seek to amend Republic Act No. 9333, which has not been subjected to any plebiscite in any of the observed postponements that we had in the past.
However, it is the view of the Committee that the two bills do not merely seek to amend RA No. 9333, as expressly declared in their titles, but they ultimately seek to amend RA No. 9054. Because the rule of statutory construction provides that the statute and its amendments should be read together as a whole. The amendment becomes a part of the original statute as if it has always been contained therein. That is why it is our belief that it is, in fact, an amendment of the organic law.
If that is the case, then although a two-thirds vote was attained in the House of Representatives, there has never been any plebiscite in any of the postponements that had been done in the ARMM Law under RA No. 9333. However, the fact that RA No. 9333 was not submitted to the people for a plebiscite in 2004 cannot be considered as a valid precedent. And besides that, if we were to accept this position, there is no longer enough time for us to conduct a plebiscite in time for the 8 August elections, because a plebiscite should not be held any earlier than 60 days, or later than 90 days after the approval of such amendment or revision.
Finding No. 3
The reforms in the ARMM can be effectively instituted by officials to be elected by the people on August 8, 2011. It is clear to the Committee that the desire for reforms and the right of suffrage are not inconsistent with one another. To date, it has never been properly explained how it is, that the cancellation of elections, the appointment of officers in charge will somehow lead to the reforms that we all agree are necessary for the ARMM, for its effective and improved functioning, and its improved delivery of services to its constituents. It is our view that the reforms may still be achieved without necessarily negating the people's right of suffrage.
Finding No. 4
The mandate through an electoral process is a fundamental element of democracy and autonomy. Any planned reforms should be pursued in accordance with the principle of democracy and autonomy. This is the essence of the long standing doctrine that ours is a government of laws and not of men.
It is highlighted further by the fact that what we are talking about is the cancellation of elections in an autonomous region, the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao. We had posited several times to those that had come before the Committee: What would have been the effect if the President, and the House, and the Senate would then put through legislation through Congress? And we are saying that to any region, aside from ARMM, and we will tell that region: "Your elections are now cancelled, and in lieu of those elections, we will appoint the officials to elective positions." That is entirely unacceptable to any region, any province, any local government unit in the Philippines, much more so, I believe, in what is referred to and described and recognized as an autonomous region. And that is why it is highlighted particularly in this case.
Finding No. 5
The main reasons for the postponement of elections either have already been corrected by Comelec, or are within the power of the national government to guarantee.
In the hearings that we conducted, not only here in Manila but also in Marawi City, we asked the Comelec as to their preparedness for this election. And if they had done all the things that had been needed to be done to answer the criticisms that the electoral process in ARMM is highly flawed and is subject to abuse and that many of the voter rolls are greatly suspect. They reported to the Committee then that, in fact, 90,000 names have already been deleted from the rolls of ARMM voters for the simple reason that some of them did not exist, some of them were entered twice, some of them do not come from ARMM, and for various other reasons. Furthermore, they also reported to us that the process of gathering biometric data from each of the voters is 85% to 90% complete. This is in contrast to the completion rate of the collection of biometric data in the rest of the Philippines where, that is running at about 30%. So, in terms of being able to ascertain that we will have a fair and peaceful election in ARMM, in fact, the Comelec has done more than what it has done in other parts of the country to make sure that the conduct of those elections are fair and peaceful.
The other reason that is being given for the synchronization is to save money. Now, as a matter of information, when this was first spoken about with me by Chairman Melo, when he was still the chairman of Comelec, they estimated that they are going to spend about Php1.7 billion for the ARMM election. However, he also mentioned that from the last elections, they had savings in the Comelec of Php2 billion. Therefore, that money is with the Comelec and there is no need to find extra funds for us to conduct the ARMM elections.
But, more importantly, Mr. President, if we are to take that argument to its logical conclusion and seeing that the financial situation of the Philippines is in great difficulty and we always want to save money, if we follow that same logic, then we could just cancel all elections that will allow us to save Php12 billion, Php13 billion or Php14 billion every three years. But, of course, that is completely anathema to the entire system that we operate under.
Finding No. 6.
And the number 6 finding is that the synchronization of the elections should be revisited only after the concrete evidence of electoral and political stability in the region are attained. If, in fact, the conduct of the elections in ARMM is still particularly violent, still particularly prone to abuse, then until those political and electoral reforms can be shown to have been effective, then and only then should we think about synchronizing ARMM elections with the rest of the country’s electoral exercises.
Mr. President, let us go to the stated reasons for the proposals and I hope that the Body noticed that I do not use the word “postpone” in my committee report. I used the word “cancel”, the reason being, “postponement” implies that a date is moved back. We are not moving back any date in this election. We are cancelling the elections and we are exchanging those elections and filling up the elective positions with appointments made by the President. Therefore, we are not postponing the elections, we are cancelling them.
Mr. President, one of the reasons stated for the subject proposals here today is that of reform in ARMM. If there is one area of complete agreement amongst all officials, stakeholders, entities and even private individuals that the committee has consulted with on this matter, that consensus would be: that ARMM as an organization is, indeed, in need of structural and fundamental reform. What is less clear however is, how these proposals to cancel election and to appoint OICs will lead to those so-called reforms.
The question that the Committee asked all those who came before us was this: What is the mechanism that will take us from the act of cancelling elections and appointing OICs that would result in the reforms. And how will the reforms take place?
The Committee, therefore, is not convinced that cancelling elections and appointing OICs would be necessary to institute those intended necessary reforms. All the proposals for reform that have been heard are seen to be achievable without interfering with the electoral process. I would even venture to say that a group of elected officials with fresh mandate from the people would have the moral ascendancy and the imprimatur of the people and, thus, be in a better position and be more effective in instituting reforms.
As to the synchronization of ARMM elections with the national elections, let us be reminded that the framers of RA No. 9057 specifically provided for desynchronized ARMM elections because of the recognition of the particularly difficult and heated nature of the conduct of elections in ARMM. There have been many instances in the past of cheating, abuse and violence in the electoral process in ARMM. Because of that, it was deemed that the ARMM elections should be held separately, so all resources of government could be brought to bear in the ARMM region to ensure peace and fairness during elections.
So, it is with this understanding that the Committee recommends that until concrete evidence and objective indications of political and electoral reforms can be shown, can we conduct separate ARMM elections to allow government to concentrate all its possible resources and energies to the peaceful conduct of these elections.
Mr. President, I have touched upon the legal arguments that have arisen on both sides of the issue of the cancellation of the ARMM elections and the appointment of OICs into the vacated elective positions and, finally, the synchronization of ARMM elections with elections held in the rest of the country. These legal debates have ensued because the bills are seen by many, myself included, to remove the guarantees of ARMM autonomy enshrined not only in RA No. 9054, the Organic Act for the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, but also mandated in the Constitution.
Mr. President, many of us here still remember the fighting in Mindanao in the '70s and in the '80s at the height of the secessionist movement in Muslim Mindanao. That movement tore at the very fabric of our Republic. And there was a period when the separation of certain areas of Muslim Mindanao from the Republic of the Philippines seemed an imminent possibility. It was with this background that negotiations were undertaken to bring peace to the region and to find answers to the causes that brought about this war and turmoil in the South.
A central tenet to all the peace agreements that have been adopted in the intervening years is the necessary recognition of the cultural, historical, religious and even legal differences between Christian and Muslim communities. These differences were deemed to require that the Muslim communities in Mindanao be governed and administered by officials and entities that would incorporate the aforementioned differences in culture, history, religion and law in its governance.
In other words, an essential element for peace then was the recognition by central government of the autonomy of Muslim Mindanao. That is why these guarantees of autonomy have been enshrined in law. This was done to codify the manner in which government acts and helps operationalize the autonomy of Muslim Mindanao, a requirement for true and lasting peace.
So, legal arguments aside, these proposals to cancel the elections, appoint OICs in ARMM, strikes at the very heart of that autonomy so hard-fought by our Muslim brothers and so hard won by all those injured and killed on both sides of the conflict.
These proposals before us today are not amendments to our existing law. And to toss aside that autonomy would be a sea change in national policy. To ignore the guarantees of Muslim Mindanao's autonomy would be nothing less than a repudiation of the social contract that we, as a society, have made with the Muslim communities in Mindanao.
The stated purposes of these bills can all be achieved without throwing into turmoil the principles and practices that have been carefully crafted all these many years, starting all the way back to the Tripoli Agreement and all the peace agreements following.
Therefore, Mr. President, that is why the Committee on Local Government, jointly with the Committee on Constitutional Amendments, Revision of Codes and Laws, have rendered these recommendations against the passage of House Bill No. 4146 and Senate Bill No. 2756.
I invite my fellow senators to examine the findings and discussions made in the Committee Report that was filed today. I am confident that they will agree that the proposals in the legislation before us are ill-advised and untimely.
Mr. President, we have been witness in the past few months to what has come to be known as the "Arab Spring" where hundreds of thousands of Arab citizens have risen up in Tunisia, in Egypt, in Libya, Syria, Bahrain, even in Morocco. They have sacrificed life and limb to gain their right to suffrage and self-determination.
Filipino Muslims have already gained the exercise of their rights to suffrage and self-determination. They have already achieved, at least, partially their autonomy. We must not reverse that process. We must not accompany the light of the "Arab Spring" of 2011 with the darkness of a cold winter for ARMM.
Thank you, Mr. President.
The President. Thank you.
The Majority Leader is recognized.
Senator Sotto. Mr. President, may we again recognize Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. for a manifestation.
The President. Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is recognized.
MOTION OF SENATOR MARCOS
(That H. No. 4146/S. No. 2756 Be Retrieved from the Archives to the Calendar
for Ordinary Business)
Senator Marcos. Mr. President, since there are no interpellations, I would like to make a motion.
As I mentioned earlier in our Rules, an adverse report is automatically sent to the Archives. However, it is the interest of this representation that this very important subject be brought back to the Floor and be debated properly so as to ventilate all the issues that are relevant.
In view of the fundamental importance of House Bill No. 4146 and Senate Bill No. 2756, and its possible repercussions, I believe we must not stifle public debate. It is important that these measures be debated and discussed on the Floor of the Senate.
So, Mr. President, allow me to move that the matter be returned from the Archives to the Calendar for Ordinary Business.
I so move, Mr. President.