By Hannah L. Torregoza and Madel R. Sabater | Tempo
After intense and heated debates, the Senate has finally passed on third and fi nal reading the measure calling for the postponement of the August elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
MANILA, Philippines – Voting 13-7, the upper chamber passed the measure late Monday night after lengthy hours of interpellation from both supporters and critics of the bill.
Senators who voted “yes” to the bill included Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, Senate President Pro Tempore Jose Jinggoy Estrada, and Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III.
Administration ally Sen. Franklin Drilon, proponent of Senate Bill No.2756, as well as Miriam Defensor- Santiago, Panfilo Lacson, Teofisto Guingona III, Francis Pangilinan, Ralph Recto, Pia Cayetano, Manuel Lapid, Gregorio Honasan II, and Antonio Trillanes IV also voted to have the ARMM polls synchronized with the 2013 national elections.
Those who voted against the measure included Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. whose Committee on Local Government heard the bill.
Marcos was joined by senators Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., Joker Arroyo, Francis “Chiz” Escudero, Juan Miguel Zubiri, Edgardo Angara, and Sergio Osmeña III. Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano, Senators Manuel Villar Jr., and Loren Legarda were absent during the voting.
The bill deferring the ARMM elections was certified urgent by President Aquino. Both the Senate and the House of Representatives are expected to settle the differences in the versions of the bill in a bicameral conference committee before Congress adjourns sine die this week.
Once ratified by both chambers, the bill would be transmitted to Malacañang for the President’s signature. The President is expected to sign the measure this week. Malacañang welcomed yesterday the Senate’s approval to postpone the elections in the ARMM, saying that systemic reforms are underway.
“The administration welcomes the decision of the Senate to support the postponement of the ARMM elections. The Senate vote for the passage of Senate Bill (SB) No. 2756 is a great step toward systemic reform in the region,” Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said in a statement Tuesday.
Although a bit happy with the decision of the Senate to postpone the (ARMM) polls, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) is not feeling relaxed just yet.
Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes said they can’t relax just yet because they still have to wait for the actions of the bicameral conference, the President and the Supreme Court (SC).
“Not slow down anymore but to hold all preparations now awaiting for the action of the bicam and the signature of the President. And then we have to consider that after the President signs the bill into law, we expect actions coming from those who disagree with the postponement going up to the Supreme Court,” he said in a press briefing.
“In fact, our knowledge is there is already a pending petition in the SC but we expect others to file and we expect the SC to act on it this coming Tuesday,” added Brillantes.
He said if by Tuesday, the SC comes out with any kind of resolution saying that the Comelec has to proceed, then the poll body would have to start all the preparations for manual elections by June 15. If not, Brillantes said, the Comelec has to inform the SC that it would not be able to make it on August 8.
“We’ll just have to ask them to maybe you should postpone it a little like September or October because we will not be able to do it anymore… Physically it will be very difficult for us to move even in a manual elections come August 8, if we don’t start by June 15,” he said.
Comelec Commissioner Elias Yusoph, meantime, revealed that the majority of the people in the ARMM is for the postponement of the elections.
“Our place is a unique place. In the last barangay elections, in Lanao del Sur alone there are 160 barangays that failed so if we will have a manual elections, I think we expect another failure of elections since we will revert to manual elections since manual elections is disadvantageous to ARMM. So we want automated elections,” he said.
On the other hand, Mindanao prelates expressed dismay Tuesday over the Senate decision. Basilan Bishop Martin Jumoad said he was sad because the people in Mindanao were not given the opportunity to choose their own leaders.
“I feel sad because again the imperial Manila is the one making decision for Mindanao. The law is not respected and we here in Mindanao are not given the opportunity to choose our own leaders,” he said.
“If President Aquino wants credible elections and he wants it to be synchronized with the elections in 2013, the more Comelec cannot have the focus. National and local elections are more bloody plus ARMM making it more complicated. We want elections and not imposition of leaders,” added Jumoad.
Cotabato Auxiliary Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo, for his part, said while he respects the decision of the Senate, he is convinced that those opposed to the ARMM postponement would protest it.
“We respect Senate on ARMM election postponement but many will not be happy about it. I think the protest on that decision will continue. The principle of autonomy is violated with that vote,” he said.