By Angie M. Rosales | The Daily Tribune
The Senate committee on local government yesterday thumbed down the bill seeking to postpone the Aug. 8 scheduled Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) elections.
But committee chairman, Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, in presenting his panel report, was quick to revive it, citing the need to debate on the matter rather than putting it in the upper chamber’s archives.
“In our rules, an adverse report is relegated to the archives. But I believe we must not be stifled and let the report to be recalled from archives and debated on floor,” he said in delivering his sponsorship speech.
The 40-page committee report effectively rejected Senate Bill 2756, principally sponsored by Sen. Franklin Drilon and calling for the synchronization of the ARMM polls with the 2013 national and local elections, carried the prevailing sentiments gathered by the panel in public hearings it conducted in Mindanao.
It also asked the Executive to reconsider
the issue of synchronization of the national and local elections with the ARMM elections only after concrete evidence and verifiable indicators of electoral and political reforms in ARMM are attained.
“The proposals before us today are not amendments to our existing law. To set 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,” said Marcos.
Before Marcos presented his committee report, senators held a closed-door session in which they resolved to deliberate on the matter without having to resort to heated arguments.
Marcos joined Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, Senators Antonio Trillanes, Sergio Osmena III, Teofisto “TG” Guingona III and Francis Pangilinan in their motion to recall the bill on the floor, effectively “reviving” the Palace-backed measure.
The neophyte senator said the constitutional issues against the passage of the bill are not for the committee to judge with finality as the same are within the province of the judicial department.
“However, we need to pass upon the issues in an effort to weigh their impact on the lives of our countrymen and the destiny of the ARMM. The constitutional issues strike at the very core of the autonomy of the ARMM which we are all committed to uphold and defend,” he said.
Marcos also asserted in his report that “making the promise of reform in the ARMM conditional and the condition is the surrender of a fundamental right to elect their own leaders is a resounding no from the committee…the promise of reform and the right of suffrage are not inconsistent with each other.”
Drilon did not waste time in sponsoring the measure on the floor, immediately after Sotto moved to transfer the panel report to the special calendar of business.
During the Senate hearing earlier yesterday, the administration officials clearly could not justify their insistence on the postponement of the ARMM bill.
Presidential Adviser Rolando Llamas even made a big slip, saying the the appointed officials for the ARMM would still be able to run for ARMM office, which rang alarm bells with the senators, since the bill of Sen. Drilon says hat these appointive officials will be ineligible to run, while Llamas admitted that they can run for elective offices, once the ARMM polls are synchronized.
Moreover, it was stressed by the Aquino officials that it was not unconstitutional for the president to appoint officials in lieu of the elected ARMM officials, saying that the President has residual powers under the Charter.
Drilom the bill’s sponsor said that the holding of the August 8, 2011 ARMM election is unconstitutional in that the enabling law, RA 9333 provides for desynchronized election, and is not consistent with the constitutional mandate to synchronize the local and national election.
“There is no reason...whether in logic or law, to continue to insist that the ARMM elections should be conducted separately, in view of this Constitutional imperative. The Constitution commands synchronization, and the current proposal merely seeks to ensure compliance with that command.”
But Malacañang is not giving up hope that the Senate will approve the bill seeking the postponement of the scheduled elections in the ARMM even as Senator Marcos thumbed down the measure.
Even as he thumbed it down, he also revived it, saying that he prefers deliberations on the bill.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda in a statement, said: “The Senate has not acted on the bill with finality. Let’s wait for further developments.”
“We are focused right now on the postponement of the ARMM elections and that is what they’re trying to achieve,” said Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Secretary Ramon Carandang, for his part, in a separate interview.
Malacañang by Marcos’ and other senators’ contentions using the support they have generated among ARMM regional governors as an apparent ploy to help the government achieve its reform objectives.
“There are problems there (in the ARMM) that, if not addressed, will lead to the continued instability. So the primary focus of the meeting is get everybody’s opinions, get a consensus going and work toward achieving the reformation in the ARMM,” Aquino said Monday, reiterating that among the reasons he is calling for the postponement of the ARMM elections and its synchronization to the 2013 national elections is to thwart the command votes system which had stung him back in the day when he ran as senator in 2004 under the opposition banner.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court (SC) turned down moves eyeing to halt for Congress from proceeding with its plan to postpone the ARMM polls.
A minute resolution of the Court turned down the petition of lawyer Alex Macalawi of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines-Marawi City chapter seeking issuance of a temporary restraining order enjoining Congress from further proceeding with the proposed legislation.
The tribunal said Macalawi’s suit is premature since the said law have still not yet been passed by Congress.
Macalawi, alleged in his petition filed last April that postponement of the polls would be a “corrupt customary practice”.
The SC ruling however did not rule on the claim of the petitioner that House Bill No. 4146 and Senate Bill No. 2756, which both intend to synchronize the ARMM polls with the mid-term national elections in 2013, violate both the constitution and RA 9333, which amended RA 9054 (Organic Act of ARMM).
Court administrator Midas Marquez said the SC has yet to rule on a similar petition filed by Datu Michael Kida of the Maguindanao Federation of Autonomous Irrigators Assoc.
In his group’s petition, Kida argued that the proposed postponement also “violates the principles of a democratic and republican state mandated by the Constitution, and the right of Muslims in the region to local autonomy.”
They added that the proposed postponement “would deny the voters in ARMM their right to elect their officials for a period of two years, in violation of their right to equal protection of the law, which guarantees the right of all qualified citizens to participate in local government on an equal footing.”