By Christina Mendez | The Philippine Star
MANILA, Philippines - Pro-administration Sen. Franklin Drilon will try to bring to a vote today the controversial measure that calls for the postponement of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) polls in August.
On the eve of the projected vote, his colleagues Juan Miguel Zubiri and Francis Escudero warned of possible questions on the constitutionality of the measure.
Zubiri and Escudero yesterday said the issue will likely be brought to the Supreme Court (SC) as they also pointed out the possible unconstitutionality of the Palace’s plan to appoint officers-in-charge at the ARMM since the terms of elective officials would end in August.
Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., chairman of the Senate committee on local government, echoed the same sentiment.
“In all likelihood, the ARMM bill will be voted on by Monday. I would not be surprised if this happens in the evening. I have no illusions about the persuasive powers of the Palace and they don’t make a secret of their efforts in convincing other senators to see things their way,” Marcos said in his Twitter account.
“Assuming the Senate passes the bill, it still would not signal ‘the fat lady to sing’ as it will still have to wait adjudication of the Supreme Court,” Marcos added.
Escudero and Zubiri cited a provision in the ARMM Act which says that officials “should be elective and representative” of the people.
Zubiri also said that the holding of an election distinct from the synchronized national and local elections is part of the “autonomous nature or character” of ARMM.
Zubiri rejected Drilon’s argument that the ARMM election done every three years in August is unconstitutional because it deviates from the constitutional provision that mandates synchronized elections.
Drilon said he will ask his colleagues to vote for the measure before the session adjourns sine die on Wednesday.
He hinted that voting will be done today to deal with the matter once and for all.
Drilon, one of President Aquino’s allies in the Liberal Party, said the measure should be acted upon immediately because the Chief Executive has certified it as urgent.
Zubiri also rejected the statement of Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairman Sixto Brillantes that in case the ARMM elections push through, it will be done manually due to lack of time for the necessary preparations.
“Personally, I feel that this is being sabotaged. There is a group that wants to delay the ARMM elections to provide an excuse to have the elections manually,” Zubiri said over dzBB radio.
“We want automated elections so that it will not be manipulated by the political warlords,” he said.
Apart from Zubiri and Escudero, Senators Loren Legarda, Joker Arroyo, Alan Peter Cayetano and Ramon Revilla Jr. have manifested intention to interpellate Drilon during plenary session today about the issue.
About eight to nine senators are said to be voting against the measure while a majority of them support Drilon’s move.
Zubiri lamented that many of his colleagues who were openly against the postponement of the polls a few months ago have changed their minds, reportedly because of massive pressure coming from the Aquino administration.
Asked if the release of pork barrel is being used as leverage in exchange for the lawmakers’ support for the postponement of the elections, Zubiri neither confirmed nor denied this but said that horse trading is “part of the legislative mill.”
“So far, for the record, I have no funds for 2011 and it’s been six months,” Zubiri said.
“I cannot confirm nor deny, but I tell you now that I still don’t have any funding. But I hope they are not resorting to that, they won’t use the pork barrel,” the senator added.
But in the same dzBB interview, Drilon debunked insinuations that some of his colleagues have shifted their stand in exchange for the release of pork barrel.
“I think that is insulting to the senators. Let us discuss the issue based on merits,” Drilon said.
House supports Senate
Even the House of Representatives has supported the Senate in asking the SC to dismiss a petition of a Maguindanao-based group seeking to stop the proposed postponement of elections in the ARMM to 2013.
In a 25-page comment filed last week, the lower chamber of Congress argued that it was premature for Michael Abas Kida of the Maguindanao Federation of Autonomous Irrigators Inc. to question Senate Bill 2756 and House Bill 4146, which intends to synchronize the ARMM polls with the midterm national elections in 2013.
The House legal affairs department argued that HB 4146 has not yet been enacted into law and therefore not yet ripe for judicial review.
“Whatever issues or arguments that petitioners may put forward against House Bill No. 4146 at this time would therefore remain hypothetical. And any constitutional challenge Head head head that petitioners may hurl against House Bill No. 4146 before it becomes a law therefore must fail for being premature,” the House said.
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.”
ARMM polls constitutional
Election lawyer Romulo Macalintal, for his part, said yesterday that the holding of the ARMM polls on Aug. 8 is “constitutional.”
In a text message, Macalintal said that the ARMM polls are “not covered by the law providing for synchronized elections,” contrary to the claims of some senators.
“Section 2 of Republic Act 7166 or the Synchronized Election Law clearly provides that the synchronized elections refer only to the election of president, vice president, 24 senators, members of the House of Representatives and all elective provincial, city, and municipal officials elected in the 1992 synchronized polls,” he added.
The law, he maintained, does not include any of the ARMM elections.
“This is so because synchronized polls are covered by the transitory provisions of the 1987 Constitution which, on its adoption, the ARMM was not yet created,” Macalintal said.