COMMENT: Electoral System and Autonomy

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GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/9 Aug) – According to a July 19 report of MindaNews, one of the several consensus points reached by Government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front peace panels is to let the election in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao proceed as scheduled on May 13, 2013 – quoting its source: “it is still possible to address the concerns of the MILF even with election in 2013.”

 

Apparently, this “consensus” is merely the convergence of two non-issue positions – one, that of Government: the ARMM election will proceed as scheduled if they cannot sign an agreement; the other, of MILF: election is internal matters to Government; MILF will not mind what Government decides to do.

 

This implies that any of these three scenarios may happen: (1) No peace agreement will be signed before May 13, 2013. (2) Even if there is, the election will still proceed. (3) In such an eventuality, Government will do everything possible to address those MILF concerns that must have to do with the conduct of the transitional government.

 

That part of the consensus quoted – it is still possible to address the concerns of the MILF even with election in 2013 – is probably a response to a proposal of Mindanao Peaceweavers (MPW), a report of which MindaNews posted last July 15. MPW urged the Government and MILF peace panels to suspend the election of the ARMM regional officials “to give way to a transition government”. More than the suspension of the elections, the MPW proposal also dwelt on transition mechanisms.

 

The MPW assumed that Government and MILF would be able to forge an agreement and 2013 to 2016 would be the transition period of the new autonomous political entity.

 

Essentiality

 

Both the consensus and the MPW proposal point to this fact: The essentiality of the electoral system to genuine autonomy – particularly to the new autonomous political entity – has been overlooked or just taken for granted.

 

MILF wants a genuine Moro autonomy – a political entity totally outside of the unitary political system; this will never happen under the centralized electoral system. In the same vein, Moro leadership like all other regional and provincial leaderships will never be free from the patronizing influence or control of national leaders – an inescapable fate under the unitary system.

 

Under our existing electoral system, election mechanisms, rules and implementation of laws are centralized in Manila through the Commission on Elections with the President and the Congress controlling funds and determining reforms. The President and other national leaders and their political alliances hold the keys to the election of top local officials. Hence, electoral patronage influences post-election functions of governments in all levels to cement the unitary system.

 

In the ARMM, all the winning gubernatorial candidates were handpicked by the sitting Presidents – Zacaria A. Candao (1990), by President Corazon C. Aquino; Lininding P. Pangandaman (1993) and Nur Misuari (1996), by President Fidel V. Ramos; Parouk Hussin 2001), by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Hussin lost his reelection bid when Arroyo picked Zaldy Ampatuan in 2005. Ampatuan, picked again by Arroyo in 2008, was reelected. Ampatuan’s oath takings were held in Malacañang

 

Past ARMM governors were expected to be meekly loyal to sitting Presidents. Misuari lost grace for grumbling belligerently about insufficiency of funds and for accusing Government of passing R.A. 9054 not according to the 1996 Final Peace Agreement, rejecting it, and opposing the holding of the plebiscite and the subsequent ARMM election under R.A. 9054. Hussin lost grace for failing to deliver for Arroyo the ARMM votes in the 2004 election. The same loyalty is expected of the present OIC governor.

 

The governors, vice governors and regional assemblymen from Aquino to Aquino (mother to son) were never politically autonomous – pointing clearly to the essentiality of the electoral system to autonomy. To emphasize, no Moro autonomy can happen under the Philippine electoral system.

 

To break from the Philippine unitary system, the Moro political entity or autonomy must have an independent electoral system. For instance, GAM (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka) – the rebel organization that won self-government for the province of Aceh in Sumatra, Indonesia – was granted by the Indonesian government the KIP Aceh (the Independent Electoral Commission of Aceh) to administer elections at all levels in Aceh as provided in the Law of the Government of Aceh.

 

The ARMM

 

The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao has no electoral system to properly speak of. The date of election was provided in R.A. 6734, the original Organic Act, and in R.A. 9054 that amended R.A. 6734. But this was repeatedly set aside by Presidents for one reason or another with the Congress obligingly passing laws setting new election dates. To reform the ARMM, President Aquino had the Congress pass R.A 10153 suspending the August 2011 election to be synchronized with the May 2013 national elections.

 

Since the first election in 1989 until the latest in 2008, ARMM elections had only been for the regional government officials. The elections for the local government officials of the provinces under ARMM had been held with the national elections. Elected apart, the regional officials have platforms entirely different from those of the provincial, city and municipal officials. Ideally, programs of government in all levels should be coordinated under one political leadership to address effectively social and economic concerns.

 

Will the synchronization of regional and local elections on May13, 2013 not correct this flaw? Not at all! Mere synchronization of dates does not make a system. All aspects of the ARMM elections will still be under the national electoral system. Patronage of the President and other national leaders will still determine the selection and winning of candidates. Leaders bred under the unitary system will not breed genuine autonomy.

 

In fact R.A. 1053 has divested the ARMM of its only pretense to autonomy – that of having its regional officials elected in an election independent of the national elections. Synchronizing elections at all levels in the ARMM on a date different from that of the national elections would have been a positive step to boost autonomy even if sadly insignificant.

 

The Aceh example beckons. Besides the KIP to independently run the Aceh elections, Aceh has independent regional political parties; independent candidates are allowed to run. Leaders elected under an autonomous electoral system are authentic guardians of autonomy.

 

A Necessity

 

To break from the Philippine unitary system there is a need for the MILF to make the electoral system in the Moro autonomous political entity a major item of the negotiated political settlement. Elections in the Moro autonomous political entity must be under the supervision and control of an independent regional commission on elections which is responsible only to the regional governor and the regional legislature

 

The creation of regional parties as well as the participation of non-party candidates should be provided in the organic law of the Moro autonomous political entity. The conduct of elections and other electoral matters and exercises should be embodied in a regional election code which the regional legislature may revise from time to time.

 

Since in Islam there is no separation of Church and State, Islamic tenets and teachings may be infused into the Moro regional electoral system. Who knows? Certain Moro social traits perceived as roots of election frauds and terrorism may be transformed into tools for free and clean election. This is hard to do under the national electoral system.

 

Briefly, an independent electoral system is indispensable to a political system free of the Philippine unitary system – “as unto the bow the arrow is” (A Song of Hiawatha, by H.W. Longfellow).

 

Postscript

 

That reported consensus to let elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao proceed as scheduled on May 13, 2013 – quoting the source of the report: “it is still possible to address the concerns of the MILF even with election in 2013” – may indicate an independent electoral system for the Moro autonomous political entity is not in the negotiation agenda.

 

Of course, it should be asked: Is the “quote” in the consensus or just the opinion of the source? Who is this source?

 

A question more to the point: What are these “concerns of the MILF” referred to? These may refer to “transition” mechanisms and implementation. MPW proposed “to suspend” the election of ARMM officials “on May 13, 2013 to give way to a transition government”.

 

Government and MILF have not yet discussed the details of “transition”; certainly, MILF has not yet expressed its “concerns” related to the 2013 election. That portion of the “consensus” or opinion of the “source of the report” – whichever be it – appears to be another “song in the dark”.

 

MPW proposed that only the election of regional officials be suspended. That of the officials of ARMM’s component provinces, cities and municipalities will continue. MPW is only concerned with one election in relation to “the transition government” of the “new autonomous political entity” – not with the essentiality of an independent electoral system to the Moro autonomous political entity.

 

(“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards recently honored Mr. Diaz with a “Lifetime Achievement Award” for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You can reach him at patpdiazgsc@yahoo.com.)

 

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