COMMENT: Behind the Eleven Issues (3) By Patricio P. Diaz

3rd of a series

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (October 4) – Discussed in the last Comment was Issue No. 1, on “Leadership Crisis”, and its four causes. Issue No. 2, on “Electoral System” is discussed below.

ARMM Election

“Electoral System is not suitable to ARMM situation” is too vague an issue to address a defective feature of autonomy in the ARMM. What do the leaders of the Summit really want? What does “situation” mean? What system is “suitable”?

The complaints: (1) Absence of suitable ARMM Electoral System or Election Code; and, (2) National interference on selection of ARMM candidates. The lone recommended solution: Passage of ARMM regional election law or election code.

On Complaint No. 1: There have been elections in the ARMM but there is no “electoral system” to speak of properly.  Like the barangay election, the dates of ARMM election have been changed by Congress to suit political exigencies.

R.A. 6734 designated noon of March 31 following the day of the election as the beginning of the terms of the elective officials.  The first election was held on February 17, 1990, the elective officials assuming office on March 31. But the next election was held on March 25, 1993 and the elective officials assumed office on April 2 following. To suit the signing of the 1996 FPA and the running of Nur Misuari for governor unopposed, Congress reset the 1996 election to September 2.

R.A. 9054 designated noon of September 30 following the day of the election as the beginning of the terms of the elective officials. However, the amended Organic Act was ratified on August 14, 2001; the officials elected on November 26, 2001 assumed office immediately, not waiting for September 30, 2002. Only the officials elected in the elections of August 2005 and 2008 assumed office on the September 30 following each of the elections.

And now the ARMM leadership is supporting the proposal of DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo to postpone to an unset date the 2011 ARMM election. ARMM Executive Secretary Naguib Sinarimbo cited reasons of their own favoring the postponement (Sun.Star Davao, August 22:
Resetting of ARMM election mulled; Manila Bulletin, September 29: Move to Reset ARMM Polls Backed).

What an “electoral system”! But the ARMM leaders have posed no objections since the second election in 1993.  In fact, the proposed postponement of the 2011 election is being supported.  This “system must” be suitable to the “ARMM situation”. Yet, they made an issue of it in the Summit.  To repeat: Do they know what they want?

On Complaint No. 2: This is gross mental dishonesty. All gubernatorial candidates seek the endorsement of the President and the party in power together with members of their slates. Then those not chosen cry, “Interference from Manila!”

Except for those who run as independent, all candidates are affiliated with national political parties. National interference in the selection of candidates is the inevitable consequence. For political reason, the President picks the gubernatorial candidate who has given – or who can give — him or her and party the landslide vote during the national election.

If the ARMM leaders really don’t want Manila or the President to interfere in the selection of candidates for the ARMM election, they should form strong regional parties as an essential component of political autonomy. Are they willing to do that?

On the recommended solution: Passage of an ARMM regional law creating an election code for the ARMM electoral system “suited to the circumstances pertaining to ARMM as an autonomous region” is long overdue. As stated above, this is essential to regional political
autonomy.

[Interestingly, among the reasons of the ARMM leadership in supporting the proposed postponement of the ARMM 2011 election, according to Sinarimbo, is to give time for “enacting a regional election code” — with the next ARMM election to be synchronized with the 2013 national elections. That will automatically extend the terms of the present ARMM elective officials by two years.]

But election is not among the powers devolved to the ARMM. Unless covered by Section 14 of Article III on Guiding Principles and Policies, enacting a regional election code is not provided in R.A. 9054.  Does the Regional Legislative Assembly now have the courage to test unchartered waters since this will usurp the powers of the Commission on Election and amend R.A. 9054?

If RLA enacts such regional law, it has to be submitted to Congress as a proposal for approval [See: Section 2 of Article XVII on Amendments or Revisions of R.A. 9054].

Even if approved by Congress, an ARMM Election Code will not be a guaranteed solution to Issue No. 2 unless (1) it provides for the creation of regional political parties; (2) prohibits the
participation of national political parties in ARMM elections; and, (3) prohibits national government officials, including the President, from interfering in ARMM elections.

[NOTE: However, by suggesting that the next ARMM election be synchronized with the 2013 national elections, the present ARMM leadership does not see a separate ARMM election including its local government units as essential to political autonomy. If by 2013, an
ARMM Election Code has been passed, with the synchronization there will be two election codes in operation in the ARMM.]

As a complement to the solution of Issue No. 1, the local government units in ARMM should be within the electoral system of the Region — the local government officials elected under the ARMM Election Code together with the regional officials. This is most essential and conducive to unity of leadership and programs of government.

Isn’t it politically anomalous that while ARMM local government officials are under the jurisdiction of the Regional Governor (1) they are elected in the national elections with their platforms of government incongruous with that the Regional Government and (2) their
terms of office start and end at dates different from those of the regional officials? (Next: Issue No. 3, ff)

(“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Mr. Diaz is the recipient of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Titus Brandsma for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You may e-mail your comments to patpdiaz@mindanews.com)