ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews/15 March) — Last Sunday, the House of Representatives’ Committees on Electoral Reforms and Suffrage as well as Muslim Affairs conducted a public hearing in Zamboanga City on H.B. 4146, which seeks to postpone the regional elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao from August, this year and synchronize it instead with the national elections in 2013. Once adopted into law, it will also authorize President Aquino to appoint a caretaker government to administer the region during the two-year interim period.
Postponing the election and imposing a new set of political leaders in ARMM will invite or inflame some more the long-held gripe of Mindanao’s Muslims about a “Manila imperialism” and interference in their affairs, particularly self-governance. It will strike at the basic principle behind the creation of ARMM more than 20 years ago, which is self-determination for the three to four million Muslim natives living in the conflict-ridden, war-torn region.
The congressmen/women who argued in favor of postponement during the public hearing unfailingly referred to President Aquino’s expressed desire to introduce reforms in ARMM through his appointees. His appointees, though, will not possess the kind of mandate and legitimacy earned from being voted into office; and neither can the President lend, pass on his huge personal mandate won in last May’s election to his ARMM-bound knights in shining armor.
In a region known for deep divisions along tribal and clan lines, Pnoy’s reform project (or gamble), concocted in the inner chambers of Malacanang, is bound to fail to get enough popular support to succeed in two years. It may, in fact, backfire and worsen old and new conflicts there, to the detriment of the wider peace of Mindanao. It would give Commander Kato another reason to tell his fellow MILFs: I told you so.
There is no question that serious and urgent reforms are needed in ARMM to make this unique system of autonomy eventually deliver. During its existence, everything in the region – from poverty, criminality, insurgency, corruption, political patronage and monopoly, illiteracy, and cultural decay – all but worsened, and continues to do so.
The other argument given for the postponement is to save P2-billion that an ARMM election this year would cost the government. It should not be stingy towards this already poorest, least-developed region of the country.
The hallmark of a democratic system is the conduct of regular, honest elections by the people so they can remove from office incumbents who failed them in favor of those who promise to do better. That’s what Muslims in Mindanao aspire (and now sweeping across other Muslim societies abroad like a political tsunami) to exercise through their ARMM elections. Democracy is a kind of continuing education in good and self-governance, especially for ethnic minorities hard-bound by their customs and traditions and struggling to cope with the requirements of modernization.
Instead of postponing, the President can submit his bright ideas of how to reform the ARMM in the form of a referendum along with the ARMM elections this August. The Bangsamoro people need that kind of political capital buildup to find and implement a lasting solution to their war in Mindanao. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Our Peace is a press statement from the Peace Advocates Zamboanga)