GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/17 June) – Twenty-two years after President Corazon C. Aquino set the principle of free choice in establishing autonomy in Muslim Mindanao through election – invoking the Constitution – her son, President Benigno Simeon Aquino III, reversed her by cancelling the August election in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and, in place of elected officials, appointing officers-in-charge for 22 months.
President Aquino, the mother, stated and restated the principle in her speech in Cotabato City on October 28, 1989 when she came to urge the people to participate broadly in the November 19 plebiscite to ratify R.A. 6734, the Organic Law for the ARMM that she signed on August 1, 1989.
She said: “Your free and unhampered participation in the plebiscite must serve to demonstrate that the people of Mindanao can indeed make the difficult decision without dictation from Manila or from anywhere else.”
She reiterated this as a government policy: “The process this government has taken in implementing this [constitutional] directive has sought always to respect the will of the people.”
She made it clear that she “did not impose [her] preferences on the Regional Consultative Commission” when she convened it to draft the autonomy law. And she “will not impose them on the people this coming plebiscite”, emphasizing that “Those who have to live with the outcome of the plebiscite must make their own decisions.”
When she signed the Organic Act, she said, she maintained that “against those who insist that we dictate the decision on our people, we once again affirm the principle ordained in our Constitution, that the citizens must exercise their right of free choice on a fundamental change in political arrangements”. Directly referring to autonomy, she said “we must defend this principle as the one most consistent with the constitutional bias toward local autonomy and individual freedom”.
Stating that “the Constitution explicitly provides for regional autonomy in Mindanao”, she stressed that “the Constitution also imposes upon the people the power and the responsibility to decide whether to accept the organic law proposed by Congress”.
The provisions in RA 6734 on ancestral domain would not make all happy. However, she said: “The task for the electorate is to determine, whether on balance, the advantages offered by the law outweigh the perceived costs. But this judgment is best done not by the people of Manila but by the people of Mindanao who will enjoy the benefits and bear the burdens of autonomy.”
To clinch her speech: “The issue of autonomy in Mindanao is too important to be treated along partisan, political lines. The people must make their voices heard and their views known.”
Following is the speech in full as published in the Cotabato City weekly, The Mindanao Cross of November 4, 1989. We supplied the title and the emphases.
A Chance to Help Shape the Future
Three weeks from today, you will have a chance to shape the future for yourselves for, your children and your grand children. On November 19, you will decide whether your city or your province should belong to an autonomous region under the terms provided for in the Organic Law formulated by Congress.
The Constitution has entrusted to you the right to participate in a plebiscite on a fundamental change in political arrangements. This precious right now becomes your personal responsibility. I urge you to embrace that responsibility and to exercise that right. This is a first and fundamental step towards implementing the constitutional mandate for regional autonomy. Your free and unhampered participation in the plebiscite must serve to demonstrate that the people of Mindanao can indeed make the difficult decisions without dictation from Manila or from anywhere else.
The position I have taken on the plebiscite has provoked much criticism. There has been misunderstanding in good faith. But there has also been much misinterpretation motivated by malice. It is imperative, therefore, that I set the record straight. And it is appropriate that I should do so here in Cotabato City where we formally started the journey towards autonomy with the convening of the Regional Consultative Commission.
My decision to take a posture of “active neutrality,” campaigning only for the broad popular participation in the plebiscite, was not lightly or casually made. This decision is completely consistent with all the steps in compliance with the constitutional directive to establish a regional autonomous government in Mindanao. The process this government has taken in implementing this directive has sought always to respect the will of the people.
I did not impose my preferences on the Regional Consultative Commission. I will not impose them on the people this coming plebiscite. Those who have to live with the outcome of the plebiscite must make their own decisions.
As early as July, I have conveyed my position in clear and categorical terms to the leadership of the House of Representatives and the Senate. I reaffirmed the position when I signed the Act Providing for the Organic Act [for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao] into law in August. On that occasion I maintained that “against those who insist that we dictate the decision on our people, we once again affirm the principle, ordained in our Constitution, that the citizens must exercise their right of free choice on a fundamental change in political arrangements.” Today, I say again that “we must defend this principle as the one most consistent with the constitutional bias towards local autonomy and individual freedom.”
But my presence here today must dispel any mistaken impression that my active neutrality means indifference. I am not neutral about autonomy. My record will show my clear and consistent commitment to the principle of regional autonomy.
I am not neutral about the plebiscite. I have directed the entire government to support the information drive for the plebiscite and campaign for broadest participation of the people in the voting on November 19. I am not neutral about the Constitution. And the Constitution explicitly provides for regional autonomy in Mindanao. But the Constitution also imposes upon the people the power and the responsibility to decide whether or not to accept the organic law proposed by Congress.
My careful and considered decision to leave the issue of the organic law to the people’s judgment recognizes and respects the diversity of Mindanao. Inevitably, different sectors of the population will have different perspectives on any organic law. No single piece of legislation can possibly satisfy everyone to the same degree.
The grant of greater fiscal autonomy to the region should please everyone. But the provisions on ancestral domain will leave one or another group unhappy. The task for the electorate is to determine, whether on balance, the advantages offered by the law outweigh the perceived costs. But this judgment is best done not by the people of Manila but by the people of Mindanao who will enjoy the benefits and bear the burdens of autonomy.
I also want to allay the apprehensions of some regarding the devolution of powers and functions to the Autonomous Government. Both Republic Act 6734 for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and Republic Act 6766 for the Cordillera Autonomous Region provide for a mechanism for the transition and devolution of such powers and function. Within one (1) month of the organization from the Autonomous Government, there shall be organized an Oversight Committee, of which my Executive Secretary is the Chairman, that shall supervise the transfer of such powers and functions vested in it by the Organic Act, including the appropriations, properties, assets and liabilities, and such personnel as may be necessary, of the offices and agencies. Within six (6) months after its organization, the Oversight Committee shall submit its report and recommendations to me for my appropriate action. With the Oversight Committee, you can rest assured that the transition into the Regional Government will be carried out smoothly and judiciously.
My duty, as President, is to ensure, first of all, that the people of Mindanao obtain sufficient information to permit them to assess the merits or demerits of the law. Second, that the electorate enjoy free and unhampered access to the polls. And, third, that the ballots the voters cast are quickly and correctly counted. All these, the government, to the best of its ability, will do.
I will not venture to predict what the outcome of the plebiscite will be. But together, you and I must resolve that the process of the plebiscite is fair and impartial and transparent enough to be perceived as such.
The issue of autonomy in Mindanao is too important to be treated along partisan, political lines. The people must make their voices heard and their views known.
I ask that on November 19, the people of the autonomous region participate in the plebiscite and once again offer to the world and example of people power in action. [End].
Malacañang now may argue that President Aquino, the mother, was concerned with the plebiscite while President Aquino, the son, is concerned with reforming the ARMM by suspending the August election and subsequently appointing OICs. Ergo, President Aquino, the son, is not reversing President Aquino the mother.
President Aquino’s, the son, motive is not the issue. It is that Manila is dictating or imposing its will on the Moros. Whether election or plebiscite the core principle involved is free will of the people. The Mother respected that free will as mandated by the Constitution; the Son is taking it for granted it doesn’t matter in the name of reform.
Can reforms not be done with the regional officials elected by the people? Malacañang thinks not because election in the ARMM is one of the imperative reforms needed. If the problem is the peoples’ then let them correct their mistake by doing. Teach them to fish; don’t just give them fish.
Let’s discuss more about the issue of reform in the ARMM in succeeding comments. The failures of the ARMM calling for the suspension of the election to allow OICs to do the reform are more of Manila’s than of ARMM’s. It’s a case of the father punishing the son for the father’s own faults.
(“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.” He was conferred the 1st Agong Awards for Journalism by the Mindanao Media Forum in November 2010. You may e-mail your comments to [email protected])