COMMENT: ARMM SITUATION: False Assumptions

1st of a series

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/3 August) – Reforming the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao is among the priority programs of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III. He said so in his State of the Nation Address last July 25. Following is his statement in full [We quote the English version]:

“Let us turn our attention to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. The politics there have been dominated by horse-trading and transactional politics. During national elections, whoever is in power in ARMM is free to manipulate the electoral machinery in his region, ensuring that non-allies do not get votes. That Mayor or Governor then demands payments for his services come the ARMM election and it is the administration’s turn to manipulate the electoral machinery to secure the win of their candidates. 

 “According to the Commission on Audit, in the office of the regional governor of ARMM, eighty percent of the funds disbursed were for cash advances that cannot be justified. If those funds had not gone to waste, a child could have gone to school. Instead, we built ghost bridges to reach ghost schools where only ghost teachers went to work.     

 “We want ARMM to experience the benefits of good governance. And so, the solution: Synchronization [of election] – candidates in ARMM will run at the same time as candidates in other parts of the country. There would be less opportunity for them to employ command votes for political patrons. The result would be fairer elections. Thank you to Congress for passing the law synchronizing the ARMM [elections] with the national elections. 

 

“And why do we need to postpone the elections? Because in their desire to return or retain power, many are prepared to engage in corrupt practices just to win again. Imagine if we had listened to the critics, and allowed the election to proceed under these circumstances. We would have perpetuated the endless cycle of electoral fraud and official abuse that has led ARMM to become one of the poorest regions in the country.”

 

Fallacies

 Reforms in ARMM are as imperative as the extraction of a bad tooth. However, President Aquino III and his wise men are starting it on the wrong foot – on fallacies:

First fallacy: “Horse-trading and transactional politics” is the popular brand of elections in the Philippines. But how it has been done in ARMM as described by the President in his SONA is grossly inaccurate.

Second fallacy: Synchronization of ARMM and national elections would bring “benefits of good governance to ARMM” for it would lessen the opportunity for ARMM leaders “to employ command votes for political patrons”.

Third fallacy: Synchronization of elections would end the “cycle of electoral fraud and official abuse that has led ARMM to become one of the poorest regions in the country”.

The President and his advisers are assuming that with the synchronization of ARMM and national elections in 2013, all the election demons in ARMM will go away forever. That is the great fallacy – they are ignoring long prevailing realities and facts unchanged from the past until the last national election.

 On Fallacy No. 1

 

Of the five ARMM governors, only Zaldy Ampatuan was supported by Malacañang in return for local support – not regional – for the sitting president and party. In fact, in the 2004 presidential election, Arroyo included ARMM Gov. Parouk Hussin in her senatorial slate in order to get the ARMM votes. Hussin failed to deliver the expected landslide. It was the Ampatuans that gave Arroyo the Maguindanao command votes.

For those Maguindanao votes, Arroyo junked Hussin while anointing Zaldy in the 2005 ARMM election. She handpicked him again in 2008 presumably in return for the 12-0 vote of Maguindanao for Arroyo’s senatorial slate in the 2007 election. In the past ARMM elections, winning candidates Zacaria Candao, Lininding Pangandaman, Nur Misuari and Hussin were chosen by Malacañang as ruling party candidates not for the votes they had delivered for the President in previous elections.

There is no “horse trading” or “transactional politics” in ARMM as generally practiced in Philippine elections. In the national elections of 2004 and 2007, the Ampatuans could manipulate only the Maguindanao votes – not the ARMM votes – for Arroyo and her coalition ticket. The Arroyo administration did not “manipulate the electoral machinery” to make the Ampatuans win; the Ampatuans did. In ARMM, no ruling datu or sultan can command the votes of rival ruling datus or sultans.

 

On Fallacy No. 2

 

ARMM is composed of the five predominantly Muslim provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi. “ARMM leaders” refer to datus and sultans and their families – the traditional rulers of their respective domains. “Political patrons” refer to leaders of dominant national political parties – whether in power or in the opposition – that support the traditional Muslim political leaders. By implication, poor governance in ARMM is due to “command votes” resulting in “unfair elections”.

Will synchronization lessen the opportunity for ARMM leaders “to employ command votes for political patrons”? The assumption is bereft of sense and logic. The “command vote” is employed for political patrons in Manila during national elections only – never during ARMM regional elections. The “opportunity” is not lessened. National elections in ARMM have been as dirty if not dirtier than the regional. Will synchronization improve governance in ARMM if as assumed it is the direct effect of election?

 Fallacy No. 3

 

Elections in ARMM, whether regional or national, have always been plagued by multiple registration, flying voters, vote-buying, terrorism, vote-padding, midnight filling of ballots and preparation of election returns, etc. How would synchronization stop “the endless cycle of fraud and official abuse that has led ARMM to become one of the poorest regions in the country”?

 Postponing the August election [or September other petitioners to the Supreme Court contend] will only postpone to 2013 – for 22 months – not end the operation of “the endless cycle of fraud and official abuse”. Are the President and his advisers falling into another big fallacy – that postponing ARMM election to 2013 would rid the national election in ARMM of the patent election frauds, terrorism, etc.?

 

Synchronizing two dirt-laden elections will not result in one clean election. The “many” who are prevented from returning or retaining power by the cancellation of the August election will probably return in the 2013 synchronized election. Wanna bet?

 Primacy of Election

 The fallacies in SONA 2011 do not negate the imperative to reform ARMM and the primacy of election as a means to that end. And synchronization of elections is the key to stronger autonomy in ARMM – not as provided in Republic Act No. 10153.

We will discuss this in our next COMMENT.

As a postscript to this article, SONA 2011 failed to consider the state of election in provinces and municipalities under traditional Muslim rulers long before ARMM was created – indeed long before President Aquino III and his advisers were born. This state had defied change since the Quezon era for various intriguing reasons including political convenience for entrenched national leaders in Malacañang and the Congress.

(“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 [email protected])

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