COMMENT: Synchronization That Will Work

III. What Will Work (Continuation)

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/26 August) – Patronage is a bane – a curse – of Muslim autonomy. It has divided Muslim leaders since Manuel L. Quezon launched Filipinization in the second decade of 1900. With one hand the Philippine Government offers autonomy to the Muslims; with the other, kills it with patronage.

With patronage, Manila has stifled Muslim autonomy – granting requests or “demands” of Muslims as utang na loob (debt of gratitude), never to the full extent that the Muslims would be truly autonomous. Yet, ironies of ironies, the Muslims are despised for their inability to lift themselves out of social and economic quagmire.

RA No. 10153 will strengthen patronage. Should the OICs succeed in 21 months the more that most Muslims would think only Manila can choose the right leaders to solve ARMM problems.  Even if the OICs do not succeed as expected, with synchronization the more that Manila will control ARMM elections – the winning candidates feeling they owe their election to Malacañang  and major national parties.

Eliminate Patronage

Regional and local elections in ARMM should be synchronized and held separately from the Philippine national and local elections – general and midterm. The candidates must run under regional parties without interference whatsoever from the President, other national leaders and major national political parties. Hence, they will owe their election to their regional parties and the majority who elected them.

Presidents and their parties have controlled ARMM elections since the first ARMM election in 1989-90. President Cory Aquino picked Zacaria A. Candao; President Ramos chose Lininding P. Pangandaman and Nur Misuari; President Arroyo anointed Parouk Hussin and Zaldy Ampatuan.

This autonomy of ARMM election from the Philippine general and midterm elections must be specified in a regional law that will complement – not supplant – the Omnibus Election Code or RA 7166. The law may include some other features to make ARMM election suitable to circumstances peculiar to the Muslims – one of the eleven issues raised by Muslim leaders during the ARMM Peace Summit last year. [We will discuss more of this later.]

This will eliminate patronage; Muslims can elect leaders who will not look up to Manila for their utang na loob but who will attend to the problems of the Muslims according to their program of government that the majority have endorsed in electing them.

Will this not backfire – with Manila and national leaders diminishing the assistance that ARMM leaders need for their program of government? Should the likelihood happen, it will unmask the lack of sincerity of Manila in granting autonomy to the Muslims.

Clean Election

One of the ends President Aquino III would like to achieve with RA No. 10153 is clean ARMM election and to end the control of it by dominant ruling clans. Earlier [in “More Realities: Clean Elections”], we explained that patronage and the “wai datu” culture of Muslims are among the causes of fraudulent ARMM election – the second abetting the first; and that synchronizing the dirty ARMM election with the equally dirty national and local elections will not result in clean ARMM election.

A synchronized regional and local election in ARMM held separately from the Philippine national and local elections is what will achieve that end if the Commission on Elections and the National Government would really want to. Without patronage, the motive of the dominant ruling clans to pad the voter lists, control the voting and manipulate the election reports will be significantly diminished.

 To complement “diminished motive” – expected as a natural effect of this synchronization – voter lists must be totally voided followed by new general registration; rigid control must be exercised on registration and election days – mobilizing all available election personnel and civilian watchdogs; and, if necessary, impose full military control before, on and after the day of election.

Limited to ARMM, these imperatives necessary to clean election can be easily done, especially on the first election.  With the dismantling of private armies and effective, continuing voters’ education program, clean ARMM elections will gradually develop as consequence of changing social attitude akin to “self-control”.

Regional Law

Synchronization of regional and local elections in ARMM should be provided in a regional law enacted by the Regional Legislative Assembly. While as earlier stated, this will only complement – not supplant – the Omnibus Election Code, has the RLA the power to enact it?

Without any explicit provisions, the power of RLA to enact this can only be presumed. (1) It may fall under Section 20(9) [providing: “Such other matters as may be authorized by law for the promotion of the general welfare of the people of the region.”], Article X of the 1987 Constitution. (2) It may be within Section 3, Article IV of RA No. 9054 providing 15 exceptions on the legislative power of RLA among which is “(k) National elections”.  What is not prohibited may be allowed.

Consistent with “regional autonomy” in its full essence, ARMM should exercise power over its election since election is essential to autonomy. For Congress to postpone – or as in the case of RA No. 10153 to change the manner of and cancel – ARMM elections for political exigencies, like shuffling barangay elections, is to trivialize regional autonomy.

Incidentally, the No. 2 among the eleven issues presented during the September 2010 ARMM Peace Summit was “Electoral system not suitable to ARMM situation”. This specified two complaints: (1) Absence of suitable ARMM Electoral System or Election Code; (2) national interference on selection of ARMM candidates. The recommended solution: Passage of ARMM regional election law or election code.

Incidentally, too, the eleven issues in that Summit may be grouped into: (1) leadership crisis; (2) ARMM election; (3) poor economy; (4) poor social services; and, (5) the implementation of autonomy in the letter and spirit of the 1996 FPA.

Does this mean that the ARMM leaders behind the ARMM Peace Summit last year had in mind the synchronization that will work – that of the regional and local elections held separately from the Philippine national and local elections?

We will discuss this in another Series pertaining to RA No. 10153 and the ARMM Peace Summit.

(“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])