GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/24 February) — Saying there are no compelling reasons to postpone the elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), three Mindanao governors said they are “alarmed by the planned postponement”, adding the recommendation to defer the election did not go through a process of consultation.
Sarangani Gov. Miguel Rene Dominguez said the rights of ARMM residents to participate in the electoral exercise should not be held hostage by any problem in local governance.
Mindanao Development Authority chair Lualhati Antonino earlier said she recommended the postponement of the ARMM elections to give President Benigno Aquino III “enough space to solve the region’s problems.”
She said “among the systems” that needed to be fixed in the ARMM are auditing, budgeting, and human resource concerns.
But Dominguez said such problems should not in a way prevent the holding of elections scheduled in August.
Dominguez on Wednesday held meetings with Cotabato Gov. Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza and Sultan Kudarat Gov. Teng Mangudadatu.
The Sarangani governor said even the ongoing peace talks between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) should not be reason enough to defer the elections.
Peace talks between the government and the MILF formally resumed on February 9 and 10 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Mangudadatu said the Aquino administration cannot afford to alienate residents from the national government by appointing local officials in the ARMM.
He also feared that postponing the ARMM elections might cause political fallout that could spill into their provinces.
Sultan Kudarat and Cotabato share boundaries with Maguindanao.
The governor’s father, former congressman Pax Mangudadatu, is eyeing the ARMM gubernatorial post.
The governor of Maguindanao is Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu whose wife and two sisters were among the victims of the Ampatuan Massacre in November 2009.
The principal suspect in the killings is former Datu Unsay mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. whose brother Zaldy was twice elected ARMM governor.
Both Andal Jr and Zaldy are now detained in connection with the killings, along with their father Andal Sr, another brother and a cousin.
At least 196 have been charged for the killings but only 89 are now in police custody, most of them police officers and government militiamen.
The ARMM is composed of the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and Basilan.
Ansaruddin Alonto-Adiong became acting ARMM governor in December 2009 after then governor Zaldy Ampatuan was suspended following his arrest in connection with Ampatuan massacre which left 58 people dead, 32 of them journalists and media workers.
Newly appointed Commission on Elections chair Sixto Brillantes however said only the Congress may postpone the elections.
Brillantes added that should Congress decides to postpone the elections it should also include in the law a provision for the current ARMM governor to hold office in a holdover capacity or as officer in charge. But he assured the Comelec is already prepared if the elections push through.
[Teng] Mangudadatu however expressed fears that if Congress decides to postpone the elections, it might also insert amendments to Republic Act 9054, the law creating the autonomous region. (Edwin G. Espejo/MindaNews contributor)