Supporters and protesters of ARMM poll postponement say their piece in public hearings

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/13 March) – Supporters and protesters of the proposed postponement of the August 8 elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) gathered at the public hearings in the cities of Cotabato, Marawi and Zamboanga, to say their piece.

The hearings were conducted by the House Committees on Muslim Affairs and Electoral Reforms and Suffrage in Cotabato City on Thursday, Marawi City on Saturday and Zamboanga City on Sunday.

Opponents of postponement said re-scheduling the August 8, 2011 polls to May 2013 and appointing officers in charge to administer ARMM is unconstitutional and immoral.

House bill 4146, sponsored by Maguindanao 1st district Rep. Bai Sandra Sema and several other lawmakers, seeks to postpone the August 8 election to May 2013 simultaneous with midterm elections purportedly to allow for reforms to set in and to allow the President to appoint OICs.

But Bai Ali Endaila, along with members of  Healing Democracy, greeted with protests Thursday’s consultation at the Shariff Kabunsuan Complex here.

“Postponing the elections would portray the President as a dictator rather than a progeny of icons of democracy. It is a big insult to what the Bangsamoro struggle has fought before”, she said.

Endaila stressed that the ARMM is the legacy of the President’s mother, the late President Corazon C. Aquino, and that its creation was a result of the democratic process in the first post-martial law Congress which was ratified in a plebiscite.

The Mindanao Alliance for Peace (MAP) and the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society(CBCS).on the other hand, expressed their support for HB 4146.

“We support House Bill 4146 to give time to President P-Noy in laying down the mechanisms to facilitate the incorporation of possible outcome of the negotiations both by the GPH-MNLF and GPH-MILF,  Nasser Kasan, one of the convenors of MAP, said.

Fr. Eliseo Mercardo Jr., executive director of the Institute of Autonomy and Governance, has questioned that premise, saying there is no guarantee that the government and MILF could reach any final peace agreement in two years.

Suara Bangsamoro’s Amirah Lidasan said the grant of autonomy to Muslim Filipinos came in response initially to the armed struggle for self-determination by the  Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) which was formed after the President’s father, Senator Benigno Aquino exposed the 1968 Jabidah Massacre before the Senate.

She said “colluding” with Congress on an undemocratic proposition to appoint OICs in ARMM is “illogical, immoral and illegal” and reminiscent of strongman President Ferdinand Marcos’ “rubber stamp” legislature.

The protesters also denounced alleged pressures from the national government on local officials to “toe the line” of the President in having the bill enacted by Congress.

Tawi-Tawi Vice Governor Ruby Sahali said that upon consultation with their constituents, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan passed a resolution on Thursday opposing the deferment of the ARMM polls and the appointment of OICs, citing moral and legal foundations.

She also took exception to the statement in Marawi City of  Local Governments Secretary Jessie Robredo that majority of the ARMM’s provincial leaders, including her father, Tawi-Tawi Gov. Sadikul Sahali, are for the postponement.

“Iniipit ni Robredo ang Tatay ko (Robredo is pressuring my father,” Sahali told a Cotabato City-based reporter.

Robredo denied reports of any pressure from Malacanang.

Maguindanao governor Esmael Mangudadatu and Sulu governor Sakur Tan are supporting the passage of HB 4146.

GMA News online reported that the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) wants the ARMM election to push through as scheduled on August 8.

Former Ambassador Henrietta de Villa, PPCRV chair, said they have been receiving feedback from their 16 partners in the ARMM that they want the elections to push through.

ARMM Executive Secretary Naguib Sinarimbo said he is grateful to President Aquino and Congress to give way to the clamor for all stakeholders to express their sentiments for or against the issues but noted that “dream reforms for the region cannot be attained in a shortcut and unconstitutional manner.”

Roonie Sinsuat, speaker of the ARMM’s Regional Legislative Assembly (RLA), said the postponement violates RA 9054 which was ratified in a plebiscite in 2001.

Last Saturday, thousands of Maranao residents against postponement flocked to the provincial Capitol gymnasium for the second round of the House Committees’ public hearings.

“Presidential appointment is worse than anointment,” said one of their streamers.

Over a dozen speakers said their piece about the proposed law, but majority of those belonging to religious, business and academic sectors expressed their opposition, citing legal and moral grounds.

In his welcome address, Lanao del Sur Gov. Mamintal Adiong Jr. said that while an overwhelming majority of his constituents are behind the administration’s reform measures, RA 9054 “renders House Bill 4146 unconstitutional.”

Adiong’s brother, Ansaruddin, was elected ARMM vice governor in the 2008 elections. He assumed the gubernatorial post when Datu Zaldy Ampatuan was arrested and detained in December 2009, in connection with the November 23, 2009 massacre of 58 persons, 32 of them from the media,

Robredo, however, stressed government would delay the ARMM elections by 20 months and  synchronize it with the May 2013 polls and install OICs for the period to be able to enhance autonomous governance, install socio-political reforms and total eradication of still existing warlords.

He said the 20-month period is “short” but the government would try hard to fix the problems in the ARMM system by installing OICs who are “non-politicians” and will reportedly be disqualified to run for an elective post in May 2013.

Those who favor postponement in Lanao include representatives from the Islamic Movement for Electoral Reforms and Good Governance (IMERGG) chaired by Hadji Abdullah Dalidig, who has been critical against unabated vote-buying and other fraud during elections.

The consultation was presided by Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga, chair of the House committee on  electoral reforms and suffrage,  was also attended by Justice Secretary Leila De Lima, who said postponing the election and appointing OICs in the ARMM have legal basis and that extending the term of sitting officials on holdover capacity is illegal.

But lawyers argued that if extending elective terms on holdover capacity is illegal, then former presidents Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo should be held liable for allowing the extended terms of office of then ARMM Governors Lininding Pangandaman, Nur Misuari and Parouk Hussin.

President Aquino heeded the recommendation made by the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council on the conduct of public hearings and met with Muslim lawmakers and the chairs of the two House committees in Malacañang. (Ferdinandh Cabrera/MindaNews)