Zubiri: Senate will block postponement of ARMM elections

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/27 March) — The House of Representatives passed House Bill 4146 postponing the August 8 elections in the Autonomous Region in  Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to synchronize it with the May 2013 elections and to allow President Aquino to appoint officers-in-charge but Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, who hails from Bukidnon, said the Senate will block the move as proposed.

Zubiri, however, hinted that they may agree to a postponement but not to the appointment of officers in charge.

The three-year term of the incumbent officials ends on September 30.

Zubiri said at least 12 senators are against postponement of the ARMM polls but he named only 10: Senators Pia Cayetano, Allan Peter Cayetano, Manuel Villar, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Joker Arroyo, Bong Revilla, Edgardo Angara, Gregorio Honasan, Ferdinand Marcos, Jr, and himself.

Marcos, Senate local government committee chair, had earlier said that most senators are not keen on approving the bill postponing the ARMM polls.

In late February, Marcos told reporters that the issue on appointing OICs “is a very, very ticklish one” as it lacks legal basis.

Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, the other senator from Mindanao who also comes from Bukidnon, and who is an ally of President Aquino in the Liberal Party, said in a press release to MindaNews on March 15 that he was “still discerning.”

Zubiri said the senators are not actually opposing the postponement but the appointment of OICs.

“Maybe we could agree on having (the incumbent officers) on  holdover capacity,” he added.

MindaNews reported on March 14 that members of the Regional Legislative Assembly (RLA) in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) have issued a position paper strongly opposing the postponement of the regional elections.

The RLA said they are opposing the bill “as it is unconstitutional and a proposition that defeats the essence of autonomy.”

The ARMM’s legislative body cited that the elections should push through in the second Monday of August 2011, as resetting it will violate Republic Act 9054 or the ARMM charter, specifically Section 7, Article VII  on the three-year term of elective officials and Section 7, Article XVIII which sets the  ARMM elections under RA 9054 to the second Monday of August.

The Senate is presently on recess and will resume sessions on May 9.

The filing of certificates of candidacy in the ARMM election begins a week earlier, on May 2.

Former Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel, Jr. had also warned that the proposed postpoenemtn is a clear violation of the law which he authored.

In a press statement, Pimentel said the law was created “so the region can have its own elections, independent of the regular national elections.” He said the people of ARMM must not be deprived of their right to elect their leaders on August 8.

He also pointed out that the date of the ARMM election was intentionally moved away from the regular elections to give the government “more elbow room” in deploying the needed security to assure credible elections.

He said the plan to appoint OICs in the ARMM could be an administration move to ensure victory for its senatorial candidates in May 2013.

Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago cited three “constitutional reasons that militate against the postponement:” that the Constitution provides a “certain degree of independence” for the ARMM; that it also provides that the President exercise general supervision but not control over the ARMM; and that the Constitution provides that the legislature of the ARMM be free to legislate for its own region.

“So there are at least three constitutional counts against postponement. I am sure that if a case shall be brought to the Supreme Court, the postponement by statute will be automatically declared unconstitutional by the high court,” she said in a press statement on March 21.

“Remember that our sessions end this week. How can we possibly have hearings, then the sponsorship, and then the debate, then the third reading? These could not be done in the remaining days. And it is possible that we have the impeachment case in our hands,” she said, adding that the Constitution is being violated in at least three counts, “so I can’t possibly vote for this law. It is the fault of the president’s legal advisors. They should all be sent to Fukushima.” (Walter I. Balane with a report from Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)