Q and A on the ARMM elections (4) with former Senator Aquilino Pimentel

Last of four parts: Who will benefit from a postponement?

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/6 Apr) – Who, indeed, would benefit the most from a postponement of the August 8, 2011 elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao to May 13, 2013?

Former Senator Aquilino Pimentel says the choice of venue for “consultations” with the people in the ARMM is telling.

Q. Who would benefit much from a postponement? The people of the ARMM? Do they figure at all in this debate?

A. Certain people close to the President and other creatures who believe that direct connections will bring them and their families untold benefits – even at the expense of the Moro and other peoples in the region.

That the people of the ARMM don’t figure at all in this debate whether or not to postpone their right of suffrage and elect their own leaders as provided by law is shown by the way the so-called consultations were done.

The way the government panel treated the people of Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and Basilan is a graphic example of the non-importance the central government attaches even to vital democratic processes such as consultations and elections.

The people of Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and Basilan were asked to go to Zamboanga City for them to air their views on the proposal to postpone the elections.

Zamboanga City is not a part of the ARMM.

The three provinces are several minutes by plane to Zamboanga City or several hours – over night – if by boat.

The government panel put the people of the three provinces to so much hassle and expense on the pretext that it wanted to hear the latter’s views on the issue at hand.

If there was anything to be learned from that event, it was that the opinions of the people from Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and Basilan on the postponement of the ARMM elections did not amount to anything much as far as the central government is concerned.

Q. The ARMM is but a tiny speck in the sea of nationwide voters but it has been used by the powers that be as reservoir of votes which candidates for national posts can draw from, at a price or in exchange for concessions. Is there hope at all that this situation can change? You were OIC Local Governments Secretary in 1986 and you had a chance to clean up the voters’ list of the birds and the bees and those unbelievable statistics from Languyan, etc.. From what I gathered over the years in interviews with leaders within the ARMM, the purging of the voters’ list then was selective because the Cory Aquino administration in some parts, was running scared against the Marcos loyalists who might likely reclaim their posts. I was told the operators did not notify the President that the purging of voters’ list was selective. Did you know about this?

A. Sorry to disappoint you on that issue. I had nothing to do with purging the voters’ list or with elections in the ARMM.

I was the MILG secretary who suggested and got Cory’s approval to rid the country – not only of the provinces that later constituted the autonomous region – of the warlords that controlled those areas in support of Marcos and in their own interests.

I argued that we had to appoint OICs then – because otherwise the Marcos loyalists in power would use government money to mobilize warm bodies to back up coup attempts. And in any case, Cory’s government was installed by people power. It was in fact called by some people as a “revolutionary government”. And therefore changing incumbent local officials with OICs was a legitimate act of that government.

I think we were right in that regard.

Q. Zaldy Ampatuan can still run for governor, right (he is not convicted and they have three terms). Did he figure as among the unmentioned reasons behind the postponement?

A. Am only guessing. It could be that the possibility of his running again was considered as a “reason” to propose the postponement of the ARMM elections.

In my view, however, to postpone the elections would enable the Ampatuans to regroup and strengthen their bid to regain power.

Q. In the consultations within the ARMM, there was a noted change in position from NO to YES (to postponement) of the other governors (at the start the only YES govs were Tan of Sulu and Mangudadatu of Maguindanao). The consultations had the Local Governments secretary and the Justice secretary present. What feedback did you get from your people in the field on these consultations?

A. The perception that saying “yes” would please the President and thereby ensure his blessings for their aspirations and along with his “bendisyon” would come Comelec support and military and police backing for their bids. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)