Q and A on ARMM elections with former Senator Aquilino Pimentel (1)

1st of four parts: “The calamity is the certification itself”

DAVAO CITY (MIndaNews/03 April) — Aquilino Pimentel has held various posts in government: as mayor of Cagayan de Oro City, pre-EDSA; Local Governments Secretary and government peace negotiator with the Moro fronts  post-EDSA, Senator, Senate President and until his term ended on June 30 last year, Senate minority floorleader.

The “Father of the Local Government Code,” and principal author of Republic Act 9054, Pimentel is among those questioning the moves to postpone the August 8, 2011 elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao to May 2013.

MindaNews’ Carolyn O. Arguillas sent Pimentel a dozen questions on the ARMM elections over the weekend.

Q. The vote in the House of Representatives to postpone the August 8, 2011 elections to May 2013 is 191 for, 47 against, two abstentions and 43 absent. In Mindanao, it is 42-14-2-6 and in the ARMM itself, it is 3-4-1-0. It’s still the majority deciding over the “autonomous” minority but shouldn’t it be the RLA (Regional Legislative Assembly) deciding on the issue of postponement if at all it would push for postponement?

A. Ideally, the initiative to postpone the elections should be the ARRM’s prerogative through the RLA. After all, the RLA is the autonomous region’s lawmaking body. And the elections determine the will of the people of ARMM. In a democracy that is how the will of the people is decided – through elections. In Constitutional terms, sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them. To change the dates of the ARMM elections is a matter that should be left to its people. The political principle of subsidiarity should apply here – what the smaller unit of government can do or ought to do should not be done by the bigger unit, that is, the central government.

Q. President Aquino certified House Bill 4146 as urgent and it was passed on second and third reading in six hours. The Senate, however, appears not keen on following the House’s track on this and it has adjourned until May 9 while the filing of certificates of candidacy starts May 2.

A. The Senate is well advised not to join the mad rush to postpone the ARMM elections despite the certification of the President.

The certification of bills as urgent is qualified by circumstances of national emergency or calamity. Neither of which is present in the matter of the move to postpone the ARMM elections.

The calamity is the certification itself.

Q. The Palace and the proponents of the bill cite the “need for reforms” as the principal reason behind the proposed postponement. Can reforms be actually done from September 30, 2011 to May 2013 by Palace-appointed officials of a supposed autonomous region? In your assessment, what really is the reason behind this push for postponement?

A. Reforms are also needed in the areas of national governance. For example, on the matter of corruption. Does that therefore mean that the national elections in 2013 and 2016 (within the administration of President Aquino’s incumbency) should likewise be postponed in the guise of the need to institute reforms to do away with or minimize corruption? Or the need to reform the policies of the government on the matter of possession of firearms the proliferation of which has caused innumerable killings of innocent individuals including journalists, the latest of which was Lyn Somera.

The reason is most probably the desire to control the levers of government of the ARMM for partisan political expediency, not necessarily of the President but of those around him who wish to continue wielding power during and probably even after his presidency.

Q. There seems to be an active lobbying and jockeying for positions now for Governor, Vice Governor, 24 assemblymen, cabinet secretaries, etc… This means appointees will be still be subservient to the appointing power/s. The proponents say  the President will appoint OICs until May 2013 but they will be disqualified from running for elective posts in the ARMM, anyway. But they can run for other posts in their localities, right?

A, That’s a certainty – the lobbying for high government positions in the ARMM. And you are absolutely right that the appointees would be subservient to the appointing power.

Saying that they will be disqualified to run for ARMM elective positions in the 2013 elections is merely a sop to doubting Thomases. The fact, however, is that the authorities cannot prevent the wives, the mistresses, the sons, daughters, the subalterns and loyalists (in place of those appointed) to run for ARMM offices. And as you pointed out, the appointees themselves may contest other local positions within the ARMM local government units.  And the electoral playing field won’t be even  because the appointees would have roughly a two-year edge over their adversaries in terms of access to government power and funds.

Q.  In their explanatory note, the proponents also said, and please comment on these:
-That pushing through with the August 8, 2011 polls “may mar the ongoing peace talks with the insurgent groups which can disrupt and worsen the peace and security situation in the region.”

A. The explanatory note sounds like a “Delesian” sophistry.

On the contrary, what will worsen the peace and security situation in the ARMM is any act of the central government that is perceived as an interference in matters that relate to the internal affairs of the region like postponing its elections by mandate of the former. Or of the central government’s toying with what the ARMM law already provides.  [Tomorrow: Postponement is beneficial to peace process?]  (Carolyn O. Arguillas/Mindanews)