Group says Marawi Senate hearing on ARMM poll postponement a “done deal;” Committee holds one more hearing in Manila

MARAWI CITY (MindaNews/20 May) — The Reform the ARMM Now (RAN) branded as “lutong makaw” (done deal) the Senate Committee on Local Government’s hearing last Thursday on Senate Bill 2756 which seeks to postpone the August 8, 2011 elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to synchronize it with the May 13, 2013 national mid-term elections.

This as the Senate Committee is scheduling one more public hearing in Manila, Eli Maraon, media officer at the office of Senate Committee chair Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., said Friday.

“What pulse were they trying to get in Marawi, when the pulse was already manipulated,” said Abdullah Lacs Dalidig of the RAN.

“Lutong makaw yan,” Agakhan “Bin Laden” Sharief, Lanao del Sur RAN convenor, said.

Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., chair of the Senate committee on local governments, was with Senators Francis Escudero and Juan Miguel Zubiri in Thursday’s hearing. Marcos declined to comment on the proceedings but in a statement last week, he expressed confidence that after the May 19 hearing in Marawi, his committee could complete its report and bring this to the floor immediately. Maraon, however, told MindaNews Friday that the committee would still conduct a public hearing in Manila. The date, however, has not been set, he said.

Before the hearing,  Marcos, Escudero and Zubiri had repeatedly aired their views against postponement of the ARMM polls and appointment of OICs.

In a press statement last week, Salic Ibrahim, RAN chair, the  May 19 hearing “won’t make a difference now as battle lines are drawn…. There will be another violent chapter in election history with an inevitable clash between political titans in ARMM — Adiongs, Mangudadatus.”

Ibrahim was former head of a group monitoring elections in the ARMM.

Filing of certificates of candidacy

The hearing in Marawi coincided with the first day of the filing of certificates of candidacy for the 26 elective positions in the ARMM – regional governor, vice governor and 24 assemblymen. The filing is from May 19 to 23. It was originally set to start May 2 and was later reset to May 14 and finally to May 19.

ARMM voters in the region’s eight congressional districts will vote for only five positions – governor, vice governor and three representatives per district.

The campaign period for the August 8 automated polls is from June 24 to August 6.

A Malacanang political officer admitted to Mindanews that they do not expect much from the Marcos-led committee. “We are expecting a negative response from the Committee on Local Government he said, but our allies in the Senate can find a way to bring it in the Plenary for voting,” said the official who requested anonymity as he has no clearance to make a public comment on the matter.

Former Senator Aquilino Pimentel accused Malacanang of orchestrating the “partisan power play to postpone the ARMM election.”

“The administration wants to postpone the ARMM election probably to give its candidates a decisive edge in the 2013 ARMM and senatorial elections and in the 2016 general elections,” Pimentel said in a press statement.

“Behind the excuses by the administration to deny Muslim people their right to vote, I see partisan desire to cling on to power by the President’s party mates even after the term of President Aquino in 2016,” said Pimentel who authored the ARMM Organic Act (RA 9054).

He said the more practical danger is that the acting officials to be appointed by the President will get to control the region’s annual budget of about P11-billion, which could translate into an election war chest of P33-billion for the administration in three years.

To the Supreme Court or the streets

Aside from Pimentel, former Tawi-Tawi Governor Almarin Tillah, who is also opposed to postponing the elections, said, they will “bring this issue to the Supreme Court. If we we fail there, we will bring it to the streets.”

Lawyer Cader P. Indar, Al Haj, author of the book “The Organic Act for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Explained” said the passage of HB 4146 and SB 2756 into law would violate RA 9054 or the Organic Act of ARMM as it would have an effect of amending it.

“Without the provisions for a plebiscite to approve such amendment of the Organic Act, the law that would postpone the ARMM election will violate the Constitution,” Indar told MindaNews.

He said the mandate of the people of the ARMM cannot be usurped by the President by appointing Officers-in-Charge in the ARMM after the terms of office of existing ARMM elected officials expire on Sept. 30, 2011.

He said they filed a petition for Certiorari and Mandamus before the Supreme Court on April 14 to question the passage by the House of Representatives of HB 4146 in a 146-46 vote.

Rep. Hussein Pangandaman, Lanao del Sur 1st district Rep. said he hopes that members of the Senate will not follow their counterparts in the House of Representatives. “Natalo kami sa kongreso, kasi maraming administration allies eh. Natakot sila sa Presidente”  (We lost in the House because of the administration’s allies. They’re afraid of the President), Pangandaman told MindaNews. (BenCyrus G. Ellorin/MindaNews)