Senate committee lukewarm to proposal postponing ARMM polls

MARAWI CITY (MindaNews/19 May) — Advocates of the postponement of the August 2011 elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) may be facing an uphill climb in the Senate.

In the consultation held today at the provincial gym here the Senate Committee on Local Government expressed skepticism on the intention of the proposed postponement which would give Malacanang the power to appoint officers in charge who will serve until the 2013 elections.

As such, Senate Bill 2756 which seeks to postpone the ARMM elections slated on Aug. 8 this year may not enjoy swift passage unlike House Bill 4146 which was passed last month.

Former Tawi-tawi governor Almarin Tillah started the debate by calling the proposal irregular and accused Malacanang of masterminding its passage in the House.

“There never was any consultation by Malacanang in Basilan, Tawi-tawi and Jolo before it advocated for the postponement of ARMM election,” Tillah said at the consultation presided by committee chair Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and attended by Senators Francis Escudero and Juan Miguel Escudero.

The former governor said the ruling party may have held a consultation on who to appoint as OICs after the terms of office of elected ARMM officials expire on Sept. 30 this year.

“This is arrogance. And we will never allow those not having the mandate to govern us,” Tillah said.

“Autonomy means that we, the people in the ARMM decide for ourselves, and not Malacanang or anyone else,” he added.

Supporters of SB 2756 mostly represented by the Reform ARMM Now (RAN) argued that the time has come for reforms in the ARMM, saying previous elections which were marred by irregularities to start with, have failed to bring significant development in the region.

“Give us 21 months to institute genuine reforms in the ARMM in the transition Aquino government,” appealed Samira Ali Gutoc of RAN.

“Election in the ARMM as proven in previous exercises without the necessary reforms in place will not serve its purpose. Armed groups are not even participating. It does not bring democracy,” said RAN convener Salic Ibrahim.

But the three senators were not convinced.

Marcos asked how postponing the elections and appointing OICs could bring in reforms.

Zubiri said that he was at a loss on the manner of appointments and on who will be appointed.

Gutoc said that reforms can be hastened if reform-minded and capable professionals from the ARMM are appointed and are directly accountable to Malacanang.

Escudero, however, said that “the essence of election in democracies is that magaling ka man o hindi, kung ikaw ang binoto nga nakakarami, siya ang naninilbihan sa gobyerno,” (it is not about who is good and who is not, but if a person is voted by the people, he or she will serve government).

He also said that previous failures in the ARMM and the attendant violence in elections should not be used as an argument for the postponement of the exercise.

Escudero, an Aquino ally, added that as things look now in the proposed bill, “I am not ready to give the President a blank check on who to appoint in acting capacity in the ARMM.”

Prof. Said Malik of the I am for Peace and Development – Mindanao (IPAD Mindanao) said that although the intention of the senators in insisting on pushing through with the elections is to preserve the autonomy of the ARMM, they may have missed the point of the calls for reforms.

“Postponement is not retrogression in our autonomy, but rather it will give chance for it to work under and administration that we fully trust,” said Malik in reaction to the interpellation of Zubiri that the calls for postponement is a move backward.

“Instead of strengthening autonomy, now you want Malacanang to control you by allowing it to appoint OIC,” Zubiri said, adding, “For me, this is no longer ARMM but Malacanang Government in Muslim Mindanao.”

Comelec ready

Meanwhile, Director Ray Sumalipao of the Commission on Elections in the ARMM said that they are going on with the preparations for the ARMM elections.

“So far, two candidates for governor have filed today, the start of the filing of certificates of candidacies,” he said. (BenCyrus G. Ellorin/MindaNews)