At least 50 top ARMM posts up for grabs as Senate votes to postpone Aug. 8 polls

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DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/07 June) –  At least 50 major positions in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao will be vacated when the term of office of elected and appointed officials ends noon of September 30 but with the approval of Senate Bill 2756 on Monday night, these will be filled immediately by officers-in-charge appointed by President Benigno Aquino.

By a vote of 13-7, the Senate passed SB 2756 which seeks to postpone the August 8, 2011 elections in the ARMM and synchronize it with the May 13, 2013 national mid-term polls.  Like  House Bill 4146 passed by the House of Representatives in March, SB 2756 also allows President Aquino to appoint OICs in the interim.

HB 4146 bans OICs from running in the ARMM elections in May 2013. SB 2756 filed by Senator Franklin Drilon also carried that prohibition but as approved, the ban has been dropped.

“You cannot amend through ordinary legislation the Organic Act (RA 9054) and the Organic Act enumerates what are the qualifications to run for governor, vice-governor etc. of the ARMM. To include a disqualification for those who are OICs, in my mind, as a lawyer, cannot be done because you are imposing an additional qualification and in effect amending the Organic Act,”  Senator Franklin Drilon, principal author of the bill, told Senate reporters Tuesday, the transcript of which is available in the Senate website.

Former Senator Aquilino Pimentel, who is against postponement of the August 8 polls, had earlier told MindaNews the ban “cannot prevent the wives, the mistresses, the sons, daughters, the subalterns and loyalists (in place of those appointed) to run for ARMM offices” 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.”

On Tuesday, Pimentel said it is “worse if OICs are no longer banned from running in the May 2013 polls as this gives them undue advantage over others.”

He said the appointment of OICs “disregards the autonomous character  of the region, negates sovereign power of the people in the ARMM to be governed by leaders they elect, not dictated by Manila or Luzon people like (Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-) Deles, et al.”

Aside from Drilon, those who voted for the bill were Senators Pia Cayetano, Jinggoy Estrada, Teofisto Guingona III, Gregorio Honasan, Panfilo Lacson, Lito Lapid, Ralph Recto, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Tito Sotto, Antonio Trillanes and Francis Pangilinan and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile.

Those who voted against were Senators Edgardo Angara, Joker Arroyo, Francis Escudero, Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., Sergio Osmena, Bong Revilla and Juan Miguel Zubiri,

Senator  Loren Legarda is reportedly on official mission abroad while Senators Allan Peter Cayetano and Manuel Villar were not around during the voting.

Qualifications

Voters in the five-province, two-city ARMM are supposed to elect 26 officials: governor, vice governor and 24 assemblymen at three per congressional district. The region, comprising Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-tawi, Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao and the cities of Marawi and Lamitan, has eight congressional districts.

Aside from the elective posts, at least 24 major appointive posts will be vacated on September 30: three Deputy Regional Governors; Cabinet members composed of the Secretaries of Agrarian Reform, Agriculture, Education, Environment, Health, Local Governments, Labor, Public Works and Highways, Science and Technology, Social Welfare and Development, Tourism, Trade, Transport and Communication, Cabinet Secretary, Assistant Cabinet Secretary, Executive Secretary, Deputy Executive Secretary, the Regional Attorney General, chair of the Regional Board of Investments, ARMM Social Fund project Manager and ODA Executive Director.

Aside from the major posts, hundreds of minor posts coterminous with the incumbents, will also be vacated and filled by September 30.

Both the Senate and House bills provide that OICs should meet the qualifications of the post they will be in charge of.

The OIC Governor and OIC Vice Governor must be a natural-born citizen of the Philippines, a registered voter of the autonomous region, able to read and write, at least 35 years old, and a resident of the autonomous region for at least one year immediately preceding the appointment. (under RA 9054, “at least one year immediately preceding the election.”)

The OIC Assemblymen must be a natural-born citizen of the Philippines, at least 21 years old, able to read and write, a registered voter of the district in which he or she shall represent and a resident there for a period of not less than five years immediately preceding the day of appointment (under RA 9054, “five years immediately preceding the day of the election.”

The OIC Cabinet members, in accordance with RA 9054, “must be registered voters and residents of the region for at least five years immediately preceding their appointments.”

Under RA 9054, the Governor “shall appoint the members of the cabinet subject to confirmation by the Regional Assembly.”

The three Deputy Regional Governors, also provided for under RA 9054, are to represent the “Christians, indigenous cultural communities, and the Muslims in the region.”

Together with the Governor and Vice Governor, they comprise the Executive Council which

“shall advise the Regional Governor on matters of governance of the autonomous region.”

Awaiting PNoy’s signature

Drilon said SB 2756 was transmitted officially to the House of Representatives Tuesday and should be ready for signing by the President “next week.”

“Either the House accepts our amendment and therefore that would dispense with the bicam (bicameral conference), or if they will not accept, we can still meet in bicam tomorrow morning. I don’t think that differences are that substantial. We can finish the bicam in one hour and submit it for ratification tomorrow afternoon. But I am confident that if the House will look at our amendments, I don’t think there is any substantial difference. I have very briefly discussed with Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales the deletion of the ineligibility of the OIC and he has no problems with that. That is the most substantial amendment that we made,” he told Senate reporters.

“There’s a chance that (the House) will just adopt it,” he said.

Drilon said he is aware that those who want the elections to push through may go to the Supreme Court to seek remedy, but the Commission on Elections “should stop preparations” for the ARMM polls.

“Iakyat man sa Supreme Court, if there is no TRO (temporary restraining order), the Comelec should stop preparations,” he said.

The campaign period for the August 8 polls is supposed to begin on June 24.

James Jimenez, Comelec spokesperson, told MindaNews, “we stop preparations as soon as it is signed into law. The law should be considered sound until overturned.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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