Aug. 8 ARMM election called off as PNoy signs bill into law

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/30 June) – The August 8 election in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM)  is officially called off with the  President’s signing into law of  the bill resetting it to May 13, 2013.

The new law, Republic Act 10153, also allows the President to name officers-in-charge to govern the autonomous region from September 30, 2011 when the term of the incumbent officials end, to June 30, 12013.

The signing on Thursday morning was held at the Rizal Ceremonial Hall of the Malacanang Palace in the presence of Senate president Juan Ponce Enrile, Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr., and other government officials.

In his 20-paragraph speech delivered in Pilipino, the President discussed the usual criticisms about the ARMM particularly during elections, specifically citing the 12-0 victory of the Senate slate of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2007. He repeated previous statements about the need for reforms that will be carried out by the caretaker administration he will appoint but did not say who will comprise the selection committee and what the criteria will be in selecting OICs.

He later told Malacanang reporters he wants OICs who would not run in the May 2013 polls in the ARMM  even as the new law does not bar the OICs from running for the ARMM polls in May 2013.

In his speech, the President said, “Our aim for the ARMM is clear: To listen to what the constituents want, we will put an end to the political clans who are lording it over and leading in electoral cheating, and we will dismantle their private armies.”

“Aside from this, the Department of Interior and Local Government will implement a roadmap for reforms in the region – towards a genuine development and peace in the ARMM. Included in the electoral reforms we will push here, we will clean up the voters’ list by having a re-registration of voters, and go for modern elections. We will strengthen the cooperation with civil society groups so we can have voters’ education, and so they can serve as poll watchdogs,” the President added.

He gave a preview of the ARMM under his appointed caretaker administration: “Now that we will responsible for the  ARMM, we will not allow corruption. But if a corrupt practice occurs, we will not get tired running after them and making them accountable. In implementing the law we are now signing, we want to push for good governance so we can be more open and clear about where we’re headed.”

The President said the DILG will watch over the operations of the ARMM “to ensure the law is followed. We will stop the practice of giving cash advances to officials for the procurement of items, supplies and service to the constituents. We will ensure procurement will go through public bidding and that this will go to the intended beneficiaries and documented. This is part of our steps to make transactions transparent and to avoid bureaucratic short-cuts.”

After the signing, the President was asked by Malacanang reporters when he will issue the administrative order on the selection process of the OIC. “It’s currently being drafted. I will have to check with Executive Secretary to determine iyong exact time,” he replied.
The new law provides under Section 4 the creation of a screening committee “whose members shall be appointed by the President, which shall screen and recommend, in consultation with the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Senate President, the persons who will be appointed as OICs.”

The provision, however, does not state the number of members and does not specify if the screening committee will be composed of members who are from the ARMM. It merely says the members “shall be appointed by the President.”

Even before the bill was passed, lobbying and jockeying for appointment as OICs had intensified among political parties and party-list groups allied with President Aquino, including those who were defeated in the May 2010 polls.

At least 50 major posts in the ARMM are to be vacated by September and filled by President Aquino’s OICs:  26 elective posts (governor, vice governor, 24 members of the Regional Legislative Assembly), and at least 24 Cabinet members and heads of offices.

Asked by reporters what qualifications he is looking for in an OIC, the President replied,  in Pilipino, “Of course what is important is vision, same as our vision. They will not continue the usual system in the ARMM. This means they will not think of putting building advantages. Focused, will deliver basic services due them. What do we mean? The ghost school with a ghost teacher or ghost rural health unit with a ghost nurse, the one who said this is the governor of the ARMM. This is what he often experiences. So the OICs we will put there, they will follow a roadmap. There will be tangible, doables and a timeframe to follow. That is the essence, so we can make the dreams of ARMM constituents come true through good governance. And may I add, have no intentions to run for election in the  ARMM.”

The new law provides that the OICs should meet the qualifications of the post they will be in charge of.

When Malacanang reporters asked the President about Eid Kabalu’s aspiration to be OIC Governor, he replied, “well, we have to hear it from the peace adviser, thePresidential Adviser on Peace Process. We will have to study that matter also and there is process for selecting the OIC for ARMM.”

Kabalu claims to have resigned his post as spokesperson of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and as chief of its civil-military relations department but MILF vice chair Ghazali Jaafar says was fired for violating the Code of Conduct when he talked to former North Cotabato Governor Emmanuel Pinol and Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte about having MILF members as OICs. Kabalu later told MindaNews he was not authorized to speak on behalf of the MILF but acknowledged his desire to be OIC Governor. (MindaNews)