SC issues TRO on ARMM synchronization and OIC appointments

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/13 September) – The Supreme Court today issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) against implementation of  the law synchronizing the August 8, 2011 elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) with the May 13, 2013 polls and allowing President Aquino to appoint officers in charge (OICs) to serve in the interim.

The 8-4 decision was announced in a press conference at the Supreme Court in Manila by SC  spokesman Midas Marquez just as the Screening Committee was interviewing applicants and nominees for OIC Governor and OIC Vice Governor in a public forum in Cotabato City.

The Screening Committee is supposed to submit to the President on or before September 20 a shortlist of three names per position, for him to choose the OIC Governor, OIC Vice Governor and 24 members of the Regioal Legislative Assembly who will “reform” and “transform” the ARMM from September 30 until June 30, 2013.

The three-year term of  incumbent ARMM officials ends at noon of September 30.
The High Court’s ruling is a “big blow” to the national government’s reform agenda in the ARMM  and the government’s proposed “three for one” peace settlement, which includes “transformation” of the ARMM (see other story).

As of  9 p.m.,the Presidential Communications Operations Office and the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process website still had no news item on the SC ruling. The PCOO’s main story was still on the Palace congratulating Miss Universe third runner up Shamcey Supsup of General Santos City.

Only the Official Gazette of the Office of the President website posted the “Presidents’ Statement on the Supreme Court TRO against synchronization of the ARMM and national polls,” a seven-paragraph text in Pilipino citing a litany of complaints against the ARMM but with no information if government was filing a motion for reconsideration.

The President said: “The issue is simple: are we happy with the situation in the ARMM? Are we happy with the COA report that 80% of the funds that should have gone to the people are missing? Is it that easy to forget the 57 victims who were massacred in Maguindanao?”
“Is it reasonable to hope for change to happen if those who run and win in the election are politicians who will just ensure their stay in power? It is not only ARMM that is affected by travel advisories or bomb threats or in the widespread culture of impunity. This is a major blot on the overall image of the Philippines in the world. We need to cut the system of abuse that has become a culture in the ARMM. That is why the appointment of the OICs is for reform: real hospitals, real schools, real service and not ghost projects. In the current system, we have no guarantee, we are not sure about the data that we have like the DPWH (Department of Public Works and Highways) and NSO (National Statistics Office),” the President’s statement read.
“This prevailing system can be stopped only if we appoint OICS who will be sincere and will be our partners in taking the right path. We guarantee that in the next 21 months that the OICs will serve, there will be a radical change that will give genuine service to the constituents in the ARMM,” the statement added.
“Our differences on this issue may seem never-ending but in the end, we will be judged by the fruits of the seeds of reform that we will plant. While we are waiting for the case to move,  just like before, your government will continue to focus on bringing change in the ARMM and the empowerment of the people,” the statement said.
The Supreme Court website, as of 9 p.m. had yet to upload a copy of the decision or its press statement.
GMA News Online quoted the SC spokesperson Marquez as saying the court’s “actual intention in issuing its latest order was to prevent any appointment of temporary officials in ARMM.”

”For the majority, it would be better that the TRO be issued now, at this time prior to the appointment of the OICs should the court not be able to decide these cases on the merits prior to September 30,” he said.

It also quoted Marquez as saying incumbent ARMM officials will have to remain in their posts if the SC justices do not come up with a final ruling on the petitions against the poll deferment.

RA 10153 was passed by Congress on June 6. President Aquino signed it into law on June 30. The campaign period for the August 8 elections was supposed to have started on June 24.
GMA News Online reported the following justices voting for the TRO: Chief Justice Renato Corona, Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr., Arturo Brion, Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Roberto Abad, Jose Perez, Jose Mendoza, and Martin Villarama while the four who voted against were  Justices Antonio Carpio, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin and Maria Lourdes Sereno.

Marquez said Justice Mariano del Castillo did not vote because he was on leave, it said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)