MARAWI City, March 16, 2011â€”The call for rescheduling of elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) is snowballing, with several civil society organizations (CSOs) based in the Islamic City of Marawi advocating the synchronization of ARMM elections with that of the local and national elections in 2013.
This as Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said there are no legal infirmities to the postponement proposal.
â€œI am here to witness democracy and transparency in action, in my capacity as the secretary of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and therefore the attorney general and principal legal adviser of the President,â€ she said.
â€œBased on research and careful analysis, I tell you that I find no legal infirmity on the proposal,â€ she added.
De Lima made the statement on March 12 during the public consultation on House Bill No. 4146 that calls for the synchronization of the ARMM elections with the national and local elections in 2013.
HB 4146 seeks the postponement of the August 2011 ARMM elections to May 2013 and authorizes President Benigno Simeon â€œNoynoyâ€ C. Aquino III to appoint officers-in-charge (OIC) as caretakers during the interim period.
â€œHB 4146 is a reform bill as it addresses electoral reform and I am very happy that the President placed it as one of the priority measures which clearly indicates that ARMM is a priority concern of MalacaÃ±ang,â€ said the billâ€™s author, Rep. Bai Sandra A. Sema of Maguindanao.
The Kabnar (Human Rights) Advocates Inc., issued a resolution strongly recommending and supporting the postponement of the ARMM elections to give way for reforms in the attainment of just and sustainable development in the region.
Also throwing its support to the synchronization of ARMM elections with the local and national elections in 2013, the Bangsamoro Successorsâ€™ Generation Networkâ€“Ranaw Youth for Peace and Sustainable Development issued a paper saying the postponement is â€œthe proper move to initiate reforms in the autonomous region.â€
The postponement will also â€œprovide synergies for the peace process by making ARMM an effective mechanism for basic service delivery,â€ said the Reform ARMM Now (RAN) in a statement.
RAN also said the postponement can arrest the declining peace and order situation brought about by the proliferation of arms and increasing incidence of political violence, kidnappings and narco-criminal syndicates and rationalize government expenditure related to elections and focus fiscal priorities for electoral reforms.
The group also said that the 1987 Constitution provides that all elections for national and local elections shall be synchronized, except for barangays.
Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo underscored the need to postpone the elections and for the President to appoint OICs citing that ARMM was created to improve the lives of the people in the region.
Robredo also noted that after 21 years of autonomy, four out of ARMMâ€™s five provinces are among the poorest in the country.
Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) Chair Luwalhati Antonino also said that the President is determined to make reforms in the region.
The Islamic Movement for Electoral Reform and Good Governance (IMERGG), headed by Hadji Abdullah â€œLacsâ€ Dalidig and Dimapuno â€œPangnalâ€ Datu-Ramos, also threw its support to HB 4146.
Dalidig said that the Bangsamoro people need more good governance, real reforms, and public service than numerous elections marred with vote-buying, fraud, manipulations and violence which can only be facilitated by putting in OIC officials to manage the affairs of the region and move the elections to 2013.
But another group, the Alliance of Regional Coalitions Against Peopleâ€™s Poverty (ARCAPP) and its Coalitions of Non-Government Organizations and Civil Society, issued a manifesto strongly opposing the postponement of the ARMM elections.
ARCAPP argued that ARMM was crafted as a mechanism for self-governance to answer the Bangsamoro peopleâ€™s long decades of struggle. It also noted that ARMM was not handed in a silver platter but was achieved after decades of war where thousands of lives and million-peso properties were lost.
The group believed that postponing the August 2011 elections will only bring instability in the region and deny its people the right to self-determination while pointing out that the law upholding the Bangsamoroâ€™s rights to choose their leaders must be upheld.
â€œWhile we believe in the administrationâ€™s desire for peace in ARMM, such cannot compromise our right of suffrage to elect our leaders in a free and honest election,â€ they said.
ARCAPP found an ally in Lanao del Sur Gov. Mamintal Adiong Jr. and the provinceâ€™s two congressional representatives who opposed the postponement.
â€œThe postponement of the ARMM polls is a blatant violation of the constitution as it will take away the right of suffrage of the people in ARMM,â€ Adiong said, stressing that the right of suffrage is a privilege and a human right that the people in the ARMM must enjoy.
Adiong said that Republic Act 9054 or the Organic Act for the ARMM rendered HB 4146 unconstitutional therefore elections should proceed as scheduled on August 2011.
Lanao del Sur 1st District Rep. Hussien Pangandaman said that replacing regularly elected officials with appointed ones is unconstitutional under the RA 9054.
The Organic Act also strongly provides that the President only has supervisory powers and not control over ARMM, and that PNoyâ€™s putting his hand-picked OICs in the ARMM is a violation of the Act, he added.
â€œThe postponement is not the penultimate answer to address major reforms in the ARMM. In the span of 21 years, there have been eight elections postponements in the region to suit political exigencies but problems persist,â€ argued Rep. Pangalian Balindong of the 2nd District of Lanao del Sur.
But De Lima explained that HB 4146 will not undermine the democracy and autonomy of ARMM but only strengthen it by putting the necessary electoral reforms.
She also stressed that the expressed constitutional intent or policy is to synchronize the national and local elections, stressing that the ARMM elections is a local elections.
She also said that HB 4146 will not amend the Organic Act but only RA 9333, an ordinary law that can be amended by another law. (Bong D. Fabe)