Thursday, October 18, 2018
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Kris-Crossing Mindanao

The Hamlet dilemma

TO POSTPONE or not to postpone the ARMM elections, that is the question.

The House committees on suffrage and Muslim affairs approved late last month the proposal to postpone the elections for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao set on Aug. 11, to synchronize them with the national and local elections in 2013.

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House Bill No. 4147 was supported by 54 congressmen led by Cotabato Rep. Bai Sandra Sema, but the deliberations were marked by the walk-out of Muslim lawmakers who opposed the postponement.

Those opposing the bill focused on its unconstitutionality, its lack of acceptability to Muslim Filipinos and the possibility of polarization of Muslims and Christians on the issue.

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Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo said the postponement of the ARMM will pave the way for a financial audit of the region.

The civil society group Reform ARMM Now (RAN) based in Davao City criticized the Commission on Elections for insisting on holding the elections, following a statement of Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes Jr. that ARMM elections would push through and P2.2 billion would be spent for computerized voting.

Salic Ibrahim, RAN convenor, said using computers would never ensure a fraud-free exercise in the region, and Tom Villarin, another convenor, said that with only a few months to go, the Comelec was running out of time and could never ensure that the ARMM elections would be “fair and free from fraud.”

Villarin said that postponing the ARMM elections to 2013 was the only assurance that genuine reforms can be done in the region.

Maguindanao Gov. Esmail Mangudadatu said the postponement would provide the government time to revisit the peace agreement it signed with the Moro National Liberation Front in 1996 and that with “ample time,” it is hoped that the postponement will subsequently result in the full implementation of the agreement.

Although the President’s Liberal Party majority is determined to do all it can to ensure the approval of the bill, including using the closure rule, the majority bloc got the assurance of support from the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC).

“We believe that giving the President the free hand to reorganize the present set-up and time to address the systemic deficiencies of the current system will be the best option,” NPC spokesperson Rex Gatchalian said.

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But late last week Sen. Joker Arroyo vowed to oppose the “Malacañang-backed” bill, telling Palace officials to “leave the autonomous region alone.”

“My position is very simple,” he said. “The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao is autonomous. Why is the national government interfering with its affairs?”

He also expressed strong objection to the appointment by the Palace of officers-in-charge to replace the officials whose terms shall then have expired, instead of retaining them in a holdover capacity as was the practice in the past.

“Imagine, the Christian majority will tell the Muslim minority when the elections will be held … and the Christian majority will appoint the OICs. Postponement of the elections will be synonymous with no autonomy.”

Fr. Eliseo Mercado, Jr., OMI, executive director of the Institute of Autonomy and Governance, and a recognized expert on autonomy, said the continued congressional interventions on the resetting of the elections in the ARMM “have made a mockery of autonomy and self-determination and the spirit and letter of the Organic Act (creating the ARMM).”

Lawyer Ernie Masorong, ARMM regional Cabinet secretary and also an expert on autonomy, said that three former presidents had already violated the law that created the ARMM by agreeing to postpone elections in the past.

But Masorong would leave it to the Supreme Court to decide if a case were to be filed against the “Malacañang-backed” move to postpone the vote, adding that the Organic Act is not an ordinary law because it was approved by the people in a plebiscite.

It is clear from the foregoing that both those who support or oppose House Bill 4147 are respected informed individuals whose views do matter to the constituents of ARMM, who will be most affected.

So what about them? What do they think?

For the past 10 years that I have listening to comments and complaints about the ARMM, it is not about “autonomy,” its “letter and spirit,” or even, remotely, the “Christian majority dictating on the Muslim minority.”

It is about corruption, nepotism, non-performance, salaries of teachers delayed by months, non-remittance of insurance premiums, non-processing of loans, incompetence, election fraud, the Maguindanao massacre, aborted projects, missing funds, warlordism, the Abu Sayyaf, the MILF, etc.

You don’t hear this in so-called public hearings because the powerless, faceless and voiceless still have their instinct for self-preservation.

The ARRM, created under the administration of President Corazon Aquino, was about peace, development, self-governance or, if you wish, “self-determination.”

So the more important question is: How has it performed in terms of achieving a better life for the “neglected” Muslims of Mindanao? The President has listened. And he is trying to find the answer.

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