MANILA, MARCH 24, 2011 (BULLETIN) By GENALYN D. KABILING — President Aquino Wednesday defended his intervention in reforming the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), saying it would be a “grave sin” if he allows the region fall into ruins.

Speaking to reporters in Cagayan De Oro City, Aquino explained that he has pushed for the postponement of the ARMM elections and its synchronization with the national polls in 2013 to correct the problems in governance in the region but denied he would “dictate” on the local officials of the troubled region.

“If we are happy with what’s happening in ARMM, why would we interfere? But if you are looking for dire statistics in the region, there have the highest rates of infant mortality, maternal mortality and they lack access to potable water. There are kidnapping, robbery and bombings,” he said in Filipino.

“I just couldn’t say, ‘You are not part of the Philippines so I don’t care about you anymore.’ I think that will be a grave sin,” he said, a day after the House of Representatives passed the bill postponing the ARMM polls.


But the President disputed accusations made by some groups that he was meddling with the autonomy of the region by pushing for the deferment of the ARMM polls. “I am not interfering in the sense I am not dictating on who will be elected in ARMM.”

“Those who want to return to the old crooked system, I think that’s what caused why ARMM is left behind,” he said. He noted that the Commission on Audit has reported that there are discrepancies in the disbursement of nearly P1 billion “in one year alone” in ARMM.

Asked if he expects a swift passage of the ARMM poll postponement bill in the Senate, Aquino said it is up to the senators to make such decision. “In the Senate, when you ask them to do one thing, the more the direction is different. That’s up to them. I think they will debate on the merits of this proposal.”

Aquino explained that he is pushing for the bill on the ARMM polls so it will comply with the constitutional requirement that all elections must be synchronized.

He also said he wanted to eliminate the use of command votes during the ARMM polls, saying this anomaly undermines the true mandate of the people.

He said the simultaneous ARMM elections with the national and local polls would help bring progress and order in the region long troubled with poverty and conflict.

House voted for postponement of ARMM elections BEN R. ROSARIO March 22, 2011, 9:45pm

MANILA, Philippines -- The House of Representatives voted unanimously to postpone the elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and allow President Aquinoto appoint officials who will run the regional government until 2013.

Certified by Aquino as urgent administration measure, House Bill 4146 was approved on second reading at 9 pm.

Approval on third and final reading was expected to follow with the second reading decision not expected to be altered.

HB 4146 seeks to postpone the ARMM elections originally scheduled on August, this year and synchronize it with the 2013 midterm election.

Despite being authored by ARMM Reps. Bai Sandra Sema of Maguindanao and Jim Hataman of Basilan, HB 4146 faced strong opposition from majority of ARMM congressmen who aired serious misgivings over the constitutionality of the measure.

Minority Leader Edcel Lagman and administration allies led by Reps. Tupay Loong (NP, Sulu); Crispin Remulla (NP, Cavite) and Teodoro Casino (Bayan Muna) said the bill illegally amended Republic Act 9054 or the Organic Act that created the ARMM.

Oppositors assailed the proposed executive appointment of ARMM officials as a “travesty of democracy.”

However, principal sponsor and Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga stressed that oppositors are wrong in their opinion because the measure will only amend House Bill No. 9333 that fixes the date for regular elections of ARMM officials.

Rep. Pangalian Balindong (LP, Lanao del Sur) said the House approval is not an assurance that the bill will be enacted into law.

“There is not even a counterpart bill in the Senate. I believe supporters of the measure will run out of time since the Senate will only take it up when session resumes in May,” said Balindong.

Balindong lamented the Malacanang certification of urgency, saying that there is no reason to fasttrack approval of the bill because “we are not in an emergency situation.”

Balindong, a close ally of Aquino, also decried claims by the sponsors of the measure that public consultations conducted in three key ARMM cities – Marawi City, Zamboanga City and Cotabato City – favoured postponement.

He said at least 90 percent of Lanao del Sur folk who attended the public consultation were fully against HB 4146.

Prior to the voting, Loong made a strong appeal to non-ARMM congressmen to heed the opinion of Muslims in the region to allow them to choose their leaders in an election.

Tawi-tawi Rep. Nur Jaafar abstained from the voting because the House leadership refused to consider his proposal for the conduct of a plebiscite as “provided under the Organic Act” before any amendments could be introduced to the law that is considered by ARMM folk as the region’s constitution..

“I am sure the issue will reach the Supreme Court,” stated Maguindanao Rep. Simeon Datumanong as he noted a number of constitutional violations embodied in the measure.

In pushing for approval of the bill, Sema said postponement of the elections is imperative in the peace process initiated by government with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Moro National Liberation Front.

“It bears emphasis that pushing through with the 2011 elections may mar the ongoing peace talks with the insurgent groupos which can disrupt and worsen the peace and security situation in the region,” she said.

Sema added: “Likewise, the election will just throw ARMM in a vicious cycle characterized by misgovernance and corruption, which it is currently in.”

Supporters of the bill said Aquino’s intention to appoint ARMM officials is urgent and crucial in introducing reforms in ARMM governance.

“The two year period will enable the Commission on Elections to institute electoral reforms such as purging the voter’s list and biometrics voters registration,” they said.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved