MANILA, AUGUST 9, 2011, (MANILA TIMES) Written by : Claire Mercado, Writer-Researcher - (Photo - President Benigno Aquino 3rd on June 30 signed and enacted into law the synchronization of the elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) with the national and local elections. Among those who witnessed the ceremony were Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. Malacañang photo)

Special Report: ARMM ELECTION: Yesterday, August 8 should be election day in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). But, at the behest of President Benigno Aquino 3rd, Congress passed a law—Republic Act 10153— postponing the election and synchronizing it with the national elections in 2013.

Separately, the opposition Lakas-Kampi party, the PDP-Laban party and the late President Cory Aquino’s officer-in-charge governor of Tawi-Tawi Al Tillah, who heads an Islamic society, petitioned the Supreme Court for a TRO (temporary restraining order) to nullify the postponement. The Supreme Court (SC) denied the petitions, which assailed the constitutionality of the postponement law. That is why it is “No-El” in the ARMM tomorrow.

Despite this High Court decision, however, leaders and experts are divided on the legality of the postponement.

Even before Republic Act 10153—which synchronizes the ARMM election with the next scheduled national and local elections and empowers the President to appoint Officers in Charge (OICs) to serve as ARMM governor, governors of the region’s provinces and other OICs—was subjected to judicial review, some national and Mindanao leaders —Muslim as well as Christian—have doubted its constitutionality and potential to advance reforms in ARMM.

For instance, House Minority Leader Edcel Lagman asked the High Tribunal in June to nullify RA 10153 as it allegedly had infirmities and was contrary to the Constitution.

In his 76-paged petition, Lagman said that the statute denies ARMM voters of their right to elect their officials and “violates the constitutional guaranty of elective and representative regional officials in the ARMM.”

He also contended that the new law unconstitutionally expands the President’s “limited power of general supervision over ARMM officials to the more potent power of control, which is inherent in the appointment and dismissal of OICs.”

Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) also opposed the law. In separate petitions, PDP-Laban President and lawyer Aquilino Pimentel 3rd (he who is now poised to be proclaimed senator in lieu of resigned Sen. Migs Zubiri) and Muslim leaders Almarim Centi Tillah with Datu Casan Conding argued that the power that RA 10153 has given to the President to appoint OICs in ARMM encroaches on the local autonomy of ARMM’s people to choose their leaders. PDP-Laban also contended that the law violates its right as a political party to join in the polls.

Moreover, Al Tillah argued that the passage of RA 10153 violates Sec. 26 (2), Art. VI of the Constitution, which mandates that no bill passed by Congress shall become a law unless it has passed three readings and has been printed and distributed to the members of Congress, “except when the President certifies to the necessity of its immediate enactment to meet a public calamity or emergency.” He said that President Aquino’s certification did not meet the conditions of public calamity or emergency.

But the SC opined in its en banc decision that “the petitioners’ argument lacks merit.”

For one, “synchronization of election is a settled constitutional injunction. The simultaneous holding of national and local elections, including ARMM, is a mandatory ordinance of the 1987 Constitution.”

For another, said the Court, RA 10153 is not subject to the provisions of RA 9054 or the Second ARMM Organic Act—the law has generally given more power and revenue shares to the ARMM—which requires two-thirds votes by Congress and approval in a plebiscite before any amendment to it can take effect. Therefore, “RA 10153 is not an amendment of RA 9054 but a constitutional implement of synchronization of election.”

As to the issue of what constitutes a public calamity and public emergency to determine if the enactment of a bill is urgent, the SC said that this “is largely left to the discretion of the President” as “the SC has no power to substitute its judicial judgment for the President’s executive judgment.”

Regarding the controversy on the appointment of OICs in ARMM, the SC said that the appointment is “executive in nature,” and that the Congress may not interfere with the exercise except when the Constitution allows it. But “there is no constitutional provisions that prohibit the president to appoint OICs,” the SC said.

Moreover, the High Court pointed out that even if RA 10153 does not provide for appointments, the president still has the constitutional power to appoint OICs in ARMM if there are temporary vacancies.

As opposed to the contention that the power of appointment given by RA 10153 to the President is an exercise of the power of control over ARMM, the SC held that supervision and control do not pertain to presidential power of appointment.

The SC explained that there is a distinction between supervision and control. Supervision means overseeing, while control pertains to the power to alter, modify, nullify or set aside acts or decisions of subordinate officers. But RA 10153 does not empower the president to regulate the functions of ARMM officials. It only gives the president more authority to fill in vacant positions.

Now that the petitions assailing RA 10153 are denied by the High Tribunal, there’s no stopping President Aquino to appoint OICs. They will be selected from the list made by a screening committee in consultation with the speaker of the House and Senate president.

The Department of Interior and Local Government, on on hand, will prepare a roadmap of reforms. And according to Mindanao-based Inquirer columnist Noralyn Mustafa, the Reform ARMM Now! (RAN), a coalition of civil society groups that lobbied for the postponement of the poll, “has already drafted a road map for reforms that will be submitted to the president for consideration.” Mustafa reported that the RAN road map was drafted in consultation with its composite groups. It covers governance and administration, peace and order, social services, economy, natural resources, land use, and the environment.

“The reform road map also brings up the issue of the autonomous region’s participation in national economic planning, participatory budgeting, freedom of information, a reversal of the arms culture and the active participation of civil society groups,” Mustafa added.

The reforms will be instituted by the OICs. And among important tasks of the OICs is to review the ARMM Organic Act, in hopes of implementing a viable autonomy in Muslim Mindanao.

Election delay, reformist OICs to reshape ARMM’s bad haircut

 Written by : Manny Piñol, MANILA TIMES Columnist

Special Report: ARMM ELECTION

The political experiment that is the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) is like a very bad haircut. The only remedy is to shave the whole head clean and allow new hair to grow all over again. Consider these: It is an autonomous region whose seat of government is located in Cotabato City, a chartered city which has refused to join the ARMM; whose dates for the elections every three years are determined by an act of Congress; whose elected leaders could stay longer than three years in office through an act of Congress; whose five provinces are among the 20 poorest provinces in the whole country; and whose seven Regional Governors all belonged to the party of whoever was the tenant in Malacañang.

Add these: It is the only area in the whole Philippines where teachers and some government employees sometimes could not apply for loans with the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) because even their contributions are pocketed by the higher officials; where in spite of the billions poured by the national government every year, over 60 percent of the population live below the national poverty threshold of P19,000 annual income; where government audit is virtually non-existent and where auditors, not cash advances, are liquidated; where candidates who are not sponsored by the administration could never win in an election; where the crime rate is among the highest; where a battalion of Army soldiers escorts and guards big name politicians; and where over 50 people, including journalists, were massacred and thrown into huge pits, including their vehicles, using a government backhoe three years ago but no one has yet been convicted.

The funniest story about the ARMM is that this is the only government agency where one of the previous Regional Governors was welcomed with streamers from the airport to the ARMM Government Compound because he visited his office only three or four times a year.

Now, if you were in the shoes of President Benigno S. Aquino 3rd would you not lose a lot of hair over the problems besetting the ARMM?

The ARMM was actually designed and created supposedly to address a rebellion initiated by the Mindanao Independence Movement (MIM) in the 1960s and later carried over by the more poltiicized Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) led by the charismatic Muslim intellectual Nurallaj “Professor Nur” Misuari in the 1970s.

It was a rebellion born of legitimate concerns. The Muslim region was neglected, poverty was high and big loggers from Manila were the ones granted concessions over the rich forests of the area.

To address the rebellion, then President Ferdinand Marcos signed Presidential Decree 742 on July 7, 1975 which created the Office of the Regional Commission (ORC ) based in Zamboanga City and Cotabato City and appointed two Regional Commissioners, virtually creating two semi-autonomous governments.

Then on Dec. 23, 1976, at the behest of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), an agreement between the Philippine Government and the MNLF which identified over 20 provinces to be included in the autonomous region was signed in Tripoli, Libya and aptly called the Tripoli Agreement.

There was a catch, though. The agreement had to be ratified in a referendum in the areas proposed to be included. The other question was whether the people of the area wanted just one autonomous region or two separate autonomous regions.

The referendum rejected the expansion and retained the two autonomous regions which was rejected by the MNLF.

When President Corazon Aquino was installed president, talks with the MNLF were restarted which resulted in the signing of the Jeddah Accord on Feb. 3, 1987, which was actually an understanding between the government and the rebel group that talks would be continued to implement meaningful regional autonomy.

In 1987, the ARMM was enshrined in the amended Philippine Constitution.

Two years later, on Aug. 1, 1989 Republic Act 6734, or the Organic Act of the ARMM was signed into law and another plebiscite was conducted on Nov. 17, 1989 to determine which areas would be included in the autonomous region. Four provinces joined - Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Tawi-tawi and Sulu.

But the hardcore MNLF leaders did not show interest in the ARMM because they claimed that the promise to expand the area and include even the island province of Palawan was not fulfilled.

And so on Feb. 17, 1990, the first ARMM elections were held and on July 6, 1990 former Maguindanao Gov. Zacaria Candao became the first Regional Governor. He served for only one term.

On April 2, 1993, former Ambassador Lininding Pangandaman became the second Regional Governor after he defeated Candao, who in the 1992 elections supported then Presidential candidate Ramon Mitra instead of the administration candidate Fidel V. Ramos.

It was during Ramos’ presidency that the Final Peace Agreement was signed on Sept. 2, 1996 and the MNLF finally participated in the autonomousm region’s governance, with MNLF chief Nur Misuari becoming the new governor.

Another referendum was conducted in September of 2001 under the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo presidency and the autonomous region grew to include Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Sulu, Tawi-tawi, Basilan and the Islamic City of Marawi.

There were high hopes that with Misuari at the helm of the ARMM, governance and the delivery of services would somehow improve given the fact that these were the reasons why he started the rebellion in the first place.

Misuari, just like the previous Regional Governors anointed by Malacanang, proved to be a big disappointment.

On Nov. 2001, following the departure of Misuari as ARMM governor, a known Muslim intellectual, Dr. Parouk Hussein became the Regional Governor. He did no better than Misuari as he only visited the ARMM compound in Cotabato City occasionally.

And finally, when the Ampatuans delivered Maguindanao’s votes to Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in the 2004 elections, the son of Gov. Andal Ampatuan, Datu Zaldy Ampatuan, was elected Regional Governor of the expanded ARMM. He served in that capacity until he was suspended following the Maguindanao Massacre.

And so for decades, what was supposed to be a political instrumentality that would have provided answers to the clamor of the people of the region for better services, became a toy of the powers-that-be in Malacanang to achieve their ends.

It became the dumping area for hundreds of millions of pesos in development funds which were actually pocketed by the local officials, especially during the reign of the Ampatuans.

President Aquino’s move to synchronize the ARMM elections with the national elections and to temporarily replace all elected and appointed officials of the autonomous government with his choices is seen as an acceptable solution to the mess that is the ARMM.

It is an act which would bring back the autonomous government in the right and straight path, a path envisioned by the President’s late mother, President Corazon Aquino, when she went out of her way to bring back Nur Misuari from exile.

[Manny Piñol is a Times columnist and a former governor of North Cotabato province.]

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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