No to Election Postponement in ARMM

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The status of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and its constituents are put in scrutiny as the debates on whether or not to push through with the elections have raged through the halls of Congress and in the public consultations initiated by Malacañang and groups supporting the calls for postponement. The frontrunners of the postponement of the ARMM elections posit that they wanted to reform in their words the dysfunctional ARMM. The reforms will allow the ARMM to undergo a cleansing process to better prepare it for the next duty bearers who shall be chosen in 2013 in time with the national elections. To do this, they repose the power to the President to choose or appoint caretakers of the ARMM government in the interim period to clean the mess that is the ARMM. Also, according to the President's men and women, the interim arrangement will pave the way for the eventual adoption of the appointed ARMM government officials from Executive and Legislative of the results of the Final Peace Agreement of the Moro National Liberation Front and the eventual signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). However, the proponents of the postponement seemed to be a tad too hasty in their proposal and their reasons while appearing noble are in fact self-serving especially to the individuals and groups that are pushing for these so-called reforms. In their haste to pass the postponement bill as in the recently approved House Bill (HB) 4146, the proponents conveniently overlooked the fact that for the law to take effect such as postponement of election in the ARMM, a plebiscite should first be conducted in order for the people in the current ARMM areas to adopt the same. Or at least get a 2/3 votes from the House of Representatives and the Senate voting separately. Included to the proposal for amendments, is a provision to expand the ARMM territory as proposed by its movers and proponents to accommodate their respective bailiwicks. This expansion will enable them to run for positions in the Regional Legislative Assembly as well as in the executive positions in the ARMM. These areas are Sultan Kudarat, Isabela City, Lanao del Norte and Cotabato City. Rather than allowing the people to exercise their basic democratic will, the proponents of the ARMM election postponement would rather let Malacañang do the selection of the ARMM leaders. When this will happen, the President will effectively rob the people of their democratic right to choose their leaders. He would be no different from his predecessors that tinkered with the affairs of the autonomous region in particular and the constitution in general. If the President is indeed serious and sincere in his intention of instituting reforms within the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, he can only do best with the participation of its populace. Pushing on with the elections is not inconsistent with reforms. Rather, the elections will enable the people to give mandate to their chosen officials and are in a better position to forge a Social Contract with their chosen leaders. On the other hand, if it's only the President who will choose or appoint the caretakers of the ARMM, the latter would only be accountable to the President who is the appointing authority. What Malacañang can do at this time in providing help to the beleaguered region is to ensure that the ARMM elections will be clean and honest and one that would mirror the sentiments of the grassroots. Appointment can never be a substitute from an electoral exercise and that selection can never be a substitute for an election. In addition, such autocratic move on the part of the ruling party can set a very serious precedent that is if we want reforms or solve corruptions, criminalities and insurgency problems we have to let go of the democratic processes such as elections. And more seriously, if synchronizing the National and ARMM elections in 2013, will pave the way for the eventual comprehensive peace agreement between the Philippine Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) it is like putting the horse before the cart. What if the MILF will not agree to be mainstreamed or be subjected by the Philippine Constitution because it is contradictory to the principle of right to Self Determination which they have been struggling for decades? The more we try to analyze the reasons put forward by President Aquino and his men and women for the postponement of the 2011 ARMM elections, the more we unmasked the Self-serving interests of the people who want to take advantage of the popularity of the President even if this means making a mockery of democracy. It is imperative that we need reforms in the country particularly in the ARMM after the GMA- Ampatuan tsunami but it can only be done with, by and for the people and not by dictatorship even if it is coming from a very popular President. And having a clean and honest elections this coming August 8, 2011 as mandated by the R.A. 9054 will be a very good start because all eyes of the nation can focus on such democratic exercise. Elected Officials and Electoral bodies such as the COMELEC cannot afford to fail the people because the people have suffered long enough and they deserve nothing less. IM 4 PEACE (Interfaith Movement for Peaceful and Clean Elections) A network of peace and human rights activists in the ARMM, South Central and North Western Mindanao areas for genuine peoples participation in electoral reforms and good governance.

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