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Joker Arroyo: Leave autonomy alone

By TJ Burgonio
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 22:50:00 03/17/2011

Filed Under: Elections, Politics

MANILA, Philippines?Senator Joker Arroyo yesterday vowed to oppose the Malacañang-backed move to postpone elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), telling Palace officials to leave the autonomous region alone.

?My position is very simple. The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao is autonomous. Why is the national government interfering with its affairs?? he told reporters.

The House of Representatives was close to approving in plenary the bill postponing the ARMM elections and synchronizing these with the 2013 elections.

The move was akin to the Christian majority dictating on the Muslim minority when to hold their elections, Arroyo said.

Christian majority decision

?Imagine, the Christian majority will tell the Muslim minority when the elections will be held ... and the Christian majority will appoint the OICs (officers in charge). Postponement of the elections will be synonymous to no autonomy,? he said.

Arroyo recalled that he and other members of the House had deferred to Muslim lawmakers on matters concerning their constituents.

?You know, when will we ever let them alone? To judge and decide for themselves? Again they will use the guise of synchronized elections so that they can appoint an OIC. OIC would not be the choice of the ARMM people,? he said.

In Malacañang, officials said President Aquino would consult the people of ARMM who to appoint as OIC there if Congress passed the bill postponing the elections, which he had certified as urgent.

?This is not going to be a dictatorial process,? said spokesperson Edwin Lacierda.

Past violators

According to a lawyer in ARMM and an expert on autonomy, three former presidents had already violated the law that created ARMM by agreeing to postpone elections there in the past.

Lawyer Ernie Masorong, ARMM regional Cabinet secretary, said, however, that it was up to the Supreme Court to decide if a case was filed against the Malacañang-backed plan to postpone ARMM elections in August.

The elections have been postponed under former presidents Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Records from the Commission on Elections (Comelec) showed that since the establishment of ARMM, only two elections were held on schedule?the first in 1990 and in 2008.

Republic Act No. 6734 was the original law that created the ARMM in 1987. RA 9054 amended the law and expanded the ARMM to its current territory.

During a visit here earlier this month, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has reiterated that postponing the elections has legal basis.

Bad precedent

A top election lawyer, however, said the Palace move to postpone ARMM elections and appoint officers in charge would set a bad precedent.

Lawyer Romulo Macalintal, in a statement, said local and national officials could use the ARMM case to justify an extension of their terms as well.

?The practice of postponing elections is not healthy for our electoral processes,? said Macalintal. ?The time might come when even the 2013 elections or the 2016 elections would also be postponed to extend the terms of office of senators or the President.?

?They could just come up with whatever reasons they want (to postpone the elections),? he said.

He said Mr. Aquino might have been ill-advised on the postponement of elections in ARMM.

Continued intervention

Catholic priest Eliseo Mercado Jr., executive director of the Institute of Autonomy and Governance, said ?elections in the ARMM had been reset eight to 11 times if you count the few weeks or months of extension of the incumbents.?

Mercado, a recognized expert on autonomy, blamed ?the continued congressional interventions of setting and resetting elections in the ARMM,? which he said ?have made a mockery of autonomy and self-determination and the spirit and letter of the Organic Act.?

Masorong said the Organic Act is not an ordinary law. It was approved by the people in a plebiscite.

?There is no better option but to follow the rule of law by holding the scheduled elections in August,? Mercado said.

Rey Sumalipao, Comelec ARMM director, said as far as Comelec is concerned, the elections would push through in August.

?There?s no law passed by Congress for the postponement, so our preparation for the holding of the elections continues,? he said. With reports from Christine Avendaño in Manila; and Charlie Señase, Nash Maulana and Jeoffrey Maitem, Inquirer Mindanao

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