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It’s official: ARMM polls scuttled

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines—It’s done. The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) elections are effectively postponed.

After the House of Representatives on Tuesday ratified the bill to postpone the polls that the Senate approved late Monday, all that is needed is for President Benigno Aquino III to put his signature on the document.

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House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said there was no longer any need for a bicameral conference committee to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the bill as the modifications made by the Senate were minor.

“The changes were not so drastic and we agreed with them,” he said.

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The House, which passed its version of the bill in March, met on Tuesday to look over the amendments made by the Senate and decided to adopt the Senate version in its entirety.

There was loud—but ultimately futile—opposition from the minority over the Senate’s removal of a provision in the House version which would have disqualified the Malacañang-appointed officers-in-charge from running in the elections of 2013.

Meanwhile, everyone is bracing for the inevitable battle in the Supreme Court over the new law’s constitutionality.

Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri, who was one of seven senators who voted against the bill, on Tuesday urged candidates for the ARMM elections “to go up to the SC and question this move.”

He said he was willing to serve as a “co-petitioner” in such a case, and provide complainants with logistical support, including minutes of the Senate deliberations.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Sen. Franklin Drilon, the author of the Senate version, said they were confident that the measure could withstand judicial scrutiny.

“I think we will win the case. We are respecting the Constitution, the highest law of the land,” Enrile said.

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“The postponement of the election is because of the constitutional mandate to have synchronized elections,” Drilon insisted.

Ali Macabalang, ARMM information officer, said the issue of postponing the elections was over, “but this is just the beginning of a continuing legal battle among legal experts.”

Kader Indar, a former Cotabato City judge, said Muslim lawyers will contest the postponement law “on the question of constitutionality.”

Indar said political appointments by the President in ARMM could “open the floodgates to political opportunism” instead of bringing reforms to the ARMM.

Maguindanao Rep. Simeon Datumanong, who opposed the bill in the House, said he would join the Muslim lawyers who would question the constitutionality of the measure before the courts as soon as it is signed into law by the President.

At the Commission on Elections, Chair Sixto Brilliantes said the poll body would be “a little bit happy, a little bit relaxed” in the next few months with Congress voting to postpone the elections.

Because of the delay in congressional action, the Comelec had been preparing for a manual voting at ARMM, in case the Aug. 8 vote would push through. Now it will put all preparations on hold, he said.

At the ARMM, the new law and the senators, whichever way they voted, got both cheers and jeers.

“This success is a victory in pushing for reforms in the ARMM,” said Maranao activist Abdullah Dalidig, a convenor of the Reform the ARMM Now (RAN) coalition, which campaigned among legislators to support the poll postponement.

But leaders of the Interfaith Movement for Peaceful and Clean Elections (IM4PEACE) criticized the Senate’s decision as allowing the “dictatorial drift” of Mr. Aquino.

“The Senate vote was not respectful of the democratic rights of the people of ARMM to choose their leaders,” said Khairodin Limba Amerol of IM4PEACE.

“The constituional rights of the people to choose their leaders have been curtailed through dictation,” said Pax Mangudadatu, a candidate for ARMM governor.

Henrietta de Villa, chair of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting, said in a radio interview the Senate vote made her “very sad.”

“The main issue is the autonomy of the region. Making elections there a touch and go thing, provoking a situation where public officials, especially the ARMM leadership, will be appointed by the central administration rather than elected by the ARMM voters themselves seem to trivialize the autonomy of the region, and in fact goes against the Organic Law creating the ARMM,” she said. With reports from Ryan D. Rosauro, Nash B. Maulana, Charlie C. Señase, Edwin O. Fernandez, Inquirer Mindanao

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TAGS: ARMM elections, Benigno Aquino III, Congress, postponement, Supreme Court
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