Protests greet solons on plan to postpone elections in ARMM
COTABATO CITY, Philippines—Hundreds of protesters greeted lawmakers who came here yesterday to start a series of consultations over plans to postpone elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao that were put on hold.
Bai Ali Indaila, of the group Kagawib, said postponing elections in ARMM was a dictatorial move.
House Bill No. 4146, sponsored by Maguindanao Rep. Bai Sandra Sema and several other lawmakers, seeks to move the elections from August this year to May 2013 simultaneous with midterm elections that year.
The protesters also denounced alleged pressure from the Department of the Interior and Local Government on local officials to toe Mr. Aquino’s line by supporting the bill.
<Strong>Cory legacy </strong>
Indaila said the ARMM is the legacy of Mr. Aquino’s mother, the late President Corazon C. Aquino, and postponing elections there would be reminiscent of how the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos governed.
Another congressman added his voice to opposition to the postponement of the elections.
In a statement, Rep. Jack Enrile of Cagayan said “imperial Manila” should not dictate on the ARMM.
“Are we saying to our Muslim brothers that we, here in Manila, are better than them?” said Enrile.
He cited the case of Cagayan, which lost a representative who died and where special elections were called to fill the vacancy.
“It is not right to have special elections for Cagayan and yet postpone regular elections for Muslims,” said Enrile. “That is not democracy.”
<Strong>Dictatorial powers </strong>
The bill that is being pushed by Malacañang would allow Mr. Aquino to appoint officers in charge (OICs) to elective positions in the ARMM, whose terms of office are expiring in September this year, until elections are held in 2013.
Rep. Simeon Datumanong, of Maguindanao’s second district, said it was unconstitutional for the President to appoint OICs because ARMM’s elective posts were constitutionally created.
Datumanong was one of several lawmakers who walked out of proceedings of two committees endorsing the bill postponing the elections.
Roonie Sinsuat, speaker of the ARMM’s Regional Legislative Assembly (RLA), said the postponement would also violate the region’s charter which has been ratified by the people in a plebiscite in September 2001.
Datumanong and Sulu Rep. Tupay Loong said the public consultations here and in Marawi City on Saturday were promptly set by the two House committees after Mr. Aquino heeded demands for consultations to be held first before the House passed the bill postponing the elections.
A group of lawmakers, Muslim leaders and former Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. earlier accused Malacañang of seeking to postpone elections to appoint its choice officials to key ARMM posts.
<Strong>Adviser’s idea </strong>
The move to postpone the elections was believed to be an advice given the President by his political adviser, Ronald Llamas, a social democrat whose party-list group Akbayan is one of the prime movers of House Bill No. 4146.
Another set of consultations, to be held in Zamboanga City, is set in Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi on Sunday.
Mr. Aquino heeded the recommendation made by the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council and met with Muslim lawmakers and the chairs of the two House committees in Malacañang, according to Loong, who was at the meeting.
Loong, chair of the House Muslim affairs committee, said Mr. Aquino agreed to the holding of the consultations before the elections were postponed.
Congress has until March 25 to act on the bill, which was among several certified urgent by Mr. Aquino, before the two chambers go on a monthlong recess. <strong><em>Reports from Nash B. Maulana and Charlie C. Señase, Inquirer Mindanao </em></strong>