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Supreme Court upholds Aquino on ARMM elections

Ex-Representative Hataman leads aspirants for OIC governor

Supreme Court spokesperson and Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

Mujiv Hataman, a former Anak Mindanao party-list representative, has the best chance of getting appointed officer in charge (OIC) of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), a member of President Benigno Aquino III’s Cabinet on Tuesday told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

The Cabinet member floated the name of Hataman after the Supreme Court upheld the law synchronizing the ARMM polls with the national elections in 2013.

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Voting 8-7, the Supreme Court ruled as constitutional a law postponing the ARMM elections scheduled for Augst 8 and authorizing the President to appoint OICs to take over elective executive and legislative positions in the region.

Republic Act No. 10153, passed by Congress on June 6 and signed by Mr. Aquino on June 30, synchronized the ARMM elections with the May 2013 midterm polls. It also allowed the President to appoint OICs to replace the ARMM officials whose terms were to expire on September 30.

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“The majority believes that it is within the power of Congress to synchronize elections and to authorize the President to appoint OICs,” Supreme Court spokesperson Jose Midas Marquez said at a press briefing.

As an autonomous unit, the ARMM—composed of Basilan, Tawi-Tawi, Sulu, Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur provinces—has its own Cabinet officials, along with a governor and vice governor.

With the latest ruling, the September 13 temporary restraining order issued by the tribunal against RA  10153, which also allowed the outgoing ARMM officials to remain in office on “holdover capacity,” was also deemed revoked, Marquez said.

Mr. Aquino, who expressed his displeasure with the Supreme Court when it issued a temporary restraining order on RA 10153 weeks ago, thanked the tribunal for upholding efforts to end the cycle of impunity, corruption and poverty in the region.

Majority vote

The majority justices were composed of Arturo Brion, who wrote the decision, Lucas Bersamin, Diosdado Peralta, Martin Villarama Jr., Jose Mendoza, Mariano del Castillo, Bienvenido Reyes and Estela Perlas-Bernabe.

Marquez said all 15 justices voted that synchronization was constitutional. Three of the dissenters, namely Antonio Carpio, Jose Perez and Ma. Lourdes Sereno said the only OIC the President could appoint was the ARMM  governor.

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The other three, namely Chief Justice Renato Corona, Presbitero Velasco Jr. and Roberto Abad, said the appointment of any OIC was unconstitutional.

Short lists

The Cabinet source, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak on the matter, said a selection committee had already come up with short lists for  the posts of OIC governor, vice governor and members of the regional legislative assembly.

Another official in Malacañang confirmed that Hataman was the front-runner among those on the short list for OIC governor, which includes Saidamen Pangarungan, a former deputy interior secretary.

Interior Secretary Jesse M. Robredo said Maguindanao Governor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu was also on the short list. “The President will make the announcement once he has made his choice (of OIC governor),” Robredo said.

Earlier, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) revealed an initial short list of seven candidates for governor that included Ali Sanchez, Lanto Makabangkit, Saidamen Pangarungan, Dimas Pundato and Norma Sharief, all of Lanao del Sur.

In September, the DILG, in consultation with leaders of the Senate and the House of Representatives, submitted to Malacañang a short list of three names each for OIC governor and vice governor of the region, as well as candidates for each district’s Regional Legislative Assembly.

The initial OIC aspirants for vice governor were acting ARMM Governor Ansaruddin Adiong of Lanao, Hatimil Hassan of Basilan, former Moro Islamic Liberation Front spokesperson Eid Kabalu, Bobby M. Datimbang and Bainon Karon, all of Maguindanao.

Interviews, bombing

The initial short list of seven aspirants for governor and seven others for vice governor underwent a series of screening activities, including media interviews, forums and consultations with regional leaders, including one in September that was marred by roadside bomb explosions near the venue in Cotabato City.

Commission on Elections Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. said he was relieved by the Supreme Court decision.

Brillantes said the Comelec had long been in favor of having the regional elections postponed because it would give it more time to prepare for the May 2013 midterm elections.

“We really didn’t want the ARMM elections to be held [this year],” he said.

Chaos

“If the elections in ARMM would be scheduled next year, we’d be in chaos. We should be preparing that time for the 2013 polls,” Brillantes said.

Conducting the ARMM elections manually would give the Comelec only about two months to prepare, but he said, the law required that the polls be automated.

The President said that if local political families attend to their election at the same time that national elections were being conducted, “they would be less able to utilize command votes in favor of political patrons to subvert the national will.”

He noted that command voting had contributed to the cycle of impunity as exemplified by the Maguindanao massacre, in which 57 people were killed.

Mr. Aquino said that it was this impunity that manifested itself in irregularities in the office of the Maguindanao governor, like not being able to account for the release of more than P865 million in cash advances to officers.

He said poverty also plagued the region. Its poverty incidence in 2009 stood at 38.1 percent.

“The Supreme Court decision gives us a great opportunity to correct these long-standing problems. It is an opportunity that we will not squander,” the President said in a statement read by his spokesperson, Edwin Lacierda.

Mr. Aquino said he would appoint OICs in consultation with stakeholders. “The nation can rest assured that these OICs will be people of integrity and competence—who will spend their days in office pursuing genuine reform and development,” he said.

“As we prepare to synchronize ARMM and national elections in 2013, our nation has taken another significant step into daylight. May all our leaders, at all levels and branches of government, continue to be bound by our common agenda of lasting and equitable progress for the Filipino people,” he added.

P8.59-B allocation

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad also announced the President’s approval of an P8.59-billion allocation for the ARMM Transition and Investment Support Plan. It is aimed at addressing the high poverty rate, and poor health conditions and basic education in the region.

The allocation is part of the government’s P72-billion stimulus package meant to shield the economy from the effects of the global economic woes.

Abad said the Cabinet was finalizing a governance reform roadmap to be implemented in the ARMM from now until June 30, 2013, when the next elected leadership of the regional will assume office.

‘Divided’

A copy of the court decision had yet to be given at press time. Marquez acknowledged that the Supreme Court was “divided” on the issue and that Brion’s ponencia was being “redrafted” because it was originally a dissenting opinion.

The parties who are not satisfied with the ruling may still file a motion for reconsideration within 15 days upon receiving their copies of the decision.

Asked why newly appointed Associate Justices Reyes and Bernabe voted on the case, Marquez said this was allowed because the new magistrates participated in subsequent deliberations. Reyes and Bernabe did not participate in the August 9 oral arguments as they were not members of the Court at the time.

Marquez said the decision on ARMM polls had nothing do with the controversies surrounding the Supreme Court.

“It has nothing to do with our [conflict with Congress regarding the Supreme Court’s] budget. It has nothing to do with the supposed word war between the Palace and the Court,” he said.

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TAGS: ARMM polls, Benigno Aquino III, Government, Mujiv Hataman, Politics, Supreme Court
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