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There’s no stopping Tingting

The President’s aunt is not about to let her nephew Benigno Aquino III, who is working for the postponement of the August 8 elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, stop her from becoming one of the region’s top officials.

“How can you put me, a woman who is so revolutionary in her ideas and with qualifications, in a closet… just because he may say that he doesn’t want his relatives around him?”  Margarita “Tingting” Cojuangco said yesterday.

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“I will not be curtailed.”

Cojuangco, who recently filed her candidacy for ARMM vice governor, spoke at a Manila forum where PDP-Laban presented to the media the party’s official candidates in the elections in the predominantly Muslim region.

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PDP-Laban president Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III said that after a thorough deliberation, the party had chosen Cojuangco as running mate of former Sultan Kudarat Representative Pax Mangudadatu, a veteran Muslim politician who will run for governor.

Pimentel said the party was “thinking out of the box” when it decided to field “a Muslim who has won Christian hearts  and a Christian who has the heart for Muslims” in the ARMM elections.

Cojuangco said the people of ARMM must be allowed to exercise their right to vote being in a democracy.

“His mother pushed for democracy… so why [is he pushing] for a postponement when there’s no war or calamity or any other serious reason?” said Cojuangco, wife of former Representative and currently Philippine Olympic Committee chief Jose Cojuangco.

Mr. Aquino has proposed the rescheduling of the ARMM elections so they would be synchronized with the midterm elections in 2013. He said that would minimize the impact of “command votes which distort the system of getting a mandate from the people.”

The postponement bill has already been approved in the House of Representatives but the Senate has yet to submit a committee report on the matter.

Advice to the President

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Cojuangco also pointed out that the Constitution does not give a president the right to appoint anyone in a holdover capacity in ARMM.

She said that before filing her certificate of candidacy she told the President she would be advocating the holding of ARMM elections as scheduled.  She also advised him against working for the polls’ postponement, she said.

“I was saying, ‘Please preserve the area, your bailiwick where you won,’ but he chose to listen to those promoting for a no-election,” she said.

Often described as a philanthropist and a socialite, the former Tarlac governor also defended herself against critics who have questioned her capability to hold an important government post in a Muslim-dominated region.

Cojuangco said she had been maintaining a residence in Tawi-Tawi and in Maguindanao since 1988. She also transferred her voter registration records from Tarlac to Maguindanao two months ago.

“I am proud of being a Catholic but I also have a heart for the Muslims,” she said, adding that her more than two decades of conducting research on Mindanao’s history and the tribal communities of ARMM, among others, made her fit for the job.

Invitations to weddings

“Through them (Muslims), I’ve been able to finish my master’s degree, two in fact, and a doctorate in criminology so I come very equipped for the job in terms of my schooling [and] that will be applicable especially regarding public safety and national security,” she said.

She added she wanted to be the person to bridge the “great divide” among Christians, Muslims and the Lumad in the region.

Pimentel said having a non-Muslim like Cojuangco in ARMM “is ideal because while the ARMM has a predominantly Muslim population, the region also has non-Muslim residents like ethnic Filipinos, highlanders and Christians.”

A PDP-Laban statement also said Cojuangco had served Muslims through her harelip operation program, by giving them job opportunities and by fulfilling “numerous invitations” as godmother to weddings.

‘There’s still time’

Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr., chair of the Senate’s local government committee, yesterday said he had assured Senate leaders and Malacañang that he would submit early next week his committee’s report on the administration bill seeking deferment of the polls.

“I have informed my colleagues of the schedule of the committee so as to give them enough time following procedure, to ensure that a vote takes place before adjournment,” he said.

Congress adjourns sine die on June 8.

“He promised me and Senate President (Juan Ponce) Enrile that he would do his best to come out with the committee report on Tuesday afternoon,” Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III said in an interview.

Final hearing

Mr. Aquino has certified the bill as urgent.

The local government committee has set a final hearing on the bill for Tuesday morning, leaving only four session days for senators to debate and vote on it before adjournment.

The content of the committee report is another matter the senators will have to grapple with.

Marcos has hinted his committee report will be adverse to the original bill, a situation that would mean its referral to the archives.

“That could complicate matters,” Sotto said.

Even so, under the Senate Rules, five senators could retrieve it by moving for its inclusion in the calendar for ordinary business, Sotto said.

If that happens, the committee report could be debated, amended or voted upon even in just one session day, he said.

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TAGS: August 8 Elections, Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Margarita “Tingting” Cojuangco, Politics
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