Jun Mercado, OMI

The debate is heating up on the issue of postponement of the ARMM Elections due on the 8th of August 2011. The ball is now in the Senate and the people from both sides of the debate eagerly await the Senate verdict.

People who oppose postponement hope that the Senate would exercise more independence and wisdom in deciding on the issue that involves not only ARMM elections but also the very heart of autonomy and self-rule which in local parlance means ‘Malacañang, keep off’. The position lies on the principle of democracy and self-rule. The RA 9054 or the Organic Act or the Basic Law of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao guarantees self-rule including the manner of choosing their leaders so long that it would not affect national elections.

The Organic Act is not a simple piece of legislation. It was ratified by the people that now constitute the ARMM. Any amendment of the Organic Act has to be enacted by Congress with a 2/3 majority with both houses voting separately and the final arbiter for the said amendment being the ARMM voters who would ratify/reject the proposed amendments in a plebiscite called for the purpose.

On the other hand, the national government believes that there is an urgent need for reforms in the ARMM. To effect the said reforms, the government is proposing a cancellation of the August 8th, 2011 ARMM Elections and the president to appoint OICs who would initiate the ‘desired’ reforms in the ARMM.

There are actually barely 22 months between 30th September 2011 and May 13th, 2013 for the appointed OICs to set in the much needed reforms in the ARMM.

The debates between the two camps have been going on peacefully albeit some arm twisting of the LGUs. But on the main, I thought it is a real exercise of democracy as people express their views and takes on the holding of the August 8th ARMM Elections or postponing the same to May 13th, 2013.

I have learned to respect the pro postponement position and the reason for such advocacy notwithstanding my personal opposition to said idea.

I believe that the ARMM is in need of reforms. But I believe in a long and sustainable reform and NOT on an instant reforms to be accomplished in 22 months. To begin with, the reforms that the proponents of postponement speak of are rather ambiguous and generic. Coupled by a lack of concrete people that they can identify to effect such reforms, I thought the whole project amounts to romanticism, to say the least.

I thought that the democratic debates on the issue will provide the Senators for a conscience vote on the following issues:

First is the rule of law involving the treatment of RA 9054;

Second is the wisdom of the senators in dealing with self-rule or self-determination as guaranteed by RA 9054; and

Third is the very issue of doing away with elections – its morality in a democratic process albeit flawed.

Then comes the speculation on possible lawlessness in the ARMM that would warrant the postponement of ARMM Elections as scheduled.

I believe that the pro postponement people including government have the moral stature not to use instances of kidnapping like what occurred recently in North Upi to justify postponement. The prospect of widespread lawlessness in the ARMM is highly speculative and it has NO basis in fact. Kidnapping and terrorism form a separate and parallel tract. The Security Sector, LGUs and CSO should address the said issues apart from the issue of ARMM Elections.

I believe that government will abide by the Senate votes. And I am sure that government would defend the legality of any such law if it is questioned in the Supreme Court. Ultimately, the government would go by the decision of the Supreme Court on the issue.

This week, the Senate would debate the merit of the issue. Our senators, hopefully, would NOT give in to pressures but they should weigh the following:

1. What the Organic Law (RA 9054) says about elections and whether the said law gives continuous discretion to Congress to hold, cancel or postpone the ARMM Elections by simply passing an ordinary legislation; and

2. Congress cancel/ postpone elections and authorize the president to appoint OICs for 22 months in the name of reforms.

Let us keep the debates alive as we move towards the Senate votes on the issue. But above all, in the spirit of autonomy already granted to the ARMM, let the people of the ARMM in a referendum called for purpose decide on the issue. I believe and hold that the people of the ARMM should be the final arbiter on the cancellation of the scheduled elections on the 8th of August 2011.