Malacañang’s announcement of president Macapagal-Arroyo’s decision to ask Congress to postpone the ARMM elections suddenly thrusts what was essentially a regional affair into the center of national attention. It was not really the announcement itself that raised eyebrows, but its antecedent. Malacañang specifically pointed to a request by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as its reason for the request.
This is unprecedented insofar as the request and the reaction of the Palace happened in the course of informal talks and without the benefit of a formal agreement. That the president can agree to defer a major constitutional exercise such as an election based merely on a “request” speaks volumes on its importance for the Arroyo administration.
There are two GMA arguments made stronger if and when the deferment of the ARMM elections takes place. One, constitutional processes can be deferred/suspended and the constitution can be amended to give way to the exigencies or agreements in peace negotiations. We remember the Esperon play for federalism–therefore requiring charter change–supposedly to accommodate MILF “ancestral domain claims.”
Two, Congress and Comelec (and possibly the Supreme Court, if the whole thing reaches it) are amenable to Malacañang designs, particularly if the Moro peace process is invoked. Again, the charter change scenario through a Constituent Assembly scenario comes to mind, using the MILF demand as a basis for the call for federalism.
Unfortunately for both MILF and the peace process, this line of argument will not take off under the current political crisis. The postponement of the ARMM elections may have its own merits but there will be resistance to its antecedence and its cha-cha context. This is aside from the fact that the GMA administration–in the twilight of its term and in the nadir of its credibility–is not exactly in the best position to guarantee any agreement reached.
The best course for MILF is to wait for the next president, with more credibility, to replace GMA before inking any agreement. It should not wait for GMA to defer the ARMM elections.