The cat is already out of the bag. The administration of President Noynoy Aquino wants to postpone the ARMM elections and to appoint an officer-in-charge until the elections are synchronized with the national and local elections in 2013. Presumably, it will then let the elections be held in a credible, fair and free manner.
Predictably, those Moro clans who are with the administration jumped with alacrity into the Malacañang 10-wheeler. Predictably, those Moro clans who have benefited from the past Arroyo administration opposed it. Those who are now in power feel threatened and, while agreeing that the elections be postponed, argue for their retention in a “hold-over” capacity. Other groups want to dispense with the ARMM altogether or to hold an immediate referendum to decide whether to go through with the ARMM elections.
The big surprise in the scenario is the passionate advocacy of some non-Moro groups–both Mindanaoans and those in Manila, including those who fashionably termed themselves as democrats, liberals, pro-Moro, and/or anti-imperial Manila freedom fighters–for Malacañang to intervene, for the umpteenth time, in ARMM elections.
The irony here is that they are now arguing for President Aquino to appoint an OIC when they were demanding previously against presidential intervention in internal Moro affairs. For sure, appointing an OIC will be a first in any administration. In itself, it will be a setback to the cause of Moro self-determination and to the cause of Philippine democracy itself.
The disruption of the regularity of elections–without the existence of extraordinary conditions that justify it–weakens the democratic argument and undermines the rule of law. The synchronization of elections–avowed basis for the OIC appointment–rests on specious and tongue-in-cheek foundations.
Let me cite Fr. Eliseo “Jun” Mercado, OMI, in this regard:
“The first argument is to leave the ARMM configuration open to whatever may ensue from the peace process with both the MILF and the MNLF. The peace process in the Southern Philippines would NOT come to an ‘end’ in three years or before the elections of 2013. Even if agreement is signed with the MILF before the 2013 Elections, the said Peace Agreement still has to be legislated by Congress. Both the negotiation and the consequent legislation are long and tedious work. It is a wrong and definitely bad policy to hold the ARMM structures and leadership hostage to the vagaries of peace negotiation and legislation by Congress.”
“The second argument is to allow the incumbents to introduce reforms in the ARMM during the two years ‘extension’. It is good to state at the outset that REFORMING the ARMM, definitely, is a gargantuan task. The two-year extension even directly guided by the Prophet Muhammad or Jesus himself would hardly make any difference. Reform should be seen as a continuing task and challenge both for the regional leadership and national leadership that exercises general supervision over the areas of autonomy.”
“The third argument is the flawed elections in the ARMM. If this is the case, the appropriate action is not canceling elections but introducing reforms in the conduct of elections in the ARMM beginning with the book of registered voters.”
The Commission on Elections, through chairman Brillantes himself, has assured the joint House committee on suffrage and electoral reforms and the committee on Muslim affairs that it can hold the ARMM elections in August 2011 as scheduled, that it can be automated with additional safeguards such as the use of fingerprint identification. I also think it can undertake a general registration of ARMM voters before August if needed, as well as all the other measures necessary to ensure a credible, fair and free ARMM elections.
Let me add that president Aquino (and his people power supporters and allies) cannot effectively implement a genuine reform program to strengthen Philippine democracy without practicing democratic principles and methodologies.
Arguments were also advanced that the postponement is necessary and an OIC can ensure that a democratic reform path will be taken in order to break the rule of the warlord clans in the area and ensure ARMM development. This is self-serving at its worst.
So, “managed democracy” is now the name of the game for the current administration? What is the difference with the methods of the past administrations, including that of Marcos? Did not all those previous “managed” arrangements end up with the ARMM far worse than before.
Democracy cannot be built and strengthened without institutionalizing democratic practices. The Aquino administration–with its avowed democratic legacy–will be far better off by making sure democracy works in ARMM, not by presidential fiat but by ensuring the will of the Moro people are respected and affirmed.
For democratic forces, they are far better off in continuing to advocate for electoral reforms and strengthening democracy in the Bangsa Moro homeland–at the moment, the ARMM. For those among them in the halls of power, they are in a position to implement these reforms–by making sure that the ARMM August elections are held as scheduled, in a fair and free manner as possible, and even to campaign for genuine democratic Moro leaders to lead the ARMM.
Eventually, what is necessary is to institute new, democratic political rules whereby Moro political groups, including the tribes and clans, contest on a level playing field. The results then, will be acceptable to all.
If you want to meddle in the ARMM elections, then do it the democratic way. Power used wisely strengthens the hand of the sovereign people in a democracy. Power used wrongly only strengthens the hand of the ruler and his courtiers.