The events after the joint House committees on suffrage and electoral reforms and on Muslim affairs voted for the postponement of the August 2011 ARMM elections confirm the fear that the Aquino government wants to railroad the bill for postponement. They also confirm the emptiness of the ARMM as a model for the autonomy and democracy in the Bangsa Moro homeland. It is still the central government or, more particularly Malacañang, that calls the shot in the region.
First, it got an immediate urgent endorsement from the president and from LEDAC–after the House committees voted on it. Considering the urgency of reform bills now on track in Congress (such as the RH bill, the political party reform bill, the freedom of information bill, and the bills dealing with oil and inflation, tax revenues, or climate change), it is politically amazing that the synchronization of ARMM elections got an urgent presidential endorsement. This, despite the non-support for it from national electoral reform advocates.
Second, due to the vigorous opposition to it by the majority of ARMM congressmen and the seating ARMM autonomous government, the House committees–with obvious prodding from a hesitating Malacañang–conducted post-decision consultations in Zamboanga City, Cotabato City, and Marawi City. Both sides now claim that the consultations favored their position. What is evident, however, was that the administration resource persons uniformly presented their case for postponement within the context of it being a done deal, and asking only for suggestions on the process of appointment of officers-in-charge (OICs) and on possible “reforms” that can be made during the two-year hiatus until the 2013 national and local elections.
Third, the administration has undertaken a major national-level campaign to portray broad support from ARMM and Mindanao constituencies, including the reported arm-twisting of ARMM local officials who allegedly were threatened with difficulties with their internal revenue allotments (IRAs). The opposition expectedly came out with their own campaign.
There are several tragedies in the whole affair.
First is the setback it does to the principles and practice of autonomy and democracy. Whatever good intentions there exist in the postponement, these are swamped by the obvious setting aside of the processes that embody these principles.
The second is the involvement of many genuine advocates for autonomy and democracy for the Moro people in the Malacañang scheme. They have been promised an illusory future that may well compromise their advocacy. The political reality in the ARMM at this time is one of clan politics and the appointment process can only advantaged those clans with Malacañang connections, not necessarily those with advocacy for genuine democratic reforms.
The third is the damage it does to the democratic legacy of the Aquino family. The picture that is coming out of Malacañang nowadays is no different than the picture that came out in the early days of the previous post-Marcos governments. In some ways, it is worse because of the very high reform expectations in the new Aquino administration. This is a picture of various factions, old ones which conveniently “converted,” new ones from the former opposition, reform-oriented ones, and the usual power brokers from the regions, religious sector, business sector, and media sectors. The Malacañang stance on the ARMM election issue has all the earmarks of political maneuverings and none of the genuine reform orientations.
The handling of the ARMM election issue has already scarred the Aquino administration. It will also have negative effects on his popularity and handling of other contentious issues such as the impeachment of the ombudsman. The battle may already have been lost in the House but it is another matter in the Senate. Malacañang may well win the postponement issue with its heavy hand; however, it may turn out to be a pyrrhic victory.
A farcical autonomy that is the ARMM has been voluntarily undressed by the Aquino government. Has it also undressed its own hostile attitude towards Moro autonomy?