Malacañang has to get its way. In the Senate, judicious horse-trading produced the lopsided 13-7 vote for the postponement of the August 2011 ARMM elections to May 2013. The reconciliation of the House and Senate versions is a foregone conclusion. At the same time, the expected challenge before the Supreme Court may face more difficulties.
With the postponement, ARMM will enter uncharted and possibly more dangerous waters. It will have a long-term impact on the issue of the Moro right to self-determination and on the democratic discourse among the Moro people as well as among the non-Moro Mindanaoans.
All now hinge on the promised reforms in the coming 22 months. This hodgepodge of political and governance reforms promises to prepare the ground for “truly fair and free” 2013 ARMM elections. These consist–as presented by the Aquino administration–of cleansing the voter list, neutralizing if not eradicating warlordism, audit of ARMM funds, and delivery of government services across the board.
Cleansing the voter list–despite all the hype of biometrics–will require a new general registration. This is true for the national list, but even truer for the ARMM list.
Warlordism is a bit more ambitious but there is an outside chance for success if the administration exercises real political will and will negotiate, cajole, threaten, or order the dismantling of the warlord armies. Otherwise, it should be prepared to use state power to throw the book at the recalcitrant ones. The main factor however is to mitigate, if not remove the factors for the growth of warlordism–by achieving a just and lasting peace with the Moro rebellion, effectively addressing Moro poverty, assuring Moro-non-Moro peaceful and productive relations, and empowering Moro grassroots-based democracy.
Audit should only be the start of wide-ranging reforms in the ARMM administration, bureaucracy, and governance. ARMM and the local governments in the area should be retooled to ensure transparency, accountability and pro-people orientation of the ARMM government.
The delivery of government services such as education, health, job creation, and peace and order should be immediately done, maintained, and continuously improved.
The big IFs are two. Can this be done within the time frame of 22 months? Can these enumerated reforms produce the “fair and free 2013 elections?” However, there is also the bigger question: Are these enough?
After the postponement, we should all heal the wounds of the division and strive to bring about the promised reforms. This, despite all the misgivings.
Ironically, upon the “failed” ARMM rests the success of the administration’s venture. The Moro electorate in the 2013 ARMM elections will decide whether this experiment on “managed non-autonomous democracy” will advance the cause of Moro autonomy and democracy. Or, in another way of saying it, whether there is a lost and found ARMM opportunity.