[My next column in Catalyst]
On its face, the Supreme Court’s Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) on the implementation of the law postponing the ARMM elections is a triumph for the principles of autonomy and democracy. The law has been criticized and resisted by many sectors on the basis of the latter principles. However, when viewed within the context of the political developments in the South, the TRO has only confused an already complicated situation. In a word, it has become an unavoidably political decision.
First, most Moro political groups, including many in the opposition, had already accepted the reality of the law’s operations and its consequences. They are in the midst of discussions on the possible reforms that can be done during the 21 months of the transition period until the 2013 ARMM elections. They are also in the midst of applying for, being interviewed, and lobbying for appointments to various positions in the interim ARMM government.
Second, the peace negotiation with the MILF has reached a critical stage, when the two sides have formally submitted to the other side their initial negotiating positions. Each side—expectedly—rejected the other side’s position. The factionalism within the MILF, especially that of the Umbra Kato-led forces, lent urgency to the negotiating process. The Tokyo consensus points are imperilled.
The Supreme Court TRO decision came in at the last minute—when the officers-in-charge are about to be appointed by the President in consonance with the upcoming end of term of current set of ARMM officials on September 30, 2011. Logically, it should have issued the TRO upon the submission last July of the petitioners of their positions to the Supreme Court—in order to let the ARMM elections proceed as planned. The timing alone lends suspicion of a political decision.
The TRO, in effect, prevented Moro autonomy from working in the post-law period. All the consultations with various Moro sectors and groups will come to naught and their enthusiastic participation in the selection process will be set aside. The Supreme Court, ironically, is the culprit this time.
The nature of the issue at hand is very political. The primary branch to deal with it is the legislature. The Supreme Court, by accepting the case and acting on the TRO, is vulnerable to the charge of political legislation. Of course, it does not help that the Aquino government also became vulnerable to Supreme Court intervention due to the weak constitutional and legal bases for its decision to postpone the ARMM elections.
However, the issue now is how to proceed. The courses open to the government are all fraught with peril. One, it can contest the TRO with a motion for reconsideration and accept the real risk that it will be rejected and therefore lose more time in the process. Two, it can wait for September 30 and the President appoints officers-in-charge based on his residual powers to prevent a power vacuum and accept the risk that the Supreme Court may well issue another order preventing these from serving. Three, it may accept the present set of ARMM officials to maintain their offices on a holdover capacity after September 30 (the option seemingly preferred by the SC TRO) and accept the risk of non-implementation of its touted reforms.
The Aquino government has another option—and that is to confront frontally the increasingly political role that a core group of GMA loyalist justices wants the Supreme Court to perform. With a very high approval public trust rating and an aligned Congress, the possibility of impeaching these justices nears the realm of probability. This option has often been argued within the Aquino government as a surgical move—in place of the slow process of retiring justices—in order to prevent these justices from inflicting more political damage and derail court cases of grand corruption and plunder against GMA, her cohorts, and her cronies.
Will PNoy take this drastic move?