Press Release
March 21, 2011

Transcript of Senator Juan Miguel "Migz" Zubiri's speech on ARMM Elections


Out of the night that covers me,/Black as the Pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may be/ For my unconquerable soul./ In the fell clutch of circumstance/I have not winced nor cried aloud./ Under the bludgeonings of chance/My head is bloody, but unbowed./Beyond this place of wrath and tears/Looms but the horror of the shade,/And yet the menace of the years/ Finds, and shall find me, unafraid./ It matters not how strait the gate,/ How charged with punishments the scroll,/ I am the master of my fate;/I am the captain of my soul.

This poem, Mr President, is by William Ernest Henley written by him in his hospital bed while trying to survive a deadly disease. This poem is about courage in the face of death and holding one's own dignity despite the indignities life places before them, before us or in this particular case, Mr. President, the people of the ARMM and the possible threat to its democracy, the impending death of its people's right to suffrage.

Mr. President, I stand here before you as a senator from Mindanao, discussing an issue of Mindanao. Last Thursday, I flew to Cotabato City and some areas in the former province of Shariff Kabunsuan to consult with our muslim leaders there and for the record most of them were not politicians at all, I spoke to teachers, students, doctors, nurses, government employees or ARMM, soldiers and policemen and even Imams and leaders of their religious faith and they all have told me that they were very wary of the idea of postponing the elections of ARMM in different degrees of convictions, they were ,however, all unanimous in opposing the plan of appointing the leaders of the region and literally taking away the right to choose who should lead them and eventually robbing them of their right to decide their own fate.

My dear colleagues, even the auxillary bishop of Cotabato City, Bishop Colin Bagaforo was against the postponement of ARMM elections and appointment of ARMM officials. During my consultation with him he mentioned that this could be a recipe for disaster in the area and this could further weaken ARMM as an institution for autonomy in the region.

Mr President, my dear colleagues, I dare ask the question: Was the President of the Republic ill-advised on the decision to support House Bill 4146? I ask this question, Mr. President, and I carefully studied the positions of both sides on this controversial, proposed measure. The allies of the President and the proponents of the measure on one side say: that this is to reform the ARMM by instituting the needed safeguards to prevent frauds in the future and that the appointments of regional officials is a key in ensuring that these reforms are put in place and that the choices that will be made will be done by consultations.

Mr. President, more questions hound me. First, is it legal, will it be allowed under our democracy, will it be unconstitutional and what criteria if ever would be used to choose appointed officials? And who would the President consult with, a few political leaders who are on his side or may I say on Akbayan's side? Many on the side of the President on this issue will not argue that the ARMM election has been postponed several times in the past so there is a legal precedent on the matter. However, those who are against the HB 4146 will argue that the postponements were brief periods of time to allow the COMELEC to prepare for their elections and not once were the leaders appointment by Malacanang. During the extension period the elected leaders remained in a holdover capacity as they argued that at least those who sat during the duration of the extension period all had gone through an electoral process decided upon by their own people. So it seems the main question here is not just the temporary suspension of the people's right to suffrage but it seems it is the suspension of the democratic processes of which (people have the right) to choose their leaders who then decide the fate of 4.5 million people.

On the legal and constitutional issues, Mr. President, I would await the learned opinions of our constitutionalists in this August chamber such as Senators Miriam Defensor Santiago, Juan Ponce Enrile, Joker Arroyo, Edgardo Angara and others to add to the wisdom on this debate but let me just add what several legal luminaries and authors of the organic act have said. To allow the President to appoint caretaker officials to the ARMM would be an amendment to the autonomy act and that they argued under the autonomy law that any amendments to such statute would have to be approved by Congress with a two thirds vote of all of its members. It would also have to be submitted to the ARMM voters in a plebiscite for their approval or rejection. Those who wrote and crafted the organic act, Mr. President, believed that the holding of the ARMM elections separately from national and local elections so that it could allow the COMELEC, poll watchdogs, military and police and all the stakeholders to concentrate in the preparation of clean and honest elections of the ARMM.

In a situation of synchronized elections it would be a free for all - by all political partisans group in the area that could influence the outcome of the elections. Not to mention, Mr. President, the attention would be diluted away from the region and thus allowing possible shenanigans to once again take place.

I am not alone in this hypothesis, Mr. President, if certain sectors don't want to take my word for it then at least let us listen to the other voices of reason on this issue. Let me quote from the academe and the NGOs. This one particularly from Namfrel: postponing the ARMM elections defeats the institutional standard of free and fair elections and that the government should consult the people if they agree to suspend the ARMM polls. From the Consortium on Electoral Reforms: Elections should push through because it is an exercise of the democratic rights by the people of the ARMM and if we presume that we are a democratic nation then there should be no postponement of the ARMM elections whatsoever. From Fr. Eliseo Mercado of the Institute of Autonomy and Governance: Put an end to the mockery of our autonomy and self determination, the elections on August should be held with no ifs or buts as it would show respect for the law. The Center of People Empowerment and Governance says postponing the elections would institutionalize indecisiveness on the matter of electing the ARMM leadership and that appointing caretaker ARMM officials will only lead to acrimonious debate and animosity. And even the PPCRV headed by Henrietta De Villa want the elections to proceed and she says among our partners so far they want elections to push through. Even our friends from the media, from Rina Jimenez David: Clearly something is wrong with the ARMM as exemplified in the horrific Maguindanao massacre which symbolized the prevailing culture of abuse and impunity in the ARMM and elsewhere but is postponing the ARMM elections without a formal referendum among its citizens, the answer to its ills? Or would the flexing of political muscles among the dominant pro-Aquino forces in Manila only exacerbate the alienation of the ARMM from the nation? From Emil Jurado: President Aquino should rethink his plan to have the elections in ARMM reset. He should listen to the many legislators of Mindanao particularly the Muslim lawmakers on the dangers of postponing the scheduled polls, the President's move could erupt into a flashpoint and the postponement is a prescription for trouble. Malaya's editorial page: What presumptuousness? What are the residents of ARMM, wards of imperial Manila? The ARMM was set up precisely so that the Muslims in the south can enjoy some form of political autonomy and that we allowing themselves to run their own affairs subject to the following limitations. They can not enter diplomatic relations with other countries. They can not set up a military force separate from the Armed Forcers. They can not print their own money etcetera. In a democracy people are free to make a mess of themselves and their institutions they have to learn from their own mistakes. To deny that principle is like flirting with a dangerous idea of fraternalism. If we start enticing the notion that we in Manila know what is best and what is good for the ARMM residents we could end up opposing that this immature people of a different culture be fez up in a reservation. (MALAYA March 18)

Not to mention, Mr. President, a number of lawmakers, both congressmen and senators, who have criticized the proposal. Remember my colleagues that almost all the Muslim lawmakers opposed this move to postpone and appoint and consider this an undemocratic and unconstitutional. Aren't the Muslim lawmakers the representative of their people in the legislature then why are we not listening to them on this issue? It would be tantamount for example to forcing changes in the democratic process of Bicol without the support of our Bicolano congressmen and senators and only using the power of the majority to subvert their will. Wouldn't that be going overboard with a presidential prerogative and even bordering on the dictatorial?

Mr. President, even the President's uncle and aunt, Madam Ting-Ting and Mr. Peping Cojuanco are against their nephew's plan to support HB4246 by saying that pushing through with ARMM polls this year would be keeping with the Aquino's democratic legacy. Former Senator Aquilino Pimentel, author of the local government code and organic act, said it bluntly: Why are we interfering with the affairs of ARMM, we should let the people decide who to vote, some mistakes may have been committed here and there but let them become a true leaders of their destiny.

I totally agree with all their points, Mr. President. If reform is what we want in ARMM then let us give them the reform that they need without having to suppress the democratic processes -that their people have the right to decide on their future. The best form of consultation and consensus is a thorough, free, fair and honest election and not to a "pulong-pulong." The best reform we can give the ARMM and its people is to make sure that the sanctity of the ballot is protected and every vote is counted and that the voter's list is cleansed so that only the duly qualified voters may participate. These can be done now and not in two years. The President can support, if he wishes, a candidate who he thinks will lead the ARMM to its renaissance this August not necessarily a politician as he wish that the region be led with management skills and not just political skills. The President can order the replacement of all COA auditors and even appoint Heidi Mendoza to oversee ARMM and clean it from its soiled past. The President may even order all military and police who are still under his control within the republic to crackdown on all political armed groups, to remove and dismantle all political warlords in the country. All these without having to suppress democracy of the people and leaving a legacy that the former president, the mother of our President, Former President Corazon Aquino, had left us. The legacy that she protected dearly even until her death.

In closing, Mr. President, let me repeat the last paragraph of William Ernest Henley's poem with a bit of an amendment for the people of ARMM.

It matters not how straight the gate, how charge with punishments the stroll, they are the masters of their fate/ they are the masters of their soul.

Maraming Salamat po!

News Latest News Feed