Press Release
May 31, 2011


Session Hall


I rise here today, Mr. President, to seek the support of this Chamber in the enactment into law of SB 2756 which seeks to defer the election for the regional Governor, Vice Governor and members of the regional legislative assembly of the ARMM from the original schedule of August 8, 2011 to the second Monday of May 2013.

Let me begin, Mr. President, by asserting that the holding of the August 8, 2011 ARMM election is unconstitutional in that the enabling law, RA 9333 provides for desynchronized election, and is not consistent with the constitutional mandate to synchronize the local and national election. If anything, Mr. President, the proposal embodied in SB 2756 to defer elections in ARMM for the purpose of synchronizing them with the national and local elections in 2013 is actually in harmony with the intention in the Constitution to hold synchronized elections.

The ruling of the Supreme Court in the 1991 case of Osmeña et al vs. Commission on Elections is instructive and controlling. In striking down as unconstitutional RA 7056 which called for the holding of a national election on the second Monday of May 1992 and the local election on the second Monday of November 1992, the Supreme Court, citing the proceedings in the Constitutional Commission, said:

"It thus becomes very evident that the Constitution has mandated a synchronized national and local election. With the clear mandate of the 1987 Constitution to hold synchronized (simultaneous) national and local election xxx the inevitable conclusion would be that Republic Act 7056 is clearly violative of the constitution because it provides for the holding of a desynchronized election".

This ruling, we strongly submit, is squarely controlling on RA 9333. We cannot hold the August 8, 2011 ARMM election. We cannot spend public funds for the purpose. That election must be cancelled.

As pointed out by the noted constitutional scholar and member of the 1986 Constitutional Commission Fr. Joaquin Bernas:

"[S]ynchronization also finds support in the desire of the transitory provisions of the 1987 constitution that local elections be synchronized with national elections. This desire is not explicitly stated but it can be deduced from sections 2 and 5 of the transitory provisions. And since the ARMM elections are local elections, it stands to reason that they should be synchronized with other local elections."

There is no reason, therefore, whether in logic or law, to continue to insist that the ARMM elections should be conducted separately, in view of this Constitutional imperative. The Constitution commands synchronization, and the current proposal merely seeks to ensure compliance with that command.

Let me now address the supposed "unconstitutionality" of the proposal. Those who oppose the measure claim that a deferment of the elections is necessarily an "amendment" of Organic Act, and thus, must be approved by 2/3 of all the members of the Senate and House of Representatives, and approved in a plebiscite.

Allow me, Mr. President, to put this "issue" to rest, once and for all. A deferment of the ARMM regional elections does not constitute an amendment of the Organic Act, RA 9054. Nowhere in this Act is a specific date for the holding of regular elections prescribed. In fact, the only provision in RA 9054 that mentions a date for elections is found in the transitory provisions, Article XVIII, Section 7, which refers specifically and explicitly only to the first regular elections conducted after the adoption of the Act. Thus, SB 2756, which sets the date of the next regular election on the second Monday of May 2013, and subsequent elections on the same date every three years thereafter, in no way amends, modifies, repeals, revises, or changes any portion of the Organic Act.

The current August 8, 2011 date for the ARMM elections is prescribed, not under the Organic Act, but under RA 9333, which set the elections for the second Monday of August 2005, and on the same date every three years thereafter. Very clearly therefore, SB 2756 does not seek to amend a single letter in the text of the Organic Act, but instead amends a different law, RA 9333. This is not the first time that the ARMM elections have been deferred and rescheduled. Since the enactment of the original Organic Act, RA 6734, and the passage of RA 7647, the law that first set the date for regular elections in the ARMM, seven laws, the last of which is RA 9333, have been enacted to change the date of elections.

Rescheduling the ARMM elections to 2013 and synchronizing them with the national and local elections, of course, raises the question as to how the vacancies in the regional government - that will necessarily arise when the terms of incumbent elected officials expire this September - will be filled. SB 2756 empowers the President to appoint officers-in-charge to perform the functions of the regional elective officials.

It bears emphasizing, that the power of the President outlined in SB 2756 finds support in the case of Menzon v. Petilla decided by the Court in 1991, and it is a rule that applies squarely to the situation that now confronts us. It cannot be denied that the Constitution, in Article X, Section 16, explicitly vests the President with the power of general supervision over the autonomous region, and it is in the exercise of such power, as explained by the Court in Menzon, that he may act to address a vacuum in local leadership. SB 2756 merely states in express terms this settled judicial and constitutional doctrine.

But apart from its legal and Constitutional consistency and validity, Mr. President, the broader concern, simply put, is the need to introduce urgent and crucial reforms into the electoral and political system currently prevailing in the ARMM, with the ultimate aim of putting in place a social, political, and economic environment that will allow for the meaningful and genuine exercise of democratic rights by its people.

We must recall, Mr. President, that the ARMM was established with, among other expectations, the hope that it would address the staggering levels of poverty and underdevelopment in the region. Sadly, however, since the establishment of the ARMM, poverty incidence in the region has steadily increased, from 18.6% in 1991, to nearly double this at 38.1% in 2009. Four of its five constituent provinces - Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, and Maguindanao - are among the poorest in the country.

Far from fulfilling the hopes of progress and development, the various regional governments that have come to power since the establishment of the ARMM have, if anything, only worsened the plight of the people they are pledged to serve. Persistent reports of large-scale corruption, election irregularities, and incidents of violence come from the region with an alarming regularity. There is, therefore, a clear, urgent, and undeniable need to clean house within ARMM, to address the multitude of problems and concerns currently plaguing the ARMM.

The DILG, along with a substantial number of citizens' groups and people's organizations, have taken the position that these crucial initiatives must be implemented before another election is conducted. Otherwise, the outcome of such an election cannot be guaranteed to be clean, honest, and truly reflective of the will of the people of the ARMM.

Five key reform proposals have been identified, all of which are intended to be implemented within the next 20 months before the 2013 elections. These initiatives are all aimed at addressing the most urgent concerns in the region, and ensuring that the people of ARMM are fully empowered to freely and genuinely express their sentiments in the next regional election.

The first is the institution of electoral reforms. COMELEC needs to cleanse the voters' list, conduct re-registration of voters, and modernize the election process.

Second is the implementation of peace and order initiatives. To address the alarming and increasing incidence of criminality, insurgency, lawlessness and terrorist activities in the region, as well as to create an environment conducive to free, open, and honest elections, a satellite PNP Regional Command Office in Sulu has to be established and maintained. Similarly, continuing efforts to neutralize and disband the 41 private armed groups in the region must be stepped up.

Third, recommendations of the COA special audit on ARMM must be acted upon. A special audit of ARMM utilization of funds conducted by the Commission on Audit in 2010 concluded that the Regional Government showed total disregard of budgeting, accounting and auditing rules and regulations, prompting COA to require the refund of over P1 Billion in unauthorized payments to the Office of the Regional Governor.

Fourth, an additional and detailed Fund Utilization Audit in ARMM provinces and municipalities must be conducted.

Finally, there must be an effort to accelerate service delivery and implementation of development projects. Of the Regional Government's P11.179 billion budget for 2011 under the General Appropriations Act, some P8.28 billion has been earmarked for the implementation of programs and projects. The smooth implementation of these programs and projects by honest, credible, and competent regional officials shall ensure the steady and sustained growth and development in the region that in turn will redound to better delivery of economic and social services to the people.

All these initiatives will be more easily and effectively implemented if the elections are deferred until 2013. Perhaps more significantly, Mr. President, the implementation of these initiatives will help revive the hope that autonomy for the ARMM can mean something far more than just being granted the formal trappings of democracy. But that rather, autonomy can lead to the capability and opportunity for the people of ARMM to fully and freely participate in the process of attaining peace, prosperity, and development for themselves and their communities. And that ultimately, Mr. President, is the hope that we want to realize with this measure.

Thank you.

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