MANILA, Philippines - The Senate, on third and final reading, passed Senate Bill 2756, the counterpart of House Bill (HB) 4146, allowing the postponement of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) elections on August 8 and instead synchronizing it with the midterm national and local elections on 2013.
After six hours of debate, 13 voted in favor of the bill, while 7 senators voted against the measure.
The 13 senators who voted in favor of the postponement are:
- Juan Ponce Enrile,
- Jinggoy Estrada,
- Gregorio Honasan,
- Vicente Sotto III,
- Teofisto Guingona III,
- Ralph Recto,
- Francis Pangilinan,
- Miriam Defensor-Santiago,
- Manuel Lapid,
- Panfilo Lacson,
- Antonio Trillanes IV,
- Pia Cayetano, and,
- Franklin Drilon, the author of the measure.
Those 7 senators who voted opposing the bill are:
- Francis Escudero,
- Sergio Osmeña,
- Joker Arroyo,
- Juan Miguel Zubiri,
- Edgardo Angara,
- Ramon Revilla Jr., and,
- Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
Senator Loren Legarda was on an official mission abroad, while Senators Manny Villar and Alan Peter Cayetano were not in the Senate building during the nominal voting.
The approved bill also includes a provision that President Benigno Aquino III will have the power to appoint an officer-in-charge (OIC) in the region since the terms of incumbent officials expire on August 8, 2011.
Unless contested and the Supreme Court issues a temporary restraining order (TRO), President Aquino may sign the bill into law on Wednesday.
Unconstitutional ARMM polls?
During the plenary debate, Sen. Franklin Drilon argued that it is unconstitutional to hold elections in August since it would desynchronize elections in the country.
"Article 10, section 8 of the Constitution provides that local elective officials shall have a three-year term of office. Following the 3-year term of local elective officials, the last term of office of ARMM elective officials should have ended at noon of June 30, 2010," Drilon said.
"Not only must the ARMM election, undisputably a local election, be synchronized with the national election, the terms of office must also be synchronized," he added.
Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, an expert on Constitutional law, agreed with Drilon.
In her remarks before the Senate plenary debate, she said, "the principle of synchronization of national and local elections should be harmonized with the principle of local autonomy. Congress has the power to synchronize elections, while the powers of ARMM are limited to those enumerated in the Constitution, Art. 10, Section 20."
"To justify nullification of a law, there must be clear and unequivocal breach of the Constitution, not a doubtful and argumentative implication. A doubt even if well founded does not suffice," she added.
Santiago said a party who alleges the unconstitutionality of a statute normally has the burden of substantiating his or her claim.
"The quantum of proof is clear, palpable or manifest violation of the Constitution. The critics should show proof of unconstitutionality beyond reasonable doubt," she said.
Zaldy Ampatuan must go
Drilon, meanwhile, said Zaldy Ampatuan cannot continue to act in a hold over capacity as ARMM governor.
He said the president can appoint an officer-in-charge because the vacancy is created, not by the passage of the bill, but by the desynchronized election and term of office of the present occupant, which are contrary to the Constitution, and a ruling by the Supreme Court in the case of Osmeña vs Comelec in 1991.
But, Senator Miguel Zubiri, a senator from Mindanao, questioned a provision in the bill that allows the president to appoint, in an acting capacity, ARMM officials until 2013.
"We are giving this blanket authority to our leader without any qualifications in mind, I'm just putting it in proper perspective," Zubiri said.
"Whoever is appointed and sit as acting governor will have the advantage of running in 2013 and winning," he added.
Drilon quickly defended the President by saying Aquino will be accountable to the ARMM constituents.
"He is exercising a political power, a power vested in him under the Constitution, the President will be answerable to the Filipino people. If the appointee does not perform in accordance to what is accorded to him, it is the president who will be in the bar of public opinion," Drilon said.
Sen. Joker Arroyo, for his part, suggested that they allow the elections to proceed but let the term of office to end in 2013 to answer the legal problem of synchronization.
Arroyo said he is opposed to giving power to the president to appoint acting officials in lieu of elections this August.
"23 senators are all Christians, and we Christians are going to tell the 2-3 million Muslims in ARMM how to run their government, it is so unfair." Arroyo said.
"If the Muslim community would want to run their affairs the way they see it, then so be it, but to impose our standards is kind of repugnant," he added.
Drilon, on the other hand, said that this is not an issue of Christians versus Muslims. "We are all Filipinos who want to follow the Constitution, we are not dictating and telling the Muslims how to run themselves."