Face-off in Cotabato on ARMM polls

by Lerio Bompat and Ayesha Gayao, ABS-CBN News Cotabato

Posted at Mar 10 2011 08:26 PM | Updated as of Mar 11 2011 07:12 PM

COTABATO CITY, Philippines - Hundreds of demonstrators for and against House Bill 4146, proposing the synchronization of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and the mid-term elections in 2013, faced off at the compound of the regional governor's office Thursday.

The bill also includes provisions on the appointment of officers-in-charge (OICs) who would handle ARMM affairs until the elections.

To ease the tension, troops from the Armed Forces and the police were deployed in the area to ensure that no untoward incidents will happen while a public hearing was being held at the Shariff Kabunsuan Cultural Complex inside the compound.

Chants from the group in favor of continuing the polls this year became louder when Maguindanao Governor Esmael Mangudadatu arrived at the lobby of the complex.

Mangudadatu, who supports the postponement of the polls until 2013, went out of his car and directly talked to the demonstrators.

“Huwag kayo sumigaw-sigaw kasi hindi niyo alam ang sinisigaw niyo. Mamaya, pagkatapos ng public hearing, mag-usap-usap tayo ha,” Mangudadatu said.

Optimistic on bill

Meantime, Maguindanao 1st district Rep. Bai Sandra Sema, the principal author of the bill, is optimistic about the result of the series of consultations.

Sema is pushing for the postponement of the election citing several reasons.

“Laging sinasabi na ang ARMM ay hindi nag wo-work para sa kanyang sarili. Pangalawa, laging pinapakialaman ng Malacañang ang eleksyon nito, at mawawala na ito pag na synchronize na ang eleksyon,” she said.

Likewise, Dasmariñas City Rep. Elpido Barzaga, also the House Chairman of the Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms, explained the purpose of the hearing.

"The purpose is to hear from various groups  of ARMM what is their stand  on the postponement  of elections and giving the president the power to have an appointment [of OICs],” he said.

Robredo, De Lima present

The consultation began with Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo emphasizing the essence of synchronizing the elections, which is also stated in the Constitution.

“Dapat nga siguro hindi politician ang umupo, para hindi na sya makapag-isip ng pansariling kapakanan,” said Robredo, as he tried to explain that once a person is appointed OIC, he or she will not be allowed to file a candidacy in the coming election on 2013.

Robredo also said that what the government needs is 19 months of continuing reform, as they have started conducting an audit of the administration of former ARMM Governor Zaldy Ampatuan.

“I want to let you know also that there’s P1 billion na nasayang ng pondo ng ARMM,” Robredo said.

Also in attendance was Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who also voiced her support for the bill.

The officials believe that the postponement will be better for ARMM, and that even if the President has the power to appoint officials, it will still be submitted to the Congress and undergo scrutiny.

'Power play'

Meantime, party-list Rep. Michael Abas Kida (Aksyon Magsasaka Partido Tinig ng Masa) questioned the presence of Robredo and De Lima in the consultation.

“In fairness to the President, he ordered to return to the committee the HB 4146 for them to conduct a public hearing. But with what is happening…these mentioned Cabinet secretaries are doing a power play. They are tyring to inject to us that the postponement is already approved” Kida said.

Kida disclosed that his group has already chosen a candidate for the ARMM election, but he did not disclose the identity of their candidate.

Kida warned the those in favor of the postponmenet that they will do everything to oppose it.

Kida and his group will also be in Marawi City and in Zamboanga City for the series of consultations on HB 4146.

The ARMM election is scheduled on August 8 this year.