Akbayan Rep. Kaka J. Bag-ao

March 20, 2011 / Session Hall, House of Representatives

Mister Speaker, can the postponement of an election promote democratization?

I dare say yes, Mister Speaker. I say yes, because while elections are a fundamental element of democracy, its conduct alone is not the yardstick of democracy. If marred with violence, if it results in the perpetuation of elite politics, then elections become a tool for exclusion.

To frame HB4146, which synchronizes the ARMM election with the national elections, as a crude issue between those who are for or against democracy is to engage in populism and to commit an act of political idiocy. Regularity of elections is insufficient if the other prerequisites of democracy – basic fairness, informed and meaningful participation, and the full imposition of the rule of law – are not guaranteed. It is for naught if it only contemplates the continuation of the status quo in Mindanao, a situation marked by rampant violence and impunity, by inaccessibility of political power, and dominance of the voice of money over reason, rules, and equality.

The synchronization is a crucial step towards reforming ARMM. It gives various stakeholders the chance to institute law and order, install the steps needed to address clan conflicts or rido, and make judicial system more responsive. It gives various stakeholders, especially the civil society, the opportunity to promote a climate of peace and free choice as a pre-condition for conduct of the ARMM election.

With postponement, the Comelec is given enough time and resources to purge the voters’ list and pave the way for a regional population census and a general registration of voters using the biometrics system of identification. With P1.2-B in savings if elections in ARMM are postponed, this job can be done during the transition to 2013.

The postponement also ensures that peace is in the agenda. It helps build the momentum for the reform of the Organic Act of ARMM, and harmonize reform initiatives inside and outside Congress, with the ongoing peace negotiations with the MILF. It would help the government ensure that as it fulfills its mandate, which includes the delivery of justice to the families of the Maguindanao massacre, the ARMM is not left behind.

By amending RA9333, which fixes the date of elections in ARMM, Congress is not stepping on the autonomy of ARMM. We are merely re-setting the date of the the election, which is not one of the devolved powers of ARMM.  Likewise, what is being proposed under HB 4146 or the ARMM Election Synchronization law is not extending the terms of local officials nor having holdovers.  The proposed bill recognizes the residual powers of appointment of the President and thus having officers-in-charge for ARMM until the May 2013 midterm and regular ARMM elections, provided that there are clear and fair selection mechanisms for the said appointments.

In this light, Mister Speaker, I vote yes to HB 4146.

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