Quote for the Week..

"Why are the country’s political leaders quick to act on amending the Constitution to change nationalistic provisions for the benefit of foreigners or to extend their terms of office but are allergic to amending the Constitution to address the people’s aspirations for self-determination?" - Marvic Leonen,Dean of the UP College of Law, in a keynote address delivered at the 1st International Solidarity Conference on Mindanao; March 16-18, 2009 in Davao City, Philippines.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Lawmakers split on ARMM polls’ delay

Lawmakers are split on the appeal by the Palace to defer the Muslim Mindanao region elections scheduled for next month.

While the House of Representatives leadership echoes the Palace’s stand on postponing the polls to give way for peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the Senate has immediately rejected the proposal.

In a text message to BusinessWorld, Speaker Prospero C. Nograles said he will call for a caucus of Mindanao congressmen on July 29 to discuss the issue. Mr. Nograles represents the first district of Davao City.

The elections at the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) were set for Aug. 11.

"One way or another, the elections may affect the ongoing truce talks. To postpone it seems to be prudent but I have to consult the solons from Mindanao," Mr. Nograles said.

In a telephone interview, Sultan Kudarat Rep. Datu Pax S. Mangudadatu (1st district), chairman of the committee on Mindanao Affairs, said he and colleagues from Mindanao will file next week a bill seeking to defer the elections.

Congress convenes for its second regular session on Monday.

"Although the Commission on Elections has proven that it is ready for the automated elections, there are more important matters that we need to consider, and that is the government’s long pursuit to attain peace with the MILF and MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front)," Mr. Mangudadatu said.

Meanwhile, in a radio interview, Makati Rep. Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr. (1st district), chairman of the committee on suffrage and electoral reforms, said he will not support the measure, should it be referred under his committee.

"If they [MILF] really wanted to attain peace with the government, it should have been done a long time ago," he said.

Meanwhile, Senate President Manuel B. Villar, Jr. said they will reject moves to defer the ARMM polls.

"People are just getting confused," Mr. Villar told reporters.

Senator Richard J. Gordon, co-chairman of the congressional oversight committee on automated elections, said, "The law is already in place and we are already implementing it. I don’t think Congress would be amenable to that."

Mr. Gordon, also chairman of the committee on constitutional amendments, revision of codes and laws, noted that the resumption of peace talks is independent of the ARMM polls, which seeks to solve electoral fraud.

Administration ally Senator Juan Ponce Enrile said he also rejected the polls’ deferment since these have been postponed for several times.

In a text message, Senator Juan Miguel F. Zubiri, another administration ally, said he will first consult his colleagues on the matter. The Bukidnon solon earlier said he will file a bill to postpone the ARMM polls.

"If I don’t get a consensus with the Senate leaders on its approval, then it may be a futile exercise to file the measure," added Mr. Zubiri.

In a related development, the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are expected to approve today the final draft agreement on ancestral domain, Executive Secretary Eduardo R. Ermita said Wednesday.

In a press conference, Mr. Ermita said the memorandum of agreement (MoA) will still follow the legal framework, specifically the Constitution, which the MILF earlier refused to acknowledge.

"MILF recognizes the GRP (Government of the Republic of the Philippines) legal framework and the need to change it before agreement can be made executory. We are making them [MILF] aware that the term of reference is the Constitution."

Mr. Ermita said the agreement will have no specific time line or date. Negotiators said the approval of the draft agreement will eventually lead to the long-awaited final peace agreement.

The principles of the agreement include:

* The MILF recognizes the legal framework and the need to effect changes to it before the agreement can be made executory. This is an alternative means of embedding the constitutional process in the agreement.
* The government will recognize past accords subject to subsequent modifications to be agreed by both sides.
* Time frame will be taken up in future negotiations.

The draft distributed to media said the exploratory talks will include the finalization of the MoA on ancestral domain, determination of specific date for the signing ceremony to take place in Kuala Lumpur between the last week of July and the first week of August, and initial discussions on specific issues.

Malacañang has agreed to postpone the elections upon request by MILF negotiators, who believe that this could derail the creation of the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity, a political subdivision that expands the ARMM coverage through a referendum. — (Elizabeth T. Marcelo, Bernard U. Allauigan and Alexis Douglas B. Romero, BusinessWorld)

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