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.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Pres. Arroyo backs postponement of ARMM polls

To make way for developments in talks with the MILF

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has endorsed the postponement of the elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to "open up the highway" for peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to succeed, Press Secretary Jesus Dureza said Tuesday.

Dureza also said that at least four lawmakers have pledged to file separate measures in the House of Representatives and the Senate when sessions resume on July 28 to move the ARMM elections, which were originally scheduled for August 11.

The bill in the House of Representatives will be principally authored by Representatives Paks Mangudadatu (Sultan Kudarat), Nur Jaafar (Tawi-Tawi), and Yusop Jikiri (Sulu). In the Senate, Senator Miguel Zubiri will author the counterpart bill, Dureza added.

MILF officials last week formally asked the government to postpone the ARMM polls until a memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain has been inked with the government.

Zubiri said the plan is to put off the regional elections until 2010 and synchronize this with the national polls then.

"The request of the MILF is to postpone the election but allow the holdover capacity of [ARMM] Governor [Zaldy] Ampatuan and the [regional] assembly,” he said. “The plan is to move it till 2010 and to synchronize it with the national elections.”

“President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo consulted with the Ampatuans and they agreed [to the postponement] if it would be for the greater good of Mindanao,” he said. “Congress now should act quickly to comply with legislation by August 7 to amply prepare for the postponement."

Dureza said the "Cabinet consensus" to postpone the regional polls was reached after Arroyo met with Cabinet members and ARMM officials in Awang, Datu Odin Sinsuat, Shariff Kabunsuan Tuesday.

Arroyo visited Datu Odin Sinsuat hospital in the province and presided over a National Anti-Poverty Commission Cabinet level meeting in Camp Siongco in which efforts to rehabilitate areas affected by typhoon “Frank” (international codename: Fengshen) and social welfare programs were discussed.

"The reason for the efforts to postpone the elections is to give some space for the peace process to succeed since we reached that strategic threshold of coming out with a settlement on the ancestral domain issue and the decision was arrive at that a bill will be filed in Congress," Dureza said in a phone patch interview.

"It will provide an open opportunity for the peace process and the negotiations to move in the next stages...this is merely to open up the highway, the roads, so to speak to give the peace negotiations a chance," he added.

In a speech during her visit at the Datu Odin Sinsuat hospital Tuesday noon, Arroyo said the country is now "on the threshold of peace" following the breakthrough agreement with the MILF on ancestral domain.

"For decades, a comprehensive peace eluded us but I am proud that talks will soon resume and we are on the threshold of peace," she said in a speech at the Datu Odin Sinsuat Hospital in Shariff Kabunsuan.

(A recent Supreme Court decision voided the creation of Shariff Kabunsuan province in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in 2006, reverting it back to being part of Maguindanao province.)

"If we truly move from arms to farm in Mindanao, we can give the gift of peace and prosperity to Mindanao and to the whole country. Kaya inaasahan ko ang tulong ninyong lahat para sa kapayapaan at tagumpay ng ating [Therefore I am counting on your help for peace and the success of our] peace talks," Arroyo said.

The MILF had agreed to drop the term "freedom" in a draft accord on ancestral domain, the remaining contentious issue that had stalled negotiations for months, and to a plebiscite to determine the inclusion of 712 villages in a proposed Bangsamoro juridical entity, a territory that is on top of the current territory of the ARMM.

When asked if this was one of the reasons for the postponement, Dureza said: "We have not discussed that."

He said it is up to Congress to determine the new schedule of the elections.

"We leave it, therefore, to the good judgment of Congress the final decision as to whether or not a postponement can be approved, so this will be a bill that will be filed and will be tackled hopefully by Congress as soon the opening of Congress after the State of the Nation Address of the President," Dureza said.

Asked to comment on a statement by House Speaker Prospero Nograles that the measure was too late in the day, Dureza said: "We realized it's a little close to the August 11 elections but there will be best efforts to pursue and we hope that consensus will be given attention accordingly by Congress."

Because of the move to postpone the polls, Dureza said the proclamation of Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats for the ARMM did not push through.(By Lira Dalangin-Fernandez;INQ.net)

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