ARMM polls deferment may reach SC — Comelec

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — COMMISSION on Elections Commissioner Rene Sarmiento believes that the planned postponement of the elections at the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) will be elevated to the Supreme Court, citing the legal and constitutional issues attached to a House measure awaiting approval and eventual signing into law.

Sarmiento said 15 days are needed before a law can be fully implemented which cannot be done in ARMM where the elections are scheduled on Aug. 11.

“That will be problematic. That will raise a legal and constitutional issue that could reach the Supreme Court,” Sarmiento told the House committee on suffrage and electoral reforms which yesterday voted 17-3 with two abstentions approving the measure seeking to postpone the ARMM polls to coincide with the 2010 national elections.

“That is why Mr. Chair, we can’t postpone the Aug. 11 (ARMM) elections. This is a mandate of the law and we have to comply with that,” he said, addressing Rep. Teodoro Locsin Jr. (PDP-Laban, Makati), the chairman of the committee.

The Comelec official said it is “heartbreaking” for the committee to reach such a decision especially that the poll body has already spent some P700 million for an automated electoral system in ARMM.

Because of the rapid-changing technology, he raised the possibility that the equipment purchased for the ARMM polls could go to waste.

“We have spent a lot, hundreds of millions of pesos in fact, for the forthcoming elections in ARMM. Contracts have been entered into and we are afraid that if this is not pushed through, technology (as far as the ARMM polls are concerned) could be affected. The equipment and machineries might not be appropriate for 2010 and the money spent will be put to waste,” Sarmiento added.

Rep. Darlene Antonino-Custodio (NPC, South Cotabato) said Congress’ plan to defer the ARMM polls is highly impossible, explaining that any amendments to the Organic Act that created ARMM should be decided in a plebiscite.

“I feel that the suspension is an intrusion into the mandate of the LGU’s (Local Government Units). The bill is bastardizing the democratic processes. Dapat pa nga munang magkaroon ng plebiscite diyan,” Custodio said.

Rep. Mujiv Hataman (Party List, Anak Mindanao), one of the Muslim lawmakers seeking such a postponement, said the committee’s decision was a welcome development.

“We can just hope that this could be enacted into law. We are racing against time,” Hataman said.

Sarmiento also told the committee that peace in Mindanao, one of the reasons cited by proponents of the plan to suspend the ARMM elections, could still be achieved through the peace talks.

“The just and lasting peace in Mindanao can be achieved through two things: on with the peace process and on with the elections. That, to me, is the peace formula in Mindanao,” Sarmiento told the panel.