Military also wants early polls in ARMM
- James Mananghaya () - December 25, 2009 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has backed proposals for the holding of early elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Armed Forces chief Gen. Victor Ibrado said more troops are needed to guard the elections in Maguindanao.

“The situation in Maguindanao is different so I guess we will need more troops there, more people to make sure that the elections are peaceful and orderly. If we hold the elections as scheduled together with other areas, our forces might be dissipated. If we will hold it earlier, then we can concentrate our forces there, and then after that we won’t have problems anymore,” he said.

Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales said the leadership vacuum in the ARMM must be filled with leaders who are not connected to the Ampatuans.

Other leaders could usher in a new era in the region, Gonzales added.

Early elections in the ARMM could stabilize the peace and order situation following the lifting of martial law in Maguindanao, Gonzales said.

At Malacañang, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said President Arroyo is willing to certify as urgent a proposal for early ARMM elections.

“If it’s so recommended to the President as an urgent measure, then we will prepare the necessary document for the President to sign so both Houses of Congress will receive it on time,” he said.

“We will just have to go by the sentiments of the Comelec (Commission on Elections) if they feel that it will help in the conduct of honest, orderly and peaceful elections.

“For the sake of the overall conduct of peaceful elections, Malacañang will go along with it if that is the sense especially of the Comelec and approved in an appropriate resolution by both Houses of Congress.”

The Comelec has endorsed to Congress the passage of a law authorizing early elections in the ARMM.

ARMM polls could be held not later than April 12 next year, or a month earlier than the May 10 elections, the poll body said.

Bills pending in Congress would have elections in the ARMM held at least a week ahead of the rest of the nation.

The Comelec wants early elections in the ARMM so it can focus its efforts in the region plagued with poll fraud and election-related violence.

At the House of Representatives, Speaker Prospero Nograles said passage of the bills will depend on how swiftly the Senate acts.

Bills on early ARMM polls are pending in the House committee on suffrage add electoral reforms chaired by Makati Rep. Teodoro Locsin Jr.

“It depends on how fast the committee of Teddyboy pushes it out on the floor,” Nograles said.

“Secondly, it depends on how fast the Senate can agree or disagree. Maybe we ought to get the sense of the Senate, so let’s ask JPE (Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile).”

Locsin said he is open to holding elections in ARMM a week earlier than the May 10 schedule.

“I am in favor of passing a law. I will try,” he said, adding a powerful clan in Maguindanao and some members of Congress are likely to oppose early elections because it would minimize or even eliminate fraud in the area, he added.

“Imagine all media persons would cover ARMM areas. Media are concentrated and focused in ARMM areas, do you think politicians can still cheat?” he asked. 

Locsin also called on Comelec Chairman Jose Melo to use the constitutional body’s mandate to hold the ARMM elections in advance, to prevent bloodshed.

“If the Comelec can declare a failure of elections, it has also the power and authority to set an early date for the holding of polls in some areas considered as hotspots,” he said.

“That is their inherent right and I believe they are authorized to do so.” Locsin said he hopes any legal question on the Comelec’s power to hold early elections would be rejected by the Supreme Court.

“The SC will allow the Comelec, I believe that,” he said.

At the Senate, Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri urged Malacañang to certify the bills seeking early elections as urgent, given the limited time they would have for session from Jan.18 to Feb. 8, the start of the campaign break.

“Malacañang should certify it as urgent because if we are going to be realistic about the situation, it will be difficult for us to pass this,” he said.

The Comelec should have endorsed the early polls before the Christmas break, Zubiri said.

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. urged Congress to pass the measure on early elections when Congress resumes session next month.

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