MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang on Tuesday reiterated the position of President Benigno Aquino III, calling for the postponement of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) polls and have it synchronized with the 2013 national elections.
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said it would be more cost efficient to postpone the ARMM polls to 2013.
He said Malacañang's proposal to Congress to allow the President to appoint officers-in-charge in the ARMM after the term of current officials ends in 2011 would help "introduce major reforms to address the cause of rebellion and hopelessness" in the region. The appointees would be barred from running for the next elections, following the proposal of the Palace.
"While we wait for synchronizing the national elections, we appoint people whom we believe will be able to come up with institutions or reform measures…This can be done if we appoint officials whom we believe will reform the system of governance in ARMM," Lacierda said.
The Palace called the ARMM a "failed state" and a "failed experiment" that has held back the delivery of social services to the people in the region.
An audit of the funds for the ARMM has already been previously ordered by President Aquino.
Among the issues to be investigated are several ghost projects and the failure of ARMM government to remit monthly government employees' contributions to the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS).
"It's a failed state by the way. Failed projects, ghost projects, so many ghost projects ongoing. There is a road we wanted to verify. There is a road allegedly that was built. Where is that road? We are looking at that road. There is a school building that was built. Where is the school building? These are things that are happening in ARMM," Lacierda said.
"Again as I said, the President asked, 'Saan napupunta iyong mga GSIS contributions ng mga public servants ng ARMM? Walang natatanggap ang GSIS office dito.' In fact, we confirmed, walang natatanggap."
No command vote
The Palace believes synchronizing the elections would also prevent the practice of having a command vote in the region.
"When it's synchronized, at least maaayos iyan. You will be able to determine and we will be able to monitor, hindi lang iyong ARMM elections. If it is a national election, then everybody can monitor the national elections from the President, down to the barangay level, which was done in the last presidential elections and that is the reason why there was less accusation of fraud in the last election," Lacierda said.
Asked if the proposal will be certified as urgent by the President, Lacierda said it can be discussed during the Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC), noting that there is a pending bill on it filed by party-list lawmaker Kaka Bag-ao.
The President's spokesman said the decision to postpone the ARMM polls is a personal preference of President Aquino and not merely a decision of the Cabinet.
He said the main reason for postponing elections "is for reform to take place."
"And it can only happen when it is postponed and we appoint decent officials to have a clean slate. Again, this is to better the state of governance in ARMM," he said.
Asked about a reported statement by Margarita "Tingting" Cojuangco, Aquino's aunt, questioning the proposal, Lacierda said Cojuangco should explain why postponing the elections is "inconsistent with the daang matuwid (straight path)" of the Aquino administration.
"Medyo malabo iyon, walang connect iyong dalawang iyon, She has to explain her position. And now we are glad to explain our answer to that after she explains why it is a disconnect between postponement of elections and our commitment to a 'Daang Matuwid.' Precisely, we are doing that because of reform. It's a failed state by the way," Lacierda said.
He also dismissed talk that the National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) opposes the proposal because it stops elections.
"I don't see the logic noong Namfrel statement there. Again, taking the whole perspective of reform, you would see the logic behind President's commitment to... the reason why the President prefers to postpone the election, for the sake of economy, number two, and also to prevent the operation of the command votes in that region," he said. (Willard Cheng - ABS-CBN News)