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ARMM Poll Postponement Passes Senate 13-7

Bill now goes to the Lower House
Opponent of the bill, Senator Bongbong Marcos in a huddle to press his arguments.
Opponent of the bill, Senator Bongbong Marcos in a huddle to press his arguments.

MANILA, Philippines - The president certified it as urgent and after two days of heated debates, the Senate finally approved on third and final reading last night a bill postponing the Aug. 8 election in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

With 13 votes in favor of the bill and only seven against it, Senate Bill No. 2756 will now be transmitted to the House of Representatives for their perusal to see if the version is acceptable to them.

Sen. Franklin Drilon, principal author and sponsor of the bill, told The STAR that he expects the bill to be enrolled and sent to President Aquino for signing within the week.

Drilon noted that there were some differences between the approved versions of the Senate and the House but said these were not that substantial.

One of the differences involves the disqualification from running in the 2013 elections, the officers-in-charge to the ARMM who will be appointed by the President.

The House contained this provision but the Senate deleted it in its version.

Drilon said the Senate and the House may no longer have to go to a bicameral conference committee hearing to reconcile the differences if the House accepts the version of the Senate.

If the House decides to accept the Senate’s version, then the bill could already be enrolled today for signing of the President, he said.

However, if the House disagrees with the Senate version, then the two chambers can convene the bicameral conference committee tonight and have the committee report the following day, which is the last session day, Drilon explained.

He said he is prepared to defend the bill if ever its critics challenge it before the Supreme Court.

Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, the self-described resident expert on constitutional law in the Senate, said yesterday that the bill to postpone the ARMM polls is constitutional and supported by jurisprudence.

Less than three months ago, Santiago said that there were constitutional reasons against the postponement of the elections and that she was certain that any challenge of the postponement before the Supreme Court would be upheld.

Since then, Santiago has invited President Aquino to serve as best man in her renewal of vows with her husband Narciso Santiago Jr. later this month and even met with the President at Malacañang yesterday, supposedly to express her support to the bill he certified as urgent.

Santiago was the first in the line up of interpellators yesterday and made a manifestation about the constitutionality of postponing the ARMM elections for the purpose of synchronizing it with the 2013 mid-term elections.

“The rules of constitutional construction provide that we must harmonize the principle of synchronization on the one hand, with the principle of local autonomy on the other hand,” Santiago said.

According to Santiago, if Congress were to be prohibited from passing a bill on synchronized elections, there would be no agency left to legislate on synchronized elections, thus creating a vacuum, which is an absurd result.

Santiago noted that Congress has passed seven laws, beginning with R.A. No. 7647 and ending so far with R.A. No. 9333, changing the date of ARMM elections.

“These seven laws constitute a long-continued practical construction by Congress of power under the provisions of the Constitution. Thus, these seven laws should be taken as fixing the meaning of the constitutional principles of synchronization and of local autonomy taken together,” she said.

She argued that the bill would enjoy the presumption of constitutionality if this is challenged before the Supreme Court as demonstrated in the 1991 case of Dimaporo v. Mitra where the Supreme Court “enunciated the presumption in favor of constitutionality of legislative enactment.”

“To justify the nullification of a law, there must be a clear and unequivocal breach of the Constitution, not a doubtful and argumentative implication. A doubt, even if well-founded, does not suffice,” Santiago said.

“The burden of proof lies on the critics to prove that this bill is unconstitutional. The basic principle of constitutional adjudication is the presumption of constitutionality – the strong presumption that all regularly enacted statutes are constitutional,” she added.

She also supported the provision of the bill for the President to appoint officers-in-charge to the ARMM because keeping the incumbent officials in a holdover position is unconstitutional.

Sen. Franklin Drilon, the principal author and sponsor of the bill, argued that Republic Act 9054 or the Organic Act of the ARMM and R. A. 9333, which set the date of the elections for the ARMM were contrary to the Constitution because it provides for a desynchronized commencement and end of the terms of office of its elected officials.

“Not only must the ARMM election, undisputably a local election, be synchronized with the national election, the terms of office must also be synchronized,” Drilon said.

Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said that the bill has placed the Senate at a crossroads where they must choose to either uphold, protect, defend and further strengthen the constitutionally mandated autonomy of ARMM or backtrack and cancel scheduled elections in August and replace their elected leaders with Malacañang appointed officials.

Marcos, chairman of the committee on local government that went over the bill and came out with an unfavorable report, said that the bill would remove the basic right of suffrage from the residents of ARMM and “lose their trust in our sincerity in keeping sacred agreements enshrined, no less, in our Constitution.”

“This is a defining moment for each senator, for the Senate’s reputation as an independent bastion of democracy, for the people of ARMM, for the peace process, and for democracy itself,” Marcos said.

“We remain confident that the Senate will once again prove to be beyond and above partisan politics when voting takes place today on this issue of great import,” he added.

Marcos was opposed to the postponement of the elections and the appointment of OICs to the ARMM and this was reflected in the committee report he issued on the bill.

This led to the automatic archiving of the bill along with his report as provided for under the Senate Rules.

The same rules however, allow for the original bill to be retrieved from the archives through the motion of at least five senators so that it can be debated and voted upon by the members of the Senate.

How the senators voted

Senate President Juan Ponce-Enrile led the senators who voted for ARMM poll postponement together with Senators Franklin Drilon,Ralph Recto, Teofisto Guingona III, Francis “Kiko Pangilinan, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Panfilo “Ping” Lacson, Gringo Honasan, Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, Pia Cayetano, Sonny Trillanes IV and Lito Lapid.

Those who opposed included Ferdinand “Bong-Bong” Marcos Jr., Senators Francis “Chiz” Escudero, Serge Osmeña, Juan Miguel Zubiri, Edgardo Angara, Joker Arroyo and Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr.

Absent during the voting were Senate Minority Leader Alan Cayetano, Manny Villar and Loren Legarda.