MNLF, MILF want ARMM polls deferred after Isnaji arrest


By Roel Pareño
Friday, July 4, 2008

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ZAMBOANGA CITY – The two largest Muslim secessionist groups urged government to postpone the elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) due to the arrest of Indanan, Sulu Mayor Alvarez Isnaji.

The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) called for deferment of the regional elections next month, also citing the tensions brought by the attacks staged by some restive MILF groups in recent weeks.

Isnaji, a gubernatorial candidate in the regional polls, was arrested by the police after being implicated in the kidnapping of broadcast journalist Ces Drilon and her crew early last month.

Isnaji will be running in the ARMM election under the banner of the MNLF. His candidacy is being supported by one of the two dominant factions in the MNLF.

MNLF chairman and Cotabato City Mayor Muslimen Sema could not be reached for comment on the alleged unity call of the two fronts to postpone the election.

But Sema earlier urged the postponement of the ARMM elections and called on Malacañang to instead appoint the governor.

Sema said the appointment of the ARMM governor instead of holding an election for the position would be cost efficient and would abide by the 1996 peace accord that allowed the MNLF to govern the autonomous region.

ARMM administrator Norie Unas, concurrent regional secretary-general of the ruling Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats, said they have received similar reports but could not confirm if the plan has been forwarded to Malacañang.

But incumbent and reelectionist Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan, the anointed candidate of President Arroyo, remained unperturbed by the calls to postpone the election.

“We respect anybody’s views not only concerning the election but also other issues confronting the ARMM region,” Ampatuan said.

Ampatuan believed the effort to cancel the regional elections would be futile since any postponement would need amendments to the law that has scheduled the ARMM elections on Aug. 11.

Unas also said it would be too late to amend the law to postpone the elections since Congress is on recess and would resume session on July 28, just 12 days ahead of the elections.

Unas said the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has already prepared for the elections that will showcase the government’s efforts at full automation of the electoral process.

Comelec earlier expressed its opinion on the possible postponement of the ARMM elections, particularly in Sulu, citing the security situation stemming from military offensives against the Abu Sayyaf extremists.

Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said this would only be the “extreme measure” if the poll body cannot ensure the integrity of elections in ARMM.

He said Comelec has the power to recommend the postponement of the elections but only as an extreme measure.

Comelec Chairman Jose Melo also expressed concerns over the possible effects of military operations in the upcoming elections in Sulu and five other provinces under the ARMM.

Melo said the military operations might discourage voters from going out to vote, with other armed groups taking advantage of the situation to sabotage the elections.

The military has intensified the offensive against the Abu Sayyaf following the release of Drilon and two others held captive by the bandit group for nine days.

Isnaji, who acted as negotiator, was among those implicated by the police in the kidnapping.

Concerns over the recent attacks by some MILF factions in Central Mindanao were also raised.

A ranking military official said the attacks by the MILF were meant to force the government into accepting the ancestral domain issue and their demand for self-rule. – With John Unson(PhilStar)

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