US shies away from ARMM polls debate


The United States government will leave to Manila the decision on whether to postpone scheduled elections in an autonomous region in southern Mindanao.

“I think that [delaying or not the regional polls] is an issue that should be decided by Philippine authorities,” US Ambassador to Manila Kristie Kenney said Friday at the sidelines of the launching of a judicial project that is assisted by the US Agency for International Development.

“I think they, the relevant authorities, have to determine whether postponing the elections is the right way,” she added.

On August 11, the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) will hold the voting in Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi provinces.

During the launching of the Supreme Court’s Management Information System project, Kenney said the US government fully supports the Philippines’ quest for lasting peace in southern Philippines, a hotbed of communist and Muslim insurgencies for almost four decades.

“We are hopeful and eager to see a comprehensive peace agreement in Mindanao,” the US ambassador told reporters, apparently referring to the possible pact between Manila and the Muslim separatist group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Kenney said the search for peace in Mindanao must be pushed forward as it is crucial to the economic prosperity of the Philippines. Mindanao, the country’s second-biggest group of islands, has been called “Land of Promise” for its rich agricultural and mineral resources. The Muslim insurgents there, including the MILF rebels, claim that economic development has only marginalized them.

“What we are able to do is to help both parties [the government and the separatist rebels] to move forward and make progress. We’re eager to look at top communities develop so that Mindanao can reach its economic potential, as can the rest of the Philippines,” the US ambassador added.

According to Kenney, the United States will always be a “dedicated partner” of the Philippine government in its effort to end the insurgencies in Mindanao.

The MILF last week sought the postponement of the ARMM elections. It said the deferment paves the way for the smooth entry of the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity in Mindanao that would be established by a final peace agreement between the two sides. Bangsamoro refers to the Muslim minority in Mindanao.

President Gloria Arroyo earlier last week endorsed delaying the regional polls, a move that drew criticism from senators, who said only Congress can reset elections.

Sen. Richard Gordon said the proposal to postpone the elections in the autonomous region was a move aimed at amending the Constitution. He warned that he will block both moves.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines will not call off joint military and police security preparations for the ARMM polls despite President Arroyo’s endorsement, its chief, Alexander Yano, said also on Friday.

Yano added that the military will only call off the security preparations if the elections are scrapped.

The military has readied for deployment around 5,000 soldiers and 2,000 policemen.

Five lawmakers from Mindanao have filed House Bill 5832 seeking to reset the ARMM elections from August 11 and hold them simultaneously with the presidential elections in 2010.

The bill was authored by Rep. Faysah Dumarpa of Lanao del Sur, Rep. Simeon Datumanong of Ma­guin­danao, Rep. Munir Arbison of Sulu, Rep. Mujiv Hataman of the Anak Mindanao Party-list and Rep. Panga­lian Balindong of Lanao del Sur.

According to the five lawmakers, the postponement will allow peace talks between the government and the MILF to proceed at the formal level. In a breakthrough, both sides also last week reached agreement on “ancestral domain,” or territory that will constitute an Independent Islamic homeland in Mindanao. The talks were suspended last year over disagreement on the issue of the ancestral domain.
— William B. Depasupil and Jefferson Antiporda(ManilaTimes)

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My Take:

The US clearly sends a message here that they’re okay to the postpnement of the ARMM elections.  After all, they are in favor of a situation where they can plunder the natural wealth of Mindanao with less blood spilled and less attention from the media.

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