Archive for the ‘ARMM Polls’ Category

More troops sent to ARMM

August 9, 2008

By Jaime Laude And James Mananghaya
Saturday, August 9, 2008

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The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is deploying more troops in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to ensure peaceful and orderly elections on Monday.

AFP chief Gen. Alexander Yano ordered troops from Luzon and the Visayas to move to Mindanao “to give priority to security operations in the ARMM elections.”

AFP Public Information Office (PIO) chief Lt. Col. Ernesto Torres Jr. did not say how many additional soldiers were sent to the ARMM or if soldiers were deputized by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to perform poll duties.

Seventy-eight candidates are vying for 23 positions in the ARMM elections.

Of the number, seven are running for regional governor while five are aspiring for the vice gubernatorial post.

The elections will also put to test the government’s poll automation program.

The troop deployment came in the wake of threats by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to disrupt the elections in ARMM after the group and the government failed to sign the ancestral domain agreement.

Army spokesman Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner said they would field about 600 troops from the 68th Infantry Battalion based in Quezon and the 46th IB in Samar.

The AFP has also activated special Task Force Halalan 2008, under AFP vice chief Lt. Gen. Cardozo Luna, to oversee the military’s security operations in ARMM.

But some quarters in the military criticized the deployment of more troops in ARMM, saying that there are already enough forces capable of thwarting attempts to disrupt the Aug. 11 polls.

They also expressed fear that soldiers could again directly interfere in the conduct of the elections in the guise of providing security for political warlords “known for their influence over the military.”

“What happened to the memorandum of agreement (MOA) between the Department of National Defense (DND) and the (Comelec) limiting the role of the military in the conduct of every poll exercise?” a military insider asked.

Yano earlier announced that the MOA forged by then Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz Jr. with the Comelec was aimed at isolating the military from engaging in political partisan activities.

It limits the role of the military to providing area security, setting up checkpoints and chokepoints to enforce the Comelec gun ban during and after elections, and barring soldiers from polling places.

The agreement also prohibits the use of military assets in transporting election paraphernalia before and after elections.

Despite this, several military helicopters were seen ferrying materials for Monday’s elections.

Yano said the AFP, the Comelec, and the Philippine National Police (PNP) will secure voting centers and machines as well as the 1.6 million voters who will troop to polling centers.

Disrupting polls serious offense in Islam

In Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao, peace advocates urged the MILF not to embark on anything that can disrupt elections in the ARMM.

The MILF had earlier asked for the postponement of elections, apprehensive that the three-year tenure of elected officials would affect its projected timeframe for the implementation of a final peace with the government.

Members of the ARMM’s Madaris Education Bureau, some of them theologians trained in Cairo, Egypt; Tripoli, Libya; Fez, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia, said disrupting the electoral exercises, whether by Muslims or non-Muslims, is a serious offense in Islam.

“We’re optimistic that neither the MILF nor the Moro National Liberation Front will do anything to disrupt the ARMM polls,” said Ustadz Farid Solaiman Adas.

Protestant and Catholic preachers in Central Mindanao have also asked the MILF to restrain its forces on Monday from moving out of their enclaves with their guns.

The Supreme Court restrained last Monday government’s chief negotiator Rodolfo Garcia from signing the MOA-AD, aborting its supposed finalization by the GRP and MILF this month in Putrajaya, Malaysia.

“It would be disadvantageous for the MILF to do anything that can affect the supposed peaceful conduct of the ARMM elections on Aug. 11,” a Tausug school official said.

MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu said their forces on the ground have religiously been adhering to the ceasefire and that they would not embark on maneuvers that could derail the polls.

Comelec sees peaceful polls

Despite pockets of hostility in Mindanao, the Comelec remains confident that Monday’s election in ARMM will be peaceful and successful.

Comelec Chairman Jose Melo said the poll body sees no reason that could prevent the peaceful conduct of the first ever automated elections in the country.

“Generally, the situation in ARMM is back to normal so except for minor violent incidents that may occur, we do not see any problem during the ARMM elections,” Melo said.

But he admitted that the Comelec was apprehensive that the hostilities in North Cotabato might spill over to neighboring provinces during canvassing of votes.

He, however, noted that the current situation showed that only a limited number of towns in North Cotabato may be affected by the ongoing fighting between the government and the MILF.

Melo said the Comelec now expects at least 50 percent of registered voters in ARMM to participate in the elections.

“Even low turnout of voters cannot result in failure of elections. Winners can still be declared even if only few people voted,” Melo stressed.

“What concerns us is not the low turnout, but the fact that if only few people voted, we will not be able to fully test the system of automated elections,” he added.

More than the armed conflict, Melo said the Comelec is concerned with the difficulty in transporting the machines and ballot boxes to the region’s far-flung areas.

The Comelec chief said the cost of transporting the automated machines and ballot boxes accounted for the larger bulk of the ARMM poll expenses.

Melo, however, assured that as of yesterday, most of the automated machines are already placed and sealed in counting centers.

Comelec Commissioner Lucinito Tagle said the situation in Sulu is normal but there may be some delay in the transport of machines in some areas, considering that it’s an island province and difficult to reach.

The Comelec said polling centers and counting centers in Sheriff Kabunsuan have been fully secured.

“Everything and everyone seems to be cooperating for the successful conduct of the ARMM polls, so we are urging the voters there to go out, look and try to use the new voting and counting machines,” Melo said.

Sulu recorded the highest number of candidates for regional assembly with 23 aspirants for the province’s two districts, followed by Lanao del Sur with 18, and Basilan with 14.

Tawi-Tawi and Shariff Kabunsuan have eight candidates each for the regional assembly.

“We expect many voters to come out and participate in the election because most of the candidates are their relatives,” Melo said.

He added that curiosity over the new voting and counting machines would also encourage a majority of the registered voters in ARMM to participate in the elections.

The Comelec chief said winners in the ARMM polls are expected to be known within 48 hours.

‘ARMM to start modern voting’

Sen. Richard Gordon called on the people of ARMM to exercise their right of suffrage and support the automation of the upcoming elections on Monday.

Gordon, author of the Automated Elections Law, said the Muslims should be the ones to show how modern voting could happen, stressing the threat of conflict in Mindanao should not derail the elections.

Senators do not see anymore reason to postpone the ARMM polls to give way to the peace talks between the government and the MILF as the signing of the agreement on ancestral domain had been bungled due to various oppositions and a temporary restraining order from the Supreme Court.

“This is our golden opportunity to restore our people’s trust and confidence in our electoral process. Our holding of automated elections in ARMM will more quickly build a foundation for peace and cut deeper inroads for development, which is a core issue of conflict in the southern Philippines,” Gordon said.

“With fast, fair, and accurate elections, we can be more certain of political stability in the ARMM,” Gordon added as news reports indicated that the MILF had withdrawn its fighters from nine villages it allegedly occupied in North Cotabato.

Gordon noted that in other countries, elections push through despite ongoing peace negotiations. He cited that even in war-torn Iraq, Iraqis were able to conduct peaceful and successful elections.

“Holding the automated elections will fulfill the dreams of our countrymen of a true democracy where they would be able to choose the right elective officials and where elections will be fair, honest and clean. This continues on to the 2010 elections and we will have better elections,” he said.

Areas of concern

Deputy Director General Emmanuel Carta, PNP deputy chief for operations, said they have started coordinating with officials of the local government units and other organizations in ARMM to help them guard the election proceedings.

Carta said they have deployed two uniformed policemen in each of the 1,919 polling precincts in two cities and 113 municipalities in ARMM.

Records showed Tawi-Tawi has one barangay considered an election area of immediate concern (EAIC), while 32 barangays considered as election areas of concern (EAC).

In Basilan, there are seven EAIC and 60 EAC; Sulu, three EAIC and 177 EAC; Maguindanao, 10 EAIC-271 EAC; Lanao del Sur, 18-145; and Sheriff Kabunsuan 10-202.

Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro Jr. said they are hoping for orderly and peaceful elections on Aug. 11, where sufficient forces have been deployed.

PNP spokesman Chief Superintendent Nicanor Bartolome said government authorities are continuously discussing security operations for the elections.

‘Group sabotaging ARMM polls’

The United Opposition (UNO) said a certain group is sabotaging the elections in ARMM.

UNO spokesman Adel Tamano, however, would not name the group.

Tamano personally met with his province mates in the ARMM yesterday to explain the opposition’s stand on the aborted MOA on ancestral domain between the government and the MILF.

“Elections are the lifeblood of democracy and so we ask everyone to pray for peaceful elections in ARMM on Monday,” Tamano said.

He said “every Filipino must work to ensure that the ARMM elections will be safe and clean.”

“We should resist all attempts to sabotage the holding of free and honest elections,” he said.

Tamano cited that Malacañang earlier expressed its intention to suspend the ARMM elections, explaining that it would hinder the negotiations with the MILF in creating a Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (JBE).

He said that the creation of the BJE is a backdoor effort by the Palace to open the possibility of amending the Constitution.

Earlier, the Supreme Court issued a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) stopping the government and the MILF from signing the MOA on ancestral domain.

The High Court granted the petition filed by the officials of North Cotabato, led by Gov. Jesus Sacdalan, Vice Gov. Emmanuel Piñol, and Zamboanga City, questioning the legality of the MOA between the government and MILF, which, they claimed, would lead to the expansion of the coverage of ARMM.

The report saying that North Cotabato would be included in the expanded ARMM came as a shock or surprise to the people of the province.

It has caused alarm and concern to the people allegedly because of the vast powers and authority granted to the JBE, which, petitioners said, “is almost tantamount to ARMM becoming an independent state.” With Mayen Jaymalin, John Unson, Aurea Calica, Jose Rodel Clapano(PStar)

Will ARMM polls proceed as scheduled?

July 29, 2008

Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews
Tuesday, 29 July 2008 08:12
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The President mentioned nothing about the postponement in her State of the Nation Address (SONA) Monday, where she also certified as urgent bills extending the agrarian reform program but no mention on the ARMM election postponement which is exactly two Mondays after her SONA.

Arroyo announced her endorsement of the postponement on July 22, five days after MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal asked government peace panel chair Rodolfo Garcia at the end of their talks in Kuala Lumpur to have the election postponed “in deference to the GRP-MILF peace process.”

In her very short statement on the peace process in her SONA last Monday, Ms Arroyo said she will “ask Congress to act on the legislative and political reforms that will lead to a just and lasting peace during our term of office” but did not mention what these reforms are.

On July 19, two days after Iqbal’s proposal, House Speaker Prospero Nograles told MindaNews the House was “not inclined to postpone the elections.”

“What’s the factual and legal basis to postpone? To postpone we need at least two weeks to process bill which will amend. Senate must concur. It’s not certified urgent by Palace. Too late to postpone in ordinary legislative process. Commission on Elections has not asked us to postpone. If they are not ready, they will. They didn’t ask us,” Nograles said.

But asked to comment on the President’s announcement on postponement, Nograles told MindaNews on July 22 that “as Lakas President, I shall defer to and consult our ARMM loyal allies, the Ampatuans. Should they advice that postponement will speed up the Mindanao peace process, I shall personally try to fast track move to postpone.”

The ARMM Governor is Datu Zaldy Ampatuan, whose father, Datu Andal, is the Maguindanao governor.

Nograles added that “as Speaker, I have called for Mindanao congressmen and women caucus in the House on (July 29), 2 p.m. after the SONA (State of the Nation Address) and we (will) decide collectively to postpone or not.

Congress resumed session on July 28, when she delivered her SONA and announced the bills she certified as urgent.

Asked if the President’s silence should be interpreted as her abandonment of the postponement proposal, Nograles told MindaNews evening of July 28: “her position has been consistent. Leave the decision to Congress. She won’t dictate what Congress wants or does not want.”

Press Secretary Jesus Dureza said, “she asked Congress to enact laws in support of peace process.”

Dureza said there will be a “congressional meeting re postponement and MOA.”

“The bottomline is Congress decides,” he said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

Arroyo wants ARMM polls postponed; Nograles says he’ll consult first

July 23, 2008

Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews
Tuesday, 22 July 2008 16:19
var sburl3170 = window.location.href; var sbtitle3170 = document.title;var sbtitle3170=encodeURIComponent(“Arroyo wants ARMM polls postponed; Nograles says he’ll consult first”); var sburl3170=decodeURI(“http://www.mindanews.com/index.php?option=com_content&amp;task=view&amp;id=4778&#8221;); sburl3170=sburl3170.replace(/amp;/g, “”);sburl3170=encodeURIComponent(sburl3170);DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/22 July) – President Arroyo wants the August 11 elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) postponed to give way to recent developments in the peace negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Arroyo issued the announcement Tuesday afternoon (July 22) at the airport in Datu Odin Sinsuat in what used to be Shariff Kabunsuan province. Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Hermogenes Esperon told MindaNews the President wants to “give peace more space and chance to succeed.”

After resolving in Kuala Lumpur last week the last contentious issue on the ancestral domain agenda, the MILF asked the Philippine government through peace panel chair Secretary Rodolfo Garcia to postpone the ARMM elections “in deference to the GRP-MILF peace talks.”

The two panels are set to meet again in Kuala Lumpur on July 24 to finalize the draft Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain and schedule the formal signing of the MOA and the resumption of the formal talks to tackle the political settlement which will be embodied in a comprehensive peace compact.

MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal welcomed Ms Arroyo’s announcement on postponement. “We thank the government, especially the President, for heeding our request to postpone the ARMM elections. This postponement is good to the peace process,” he told MindaNews.

The President, however, does not have the power to postpone elections. It is Congress that decides on the matter and on July 19, House Speaker Prospero Nograles had told MindaNews the House was “not inclined to postpone the elections.”

But asked to comment on the President’s announcement today regarding postponement, Nograles told MindaNews in a telephoned message that “as Lakas President, I shall defer to and consult our ARMM loyal allies, the Ampatuans. Should they advice that postponement will speed up the Mindanao peace process, I shall personally try to fast track move to postpone.”

The ARMM Governor is Datu Zaldy Ampatuan, whose father, Datu Andal, is the Maguindanao governor.

Nograles added that “as Speaker, I have called for Mindanao congressmen and women caucus in the House on Tuesday, 2 p.m. after the SONA (State of the Nation Address) and we (will) decide collectively to postpone or not.”

On July 19, Nograles asked, “what’s the factual and legal basis to postpone? To postpone we need at least two weeks to process bill which will amend. Senate must concur. It’s not certified urgent by Palace. Too late to postpone in ordinary legislative process. Commission on Elections has not asked us to postpone. If they are not ready, they will. They didn’t ask us,” Nograles said.

Congress resumes session on July 28, the day the President will deliver her State of the Nation Address (SONA). The President lists the measures certified as urgent during the SONA.

In the MILF’s website, Iqbal pointed out that they wanted the ARMM polls postponed because the ARMM election “has direct bearing on the current peace talks.”

He cited two reasons: “pushing through with the election would create the impression that the government is not really serious in the present talks and President Arroyo is not really determined to wind up the talks during her term of office” and “it will postpone the start of the transition period of the future Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) once the government and the MILF sign the Comprehensive Compact because elected local officials  of the ARMM will have to finish first their term of office in 2011.”

Iqbal also said officials in the provinces, municipalities or cities purported to be included in the area of the BJE will finish their terms of office, like President Arroyo, in June 2010.

Lawyer Datu Michael Mastura, a senior member of the MILF peace panel, said postponing the ARMM polls would be a “clear manifestation of President Arroyo’s policy of the ‘primacy of the peace process.’”

Luwaran, however, quoted Mastura, as saying that the MILF “is not against the candidacy of anyone in the ARMM especially Datu Zaldy Uy Ampatuan and Bombet Adiong, currently the regional governor and vice regional governor, respectively.”

ARMM Governor Ampatuan told MindaNews in Jeddah last November that while he was willing to sacrifice his post should it be warranted by the peace process, he would run for reelection if the election pushes through on August 11.

Ampatuan told MindaNews in a 2005 interview during the campaign for the ARMM elections that he supports the peace initiatives of President Arroyo and that he had told the leaders in the ARMM “that if I and my running mate are given the chance to lead the ARMM as governor and vice governor, respectively, if within our term a peace agreement would be forged, in the name of unity and peace, in the name of the Bangsamoro, in the name of Islam, we are willing to sacrifice our posts for the Bangsamoro.”

“If we are elected, I as governor and my vice governor, we are willing to leave our posts for the sake of the majority, in the name of peace and unity and in the name of Bangsamoro and Islam,” he said then. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)