By CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAS, MindaNews
DAVAO CITY – The governors of the five provinces of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) have taken their oath as new members of President Aquino’s Liberal Party (LP).
Basilan’s Jum Akbar, Lanao del Sur’ Mamintal Adiong Jr.; Maguindanao’s Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu, Sulu’s Sakur Tan and Tawi-tawi’s Sadikul Sahali — and 159 other officials from the region — took their oath before LP President Mar Roxas at the LP headquarters in Cubao on Wednesday morning.
Ali Macabalang, former ARMM information chief who witnessed the oath-taking, noted that the governors, former party-mates of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, pledged allegiance to President Aquino’s party just as news broke out that the Pasay City Regional Trial Court had granted bail to Arroyo, paving the way for her release after an eight-month hospital detention. The court found the evidences in the electoral sabotage case filed against Arroyo on the alleged massive cheating in Maguindanao during the May 2007 mid-term polls, weak.
Macabalang said that aside from the five ARMM governors, the other officials who took their oath were two vice governors (Ruby Sahali of Sulu and Arsad Marohombsar of Lanao del Sur), 93 mayors, 53 board members, and 11 regional assemblymen.
ARMM has five provinces, 116 towns and two cities.
Senator Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte and other top party leaders, Senator Teofisto Guingona III, Local Governments Secretary Jesse Robredo, and OIC Governor Mujiv Hataman witnessed the mass swearing in.
“Matuwid na daan”
Philstar.com quoted Hataman as saying that “the basis of their joining the administration’s Liberal Party was because of the President’s ‘matuwid na daan’ advocacy.”
He said their joining the Presidents’ “matuwid na daan” advocacy would hasten projects for the development of the region “because they will adhere to the governments ‘matuwid na daan’ program that will (curb) all forms of corruption which has been hindering the development of the entire ARMM region,” Hataman said.
He added that joining the administration would lessen the political conflict in the region.
Hataman told MindaNews that the policy of the LP is “very clear.”
“You can’t be considered as LP unless you adhere to the ‘Daang Matuwid’ line of President Aquino’s administration. In fact, before the oath-taking took place, there was a two-hour basic orientation conducted by the party secretariat and officers. With this, I am hoping that political leaders of ARMM will be united and adhere to the reform agenda of the President and support the ongoing peace process.”
ARMM, comprising the provinces of Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-tawi and the cities of Marawi and Lamitan, has been repeatedly referred to as the country’s “cheating capital,” and a major source of “command votes” during elections.
Last month, Resolution No. 3 passed by both Houses of Congress and signed by President Aquino, annulled the ARMM’s Book of Voters and called for a new registration of voters from July 9 to 18.
A total of 1.56 million persons applied for registration, just 200,000 lower than before the Commission on Elections annulled the heavily-padded voters’ list in June. But Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said the figure would “likely” go down to 1.1 or 1.2 million after the list is rid of multiple and underage registrants.
The Comelec had earlier projected that the new voters’ list in the ARMM would be around 1.1 or 1.2 million. The region has 1.88 million voters, according to the Comelec website but a June 15 press release issued by the poll body’s Education and information Department said the region had 1.77 million.
Election of officials in the ARMM was scheduled on August 8, 2011 but Congress synchronized the elections to May 13, 2013 and authorized the President to appoint officers – in- charge until June 30, 2013 when the elected officials assume their post.
Last ARMM polls
But ARMM’s election next year, the seventh since the region was established in 1990, will be the last. On April 24 this year, the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed its first major agreement, the Decision Points on Principles, providing for, among others, the creation of a “new autonomous political entity” that would replace the ARMM.
How the move of the traditional politicians – the ARMM governors and their allies – to the Liberal Party will impact on the ARMM reform agenda currently being pursued by reform-oriented officials led by OIC Governor Hataman, and on the ongoing peace negotiations with the MILF, bears watching.
A common reaction to the governors’ move is that the LP is just consolidating its vote base, particularly since ARMM has at least a million votes. But others say joining the LP bandwagon “could also work to make the provincial governors toe the line in favor of the peace process.”
For Fr. Eliseo Mercado, Jr., executive director of the Cotabato City-based Institute of Autonomy and Governance, “weather weather lang.. sa 2016, they would change again. What else is new?”
“Patronage is the law of pragmatism and survival in the present kalakaran albeit matuwid na daan,” he said.
Samira Gutoc, OIC Assemblywoman at the ARMM’s Regional Legislative Assembly, told MindaNews that while it is good to see the five governors unite with the ARMM governor and the President, “it reflects the weak party system in the country and even among the Bangsamoro where alignments are shown to go the way of the administration. (The) Bangsamoro should think cxof strengthening their party if any as well as elevate their bargaining position and not be beholden to any changes in Manila’s parties.”
(ARMM WATCH is a project of VERA Files in partnership with MindaNews, The Asia Foundation and Australian Agency for International Development.)