Will the holding of the ARMM and local elections in May 2013 pose a stumbling block to the transition to a new autonomous political entity (NAPE) under the anticipated GPH-MILF peace agreement?


Peace groups in Mindanao think so. The Mindanao Peaceweavers (MPW), a broad coalition of civil society peace group in Mindanao in a position paper called for the cancellation of the ARMM elections even as local elections proceed as scheduled. The paper adds that local government accountability remains with the National government while the ARMM is dissolved and replaced by a Transition Commission whose power will be granted by Congress. The MPW also proposed that the appointed OICs in the ARMM be part of the GPH Interim Council under the Transition Commission.


This position is understandable. Conventional thinking on Mindanao posits that a “malleable” ARMM leadership is needed to effect structural changes in the autonomous region. This is the thinking in appointing reform-oriented leaders in the ARMM. Elective officials can be stumbling blocks in any transition that will hurt their political interests such as shortening their tenure when they enjoy a fixed term under the law.


But this conventional thinking has to be re-examined under current political realities. If the aim of the transition is to evolve a new political entity that will replace the ARMM, would it not be more logical if this is done in a structure outside the autonomous government to insulate the process from partisan and entrenched political interests? If the transition culminates in vesting more powers and resources to the new autonomous political entity, does this not serve the political interests of any elected or appointed Moro leader?


The MILF demands that it should be in the “driver’s seat” in the transition which is logical since it negotiated the formula for this process. Why is ARMM leadership matter when the transition is concerned not with leadership of the autonomous region but in reconfiguring the relationship between the national government and the Moro autonomous region which culminates in the establishment of the NAPE?


In the implementation of the 1996 GRP-MNLF Final Peace Agreement (FPA), MNLF Nur Misuari was both ARMM Governor and Chair of the Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development (SPCPD) which was the structure mandated to implement the FPA. Alongside the ARMM which was entrenched in the Constitution and statute, the SPCPD which was created by a mere executive order was a toothless body that could not marshal support from national, regional and local officials towards meaningful implementation of the FPA.


As Governor of the ARMM, Chairman Misuari was “hostaged” to government’s normal bureaucratic mill that it was extremely difficult to reconfigure the relationship between the ARMM and the National government under the circumstances.


The MNLF experience is instructive that the indispensable first step towards meaningful autonomy is to reconfigure the central-autonomous region relationship vesting the autonomous government greater powers and resources and to insure that the reconfigured ties work in practice. The MNLF lost its focus in this crucial task because it was involved, among others in the day to day administration of the ARMM.


The MILF is heeding these lessons from the MNLF experience and has consistently proclaimed that they do not accept the ARMM much less its leadership. The MPW proposal does not call for the MILF to head the ARMM but for extending the tenure of the appointed officials in the ARMM during the transition.


The 2013 elections should not be a hindrance to the forging of the peace pact and its implementation. On the contrary, it could derail the signing and the transition process.


The postponement of the ARMM elections in May 2013 to give way to the transition to the NAPE will most probably be declared invalid by the Supreme Court. The closely-voted SC decision that declared as valid R.A. 10153 that postponed the ARMM elections to May 2013 was hinged on the legal argument that the constitution mandates the synchronization of the national and local elections including the ARMM. It will be extremely difficult to convince the closely divided Supreme Court to hold as valid another postponement considering the restrictive jurisprudence on the matter.


The GPH, MILF and peace advocates must choose their legal battles. The key legal battle is making any framework law out of the peace agreement pass the constitutional and statutory tests. It is not the ARMM leadership during the transition period that is crucial in reconfiguring central-autonomous relationship but the legality and quality of the framework law and its implementation.


A critical remark on the MPW’s call for the postponement of the ARMM elections while local elections proceed as scheduled. For the NAPE to become a meaningful vehicle for autonomy for the Bangsamoro, it is crucial that it be regarded as one united political unit consisting of the autonomous government and local government units. This unity can be harnessed only when leadership in the regional government and local officials engage in a constructive dialogue and share a common vision for effective and accountable self-governance in the region. This unity cannot be harnessed in a regime where mandates of elective and appointed officials are skewed.