There is now an unfolding saga in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. With the Supreme Court issuing a temporary restraining order or TRO, the implementation of the newly concocted law, RA 10153, synchronizing the ARMM elections with the national mid-term election on the 2nd Monday of May 2013 is now put hold.

It is not the first time that the ARMM elections were postponed. They were about eight cases of postponement in the past. But in previous cases, no one questioned the wisdom or the legality of postponing the elections.

This time, the postponement of the ARMM elections right from the beginning spawned great debates between the pro elections side and the pro postponement side.

On the one hand, the premise of the pro election is the fact that election in the ARMM is at the very core of autonomy and self-determination. The national government for whatever motive or reason cannot override the people’s highest expression of the popular will through elections albeit flawed.

On the other hand, the pro postponement would like to effect, first, a set of reforms before conducting yet another election in the ARMM. Moreover, the people behind the reform ARMM movement are adverse to elections given the ‘reputation’ of the ARMM for electoral frauds.

The real crux of the matter is the issue of the ‘constitutionality’ of RA 10153 that cancels the scheduled ARMM elections. The law also gives power to the president to appoint officers in charge in the ARMM when the term of office of the incumbents expires on September 30th, 2011.

By the virtue of the Supreme Court’s TRO, the implementation of RA 10153 is temporarily enjoined, thus the President is PROHIBITED from appointing OICs unless and until the TRO is lifted. Meanwhile, the provision of RA 9054 on ‘holdover’ capacity shall apply if the TRO is NOT lifted on or before September 30th, 2011. The TRO also names the ‘INCUMBENTS’ thus leaving no ambiguity who shall enjoy the privilege of ‘holdover’ capacity.

The issue is crystal clear for people who wish to understand the present ruling with the Supreme Court justices voting 8-4 in favor of the TRO. The SC TRO has NO ‘expiry date’. In fact, a restraining order issued by the Supreme Court shall be effective until further orders by the same court.

Clearly, the present incumbents shall continue to hold office until the TRO is lifted or the issue before the SC is resolved. ‘In the event that the subject cases are not decided by September 30, 2011, the following incumbent ARMM officials shall continue to perform their functions on a holdover capacity pursuant to Section 2, Article VIII of RA 9054’.

Now we have two groups on the ground – the holdovers and the OIC wannabes. There are times that the exchanges between two groups are no longer civil and friendly. The “holdovers’ are called ‘kapit tuko’ to mean holding to the positions beyond their mandates while the OIC wannabes are called ‘tulo laway’ meaning that they are salivating to assume the jobs.

The real issue, beyond names and adjectives is the question of ‘autonomy’ or self-determination already granted to the ARMM. The Basic Charter of the ARMM or the Organic Act merely gives to the President a general supervision over the autonomous region and this supervision is exercised through the ARMM Regional Governor. The Basic Charter grants autonomy to the ARMM in local affairs and in all the enumerated powers specified in RA 9054. While everybody (both holdovers and OIC wannabes) agrees to the needed reforms in the ARMM, the issue is whether the new law RA 10153 is a violation of the Constitution and the Basic Charter of the ARMM.

There will be no vacuum of power in the ARMM beyond September 30, 2011, since the Supreme Court has already decided on the matter, that is, ‘holdover’ for the incumbents pursuant to RA 9054. There is no ambiguity either who are the incumbents, because the Supreme Court enumerates them by names.

Thus while we wait for the final decision on the issue, the reforms in the ARMM cannot wait. In fact, the incumbents, with few exceptions, have been doing their utmost to change the image of the ARMM since they were named in December 2009.

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