On the Absence of Democracy in the ARMM

By Jamil Matalam
Ateneo de Davao University

Today, 30 June 2011, the President of the Philippines signed the bill synchronizing the ARMM elections with that of the National Elections, i.e. postponing the August 2011 ARMM elections. From the reading of the President’s speech in signing the bill it would give us the impression that the primary intention for the bill is to pave way for reforms in the ARMM. I think reforming the ARMM is good and is a must. I take issue, however, with how the President, by passing, mentions how the undemocratic practice is happening in the region. He says:

“Kung ang makikita po natin tuwing eleksyon ay ganito: mga botanteng dinidiktahan kung sino ang isusulat sa balota, may demokrasya kaya ba? Mga estudyanteng napipilitang upuan ang mga balota upang protektahan ang mga boto habang pinapaligiran ng mga armadong tauhan ng mga politiko, may demokrasya ba? Mga gurong akap-akap ang mga balot box, nangangatog dahil sa pagbabanta sa kanilang mga buhay, may demokrasya ba?”(http://www.gov.ph/2011/06/30/president-aquino-speech-signing-bill-synchronizing-armm-elections-with-national-and-local-elections-june-30-2011/)

I think that to an extent there is factual truth to this statement, though I do not take out the possibility of exaggeration as this would definitely be not a personal knowledge on the part of the President: I do not think however that this is how undemocratic practice is happening in the ARMM. The President in the same speech, however, alluded to it, but actually missed the point when he said, in two paragraphs:

“Balikan din po natin ang ilang tagpo noong 2007 elections. Nang inihayag ang resulta ng halalan sa Maguindanao, ang lumabas: 12-0. Lahat po ng pambatong Senador ni Ginang Arroyo, panalo. Papaano po kaya nangyari ito? Sa isip ko, ganoon na lang kaya kalaki ang fans club ng koponang Arroyo sa ARMM?
Hindi naman po siguro posible na kapag ibang partido ang ibinoto mo, biglang nawawalan ng tinta ang gamit mong pluma. O baka naman ang kanilang mga balota, tinangay lamang ng hangin. Hanggang ngayon po, isang napakalaking palaisipan pa rin ang mga ganitong tagpo.”

For an ARMM politician this occurrence is no riddle, as he would like to humorously point out. These were done not by dictating voters what to write, nor through surrounding or threatening teachers and students with private armies. They are done more clandestinely, by local politicians and their relatives, and the local COMELEC, the night before the elections until the day of counting the votes. Undemocracy is done mostly, at least in Maguindanao, not really by threats but by not allowing the voters to vote, who do not really care about it, but by contracting those who holds the electoral machineries. Voters are not dictated or bought either; local politicians are given huge sums of money by candidates to ensure victory. In the last elections a local mayor would have received a total of 8 million from the candidates for the office of the governor alone.

Another cause of undemocracy in the region is the AFP. For instance, they have sold to the Ampatuans, thousands of high-powered guns, for which used is to kill insurgents who are residents of the ARMM, and the November 23 2009 incident. This practice has given local politician great power to perpetrate them in office and advance their whims as it would give them the power to kill anyone who opposes them. If the National Government and the AFP is true in advancing democracy why has this been allowed? The President, I think, missed this cause of undemocracy in his speech, giving us the impression that the National Government and its military arm as being faultless in the troubles happening in the ARMM, they have played a great part in these troubles.

The greatest good, therefore, that the postponement of the ARMM elections would bring is that it would lessen or deny the harvest of those who holds the electoral machineries by August. But whether it would bring, what the President refers to as democracy, though unclear in its meaning, is doubtful. Simply reforming the ARMM would definitely not bring it, but a total reform of the entire government and its military component, and change in how the Muslims of the south and their history is perceived (much of the attempt in reforming the ARMM is still grounded on the impressions and misconceptions perpetrated by the colonizers of the Islands, i.e. that they are dumb, politically immature, do not have any know how and must be taught the concepts of justice; a matter so unfair to them). But perhaps the postponement may be a start.

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