Friday, December 11, 2009

Lawyers seek early elections in ARMM

December 12, 2009 02:56:00
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Original Story:

MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Elections (Comelec), on its own and without supporting legislation, can implement early elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) because of its “implied” powers in the Omnibus Election Code, some lawyers have claimed.

Some groups have proposed that the Comelec hold early elections in the restive ARMM, the site of the Nov. 23 massacre, the worst election-related violence in the country’s history.

On Wednesday, Vice President Noli de Castro asked the Comelec to conduct early elections in Maguindanao to ease the tension in the province.

De Castro said that in order to have fair and honest elections, Comelec should closely supervise the conduct of elections and assure peaceful and orderly voting by tapping the military and the police.

He said the media and nongovernment organizations should be vigilant to ensure that the results in the elections were the true will of the people of Maguindanao.

‘‘I also call on the media, nongovernment organizations and poll watchdogs to join hands with the Comelec and be vigilant in monitoring the elections in these poll hotspots,” he said.

Lawyers Macabangkit Lanto, a former justice undersecretary, and Benjamin Lanto yesterday filed a petition to set the elections on April 12 instead of May 10 and asked that the poll body schedule an immediate hearing on their petition.

The Constitution provides that local and national polls should be held on the same date, which the Comelec has cited as preventing the poll body from advancing the date of the ARMM elections.

In their petition, the Lantos said that under the Omnibus Election Code, the Comelec’s powers during the election period are broad enough to allow it to cancel and reschedule elections in some cases.

Under these wide-ranging powers, it is implied that the poll body can set a different date for the ARMM elections, they said.

The Comelec has an “implied power to schedule an election… to an earlier date, reasonably close to the date originally set on grounds provided by law and jurisprudence such as the occurrence of violence and terrorism, loss or destruction of election paraphernalia or records, force majeure, and other analogous cause of such a nature that the holding of a free, orderly, and honest election should become impossible in any political division” the petition said.

These are necessary and incidental powers given to the Comelec to ensure fair and credible elections, it said.

The lawyers argued for April elections to ensure that the Comelec’s resources and law enforcers are able to focus their attention on the volatile region to prevent conflicts, election fraud and violence.

To prevent “trending” and fraud, the results of the early elections should be withheld and made public simultaneously with the outcome of the nationwide voting on May 10, the petition said.

History of fraud

The Lantos said it was imperative that a different date be set for the ARMM polls, noting how the region’s electoral history has been characterized by fraud.

“The electoral history of the areas of the ARMM will show that there was not a single election held in the area, which was not tainted with irregularities and all forms of poll fraud,” they noted.

The Nov. 23 massacre, in which 57 people were brutally murdered allegedly on orders of a Maguindanao town mayor, Andal Ampatuan Jr., also showed that the region should be closely monitored, they said.

The Comelec said it has asked Congress to allow the poll body to reschedule the ARMM elections because of the violence in the region.

Commissioner Rene Sarmiento said the Comelec has sent letters and draft bills to the House of Representatives and the Senate to pass an early voting bill.

The draft bills propose that voting in “hot spots” be scheduled “weeks in advance” of the May 10, 2010 national elections.

With reports from Kristine L. Alave and Cynthia Balana

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