High Court blocks Armm poll postponement law-A A +A
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
MANILA (Updated 4:33 p.m.) -- The Supreme Court (SC) issued Tuesday a temporary restraining order (TRO) on the implementation of the law postponing the elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Armm).
The High Court also halted the appointment of officers-in-charge (OICs) for the Armm on the same day the Department of Interior and Local Government released its seven short-listed candidates for such position.
Voting 8-4, the SC en banc said the move stopping the appointment of OICs aims to avert a possible mooting of the consolidated petitions questioning the validity of Republic Act (RA) 10153 should the tribunal later on decide to declare the law invalid.
RA 10153 will synchronize the Armm elections with the May 2013 national and local elections. It was signed by President Benigno Aquino III last June, deferring the Armm election set in August 8 of this year.
Court spokesman Jose Midas Marquez said the TRO issuance means that the incumbent officials of Armm will be able to continue in office in a holdover capacity if the SC has not yet rendered a decision on the merits of the consolidated cases before September 30, when the term of the incumbents will have expired, and until their successors have been duly elected and qualified.
“After a series of deliberation, the majority decided to issue the TRO because the court may not be able to decide on the merits before September 30. If not decided on the merits before then, the law provides that an OIC may be appointed, and so to prevent any confusion which may later arise after the case is decided on the merits, the majority decided to issue a TRO at this time,” he said.
Marquez said there is a great possibility that the President will appoint OICs in Armm effective October 1.
He said if a TRO is not issued, and the Court decided later on to strike down that provision allowing the appointment of OIC, “then that might result in bigger confusion if we later on nullify the appointment of the OIC.”
“For the majority, it would be better that the TRO be issued now, at this time prior to the appointment of the OIC should the court not be able to decide these cases on the merits prior to September 30,” he explained.
Marquez clarified, however, that the executive is not being enjoined from proceeding with the screening process of applicants for the OIC posts, nor is the Commission on Elections (Comelec) being enjoined from making preparations for the Armm polls.
The SC has yet to rule on the merits of the petitions filed by opposition lawmakers led by House Minority Leader and Albay Representative Edcel Lagman and Datu Michael Kida of the Maguindanao Federation of Autonomous Irrigators Association, and Basari Mapupuno questioning the legality of RA 10153.
Magistrates who voted in the majority were Chief Justice Renato Corona, Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco, Arturo Brion, Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Roberto Abad, Jose Perez, Jose Catral-Mendoza, and Martin Villarama.
The four dissenting justices were Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, Associate Justices Lucas Bersamin, Diosdado Peralta and Maria Lourdes Sereno. Justices Mariano del Castillo and Bienvenido Reyes were on leave.
Opponents of RA 10153 are questioning the constitutionality of the provision giving the President the power to appoint OICs for the positions of regional governor, vice governor, and members of the Legislative Assembly, for having no basis in the Constitution.
Former UP Law dean Pacifico Agabin, counsel for other petitioners Kida and Mapupuno, said RA 10153 removes from the Armm electorate their right to local autonomy.
Lagman, for his part, said the Constitution did not grant powers to the President to appoint or designate Armm officials, and that allowing the President to substitute to the power of the electorate to choose their leaders is untenable.
He said that Aquino, if allowed to appoint Armm officials on transitory provision, would make him “an ascendant superior who can invalidate their decisions.”
The lawmaker also said that in synchronizing the Armm elections to the national polls, the Palace defeated the purpose of its autonomy, while the postponement of the Armm polls violates provisions of the RA 9054 or the Armm Organic Acts, which require the conduct of a plebiscite before such a law could be passed.
With the TRO, Lagman said “what will prevail is the holdover doctrine in the event that the term of the incumbent expires.”
“They will stay until their successors are qualified,” he noted.
“The temporary restraining order obligates the respondents, representing the President, to observe 'judicial courtesy' and not to pre-empt the final decision of the Supreme Court by extending precipitate appointments to OICs,” Lagman said in a press statement.
Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. also welcomed the SC’s move, saying: "This validates my position that there must be elections for Armm officials and not the appointment of OICs."
The government is already screening candidates to sit as regional governor, vice governor, and members of the Regional Legislative Assembly.
"The Comelec should now make the preparations for an election to be held as soon as possible," Marcos said.
At a budget hearing at the Senate, Comelec chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. said the money set aside for Armm elections is still intact and that they can hold elections in Armm within two months of a court decision on the law.
Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez, for his part, said they have not yet seen the TRO issued by the SC.
Malacanang, meanwhile, is appealing the SC ruling, which Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Eduardo de Mesa considered as “unfortunate”.
He said, though, that they are not losing hope.
“We have options available to us, including a motion for reconsideration. We have to live with it,” de Mesa said.
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said the Palace is disappointed with the decision.
President Aquino is supposed to announce the OICs for Armm before he leaves for the United States next week. The incumbent officials in Armm should have been allowed to serve post until September 30.
But the High Court said if the petition is not resolved until September 30, the incumbent officials will stay in holdover capacity until their successors are elected. (ECV/Kathrina Alvarez/Jonathan de Santos/Jill Beltran/Sunnex)