Palace wants to void ARMM voters’ list
With 13 months to go before the 2013 elections, a proposed voter clean-up in ARMM might upset Comelec's timetable

MANILA, Philippines – With a little more than 13 months before the May 13, 2013 senatorial and local elections, Malacañang wants to invalidate the official list of voters in the 5 provinces of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

This, it claims, is part of government’s efforts to introduce reforms in the region, including “restoring credibility” in its electoral process.

As of 2011, there are 1.8 million registered voters in ARMM, according to the Comelec website.

On Tuesday, March 28, President Benigno Aquino III convened key officials, including Commission on Elections (Comelec) chair Sixto Brillantes Jr, to discuss the proposal to replace the existing voters’ list in the ARMM by conducting a new general registration.

This is estimated to cost government around P450-M.

Carmelita Ericta, National Statistics Office (NSO) administrator, presented data to show an apparent discrepancy in the census reports of ARMM versus national figures.

Ericta cited as an example the country’s population rate which rose 1.89 % from 2000 to 20007, versus ARMM’s, which registered a 5.46% growth during the same period. Maguindanao province had the biggest population increase at 6.6%, followed by Basilan at 6.4%, according to the NSO.

Validations made by NSO on the 2010 census report in some areas in Maguindanao showed that sketch maps prepared by local statisticians, when compared to other tools such as Google maps and real estate documents, had marked houses “that were not actually there.”

Noble purpose?

Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad said the proposed allocation of P450-M is a “small investment” to bring back the integrity of ARMM elections. Cheating “is closely linked to the problem of political instability in the region,” he said.

ARMM covers Basilan, Tawi-Tawi, Sulu, Maguindanao, and Lanao del Sur. It has gained notoriety for election violence and massive cheating.

Tight national races, especially the senatorial elections, are usually decided in ARMM.

The funding for the general registration, according to Abad, may be sourced from the President’s contingency fund.

“This is such an important exercise for him that he will do everything—and I don’t really see that the budgetary outlay is an issue here,” Abad said.

Lack of time

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said a general registration may be held since the “statutory prohibited period is 120 days before the national elections.”

But the Comelec has expressed reservations about the Palace proposal, saying the agency may not have enough time since it is already preparing for the automated polls.

Brillantes wants the filing of candidacies to be held as early as October this year so that Comelec can start printing official ballots by January 2013.

If we start now (voter registration in ARMM), April, we will end in April (next year). It will be too close (to the May 13 elections),” Brillantes said. “But we will study this proposal to make this work.”

Brillantes admitted, however, that the poll body initially discussed with ARMM officials the “annulment” of the voters’ list in the region, “with [a] timeline that [was supposed to begin] last February.”

Petitions have also been pending before the commission en banc to dissolve the list and replace it with a new one. “Usually, annulment petitions (for voters lists) take about 2 months. But we can work it out within one month – starting May. We’ll just have to fast-track everything,” Brillantes said.

Abad added: “We recognize the independence of the Comelec as a separate and constitutional branch. But we are making the appeal to them to make the extra sacrifice.” –

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