Panelo asserts stand on poll deferment needing plebiscite

By Ali G. Macabalang

Secretary Salvador Panelo being interviewed by this writer and other journalists. (AGM)

COTABATO CITY – Presidential Chief Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo maintained his assertion that postponing the 2022 first election of Bangsamoro parliament members will require a plebiscite in an interview here long desired by journalists covering the autonomous region.

“That’s how some lawyers interpreted (the legal issue),” Sec. Panelo said in Pilipino when asked about a news report attributed to him that resetting next year’s regional polls to another date through a congressional act will require the ratification by concerned electorates in a plebiscite.

He repeated the same argument despite journalists’ reminders that past elections in the defunct Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) had been deferred many times to later dates without a single plebiscite held.

This writer cited at least two instances – the deferment of the 1996 ARMM election at the behest of then President Fidel Ramos’ persuasion of founding Moro National Liberation Front chair Nur Misuari to run for regional governor in 1997, and the deferment of the 2010 poll in the same region on the quest of the late former President Noynoy Aquino to install Mujiv Hataman as OIC-governor and later elected region governor in 2013.

Panelo argued that lawyers would always differ in the interpretation of laws in response to a question that the Justice Department opposed his view. Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra cast aside any need for plebiscite in amending a law involving only a change in dates of elections, but the edict’s substance.

Chief Minister Ahod Ebrahim and Local Government Minister Naguib Sinarimbo in posterity pose with Governors Bombit Adiong of Lanao del Sur, Jim Salliman of Basilan and Ysmael Sali of Tawi-Tawi at the regional summit in Cotabato City on July 23. (AGM) 

Past elections nationwide for barangay officials has also been postponed several times, and no plebiscite was help – a popular notion expounded by various sectors rallying the passage of bills pending in Congress to defer the BARMM poll in 2022 and extend the lifespan of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority to 2025.

BTA, composed of 80 members appointed by the President for a term ending next year, is the interim governing body of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

Many petitions backed by major caravans, including a successful gathering of 1.2 million signatures, have been held to convince President Duterte to certify as urgent the poll-resetting bills pending in the two Congressional chambers.

But the President declared last June 24 a “neutral” stand and tossed the issue to Congress for decision. Malacañang Spokesman Harry Roque has said the Presidential neutrality was prompted by two factors: The disagreement among regional officials and political leaders in BARMM, and the contrasting opinions of the DOJ and Panelo’s office.

In the interview here, believed to be the first so far about his controversial opinion, Sec. Panelo said it will be Congress to decide on postponing the 2022 poll and ascertain any need for a plebiscite.

Observers lamented that the DOJ and the Palace legal counsel office had stood on contrasting stands on the issue of poll postponement for the first time, even as some of them suspected that money opposing quarters may have made an “ultra-influence” in the legal debate.

Panelo addressed the BARMM’s first regional summit here on July 23 that saw Senate Majority Leader Migs Zubiri assuring via Zoom that the Senate was inclined to approve the poll-postponing bill within a month’s time.

The summit was organized by BARMM Chief Minister Ahod Ebrahim through Local Government Minister Naguib G. Sinarimbo to finalize the results of separate provincial pre-summits where constituent LGUs submitted vital project proposals for harmonization with the regional priorities and for funding in the 2022 Bangsamoro government budget.

Governors Bombit Adiong of Lanao del Sur, Jim Hataman-Saliman of Basilan and Ysmael Sali of Tawi-Tawi and their mayors attended the summit here. They are known supporters of the call for BTA extension to provide ample time for the interim regional administration to implement its mandates under the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) and R.A. 11054 (BARMM’s charter.)

Maguindanao Governor Mariam Sangki-Mangudadatu, whose administration was the first to cast support to the move for BTA extension, was no show in the summit. Sulu Governor Sakur Tan and Cotabato City Mayor Cynthia Sayadi were also absent.

But Public Works Minister Eduardo Guerra told the Philippine Muslim Today news that Gov. Tan has tried to charter two planes to shuttle him and his delegation from Sulu to this city, but the runway in Jolo town was temporarily shut to landing and takeoff since the tragic crash of a C-130 aircraft in Sulu last July 4 that left several fatalities. Mayor Sayadi’s absence was not explained.

Gov. Tan and Mayor Guiani are opposed to the proposed extension of the BTA lifespan and pushing the conduct of the BARMM polls as scheduled under R.A. 10054. (AGM)

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