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Palace calls ARMM a 'failed experiment'

A top Malacañang official on Tuesday called the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) a “failed experiment" as he defended anew the proposal to postpone the elections in the region set this August, and to synchronize it instead to the national and local polls in 2013. “The President [Benigno Aquino III] believes that Mindanao deserves a clean slate," and that the ARMM elections should be postponed while major reforms are implemented to address the causes of rebellion, presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said at a press briefing. Also, Aquino wanted to synchronize the ARMM polls with national elections as this would also revitalize the democratic process once the captive voting blocks have been eliminated, said Lacierda. He said the voting blocks, also known as command votes, keep regional leaders in power and enable them to sell the votes to the highest bidder in national elections. “That’s the problem in the past and looking at ARMM, it really presents a failed experiment – ARMM is a failed experiment in terms of the aspirations of the Filipino people to give justice to our Muslim brothers," Lacierda said. The postponement of the ARMM polls will be one of the priority bills the President will present to the Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council meeting on February 28. (See: Aquino to push for postponement of ARMM polls) Aquino has already ordered an audit of the ARMM funds, but even before the audit has been finalized, he has already discovered ghost projects, ghost schools, ghost teachers and ghost soldiers, Lacierda said. The President also found out that ARMM failed to remit to the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) the insurance premiums or contributions deducted from the monthly pay of government employees in the region. “So, again, this is one of the tangible evidence of a failed sub-state in ARMM," Lacierda said. Reiterating the need for reforms as the main reason for Aquino’s proposal to postpone the ARMM elections, Lacierda stated: “[Reforms] can only happen when [the ARMM election] is postponed and we appoint decent officials to have a clean slate… This is not merely the decision of the inner workings of the Cabinet, this is the personal preference of the President." Lacierda earlier said the government would be able to save money with the synchronization of the national, local, and ARMM elections in 2013. Under the bill drafted by Malacañang, the next regular elections for the regional governor, vice governor, members of the regional legislative assembly of the ARMM shall be held on the second Monday of May in 2013. The ARMM elective positions will have a three-year term, and thus all succeeding ARMM elections are expected to be conducted simultaneously with local elections in other areas of the country. The draft bill also stated that the incumbent elective officials of the ARMM shall hold office only until Sep. 30, 2011 when the President appoints officers-in-charge, who will be in post until the next officials are elected. The appointed officials, however, shall be ineligible to run in the next regular elections. Lacierda said the ineligibility provision is included to discourage people who have political ambitions from wanting to be appointed as OIC. “Part of it is the idea of putting in professional and competent people. There’s been a defect in the ARMM system of governance and those that’s going to be appointed will be tasked to improve the system, put in place a system that will be efficient," he said. Lacierda explained that the appointed officials will be part of the transition team. At least two bills are now pending before the House of Representatives calling for the postponement of the ARMM polls. Asked if President Aquino will certify the bill as urgent, Lacierda said they have yet to discuss it.—JV, GMA News