Commentary: Peace talks and the ARMM polls
By Bong Pedalino
Maasin City (4 August) -- Presidential adviser on the peace process Hermogenes Esperon, Jr. was already making waves in his newly-assigned task as the country's top peace officer..
But like the initial reservation on his new job description, Esperon's act of engaging the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) has again raised eyebrows, this time from critics and allies alike.
One insinuation was that the details of the raw deal were not easily accessible, although this can be satisfied once the mechanics can be out in the open. The other reason for the public howl of protest -- and this speculative allegation is more serious -- was the widespread fear the country's sovereignty may be endangered; for once the accord is signed, it will be tantamount to a virtual surrender, a ceding of a sizeable portion of the nation's southern territories.
This is not the case, Esperon assured the Filipino people, for everything would have to be duly consulted in an open dialogue to those concerned, and besides it would have to be legislated first before any spirit of the MOA can assume life and flesh.
For now we will take his word at that, a benefit of the doubt, if you will.
Still, what is disturbing, though, in this latest peace overture, is that the elections of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) would have to be postponed to give way to this type of peace initiative.
Here lies the problem: the ARMM polls on August 11, 2008, is no ordinary, so-so electoral exercise; rather, this is historic in the sense that voters there will have a first taste of computerized elections -- and the failure or success of this dramatic undertaking can very well spell the difference of computerizing the entire country for the 2010 presidential elections.
The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has been all set for the automated ARMM elections. In fact, preparations were already in full swing so much so that if a law postponing it can be passed in record seven days, the Comelec would still push through with the high-tech balloting even if results are not binding.
This is because a fully automated national election is a "dream long cherished by the Comelec," said Comelec Chair Jose Melo.
Melo is not alone in the classic "hindi ka nag-iisa" call. A fully computerized elections, which is now at arm's length of being realized, is also a dream long cherished by the Filipino voters, be he or she a Muslim or a Christian.
So it will be a great opportunity loss if the electronic ARMM elections would give in to peace talks. According to Comelec Commissioner Moslemen Macarambon: "As a Muslim, personally, the peace talks are not in any way related to the (ARMM) elections."
ADDENDUM: As I write this piece, the Supreme Court ruled to stop the MOA signing scheduled Tuesday, August 5, and set hearing arguments on August 15.
This means the computerized ARMM polls on August 11 would be a GO, GO, GO!
LOCAL FRONT: One World Institute Foundation, a US-based organization, donated 20 wheelchairs to the province last Friday. I had goose bumps in my spine as I watched handicapped people feeling the joy of comfortable sitting that doubled as a transport for them. Gov. Damian Mercado led the turn-over with Evelyn Toledo Dumdum, a volunteer, who happens to be a Maasinhon by birth, being a resident of barangay Abgao. Mrs. Dumdum pledged another twenty units coming before the end of the year. Indeed, may the Foundation not tire of giving for the sake of our brothers and sisters with disabilities.
ODDLY YOURS: The Athletes' Village in Beijing, China, the site of the 2008 Olympic Games, known officially as the Games XXIX Olympiad, formally opened last Sunday, July 27, 2008.. From August 8 to 24, 2008, the village will be home to more than 10,000 players from 201 nations all over the world participating in 302 events in 28 sports. The village is made up of 42 apartment blocks, each one of which is equipped with high-speed internet access and has over 9,000 bedrooms. It has a complete array of restaurants, a clinic, library, shops and sports facilities open for 24 hours. More than 20,000 journalists from around the world will cover the 16-day games, and actual sports events will be beamed live worldwide 24/7, and will be watched by an estimated 3.7 billion television viewers. (PIA-Southern Leyte) [top]