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Arroyo urges Congress to delay ARMM polls.

Byline: Al Jacinto

ZAMBOANGA CITY: Presidnent Gloria Macapagal Arroyo urged Congress yesterday to postpone next month's elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to pave way for the peace talks with Muslim rebels, Press Secretary Jesus Dureza said yesterday.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) earlier asked President Arroyo to delay the Aug. 11 polls so as not to affect the seven-year old peace talks, asking the government to delay it until a memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain has been reached.

Dureza also said that at least four lawmakers have pledged to file separate measures in the House of Representatives and the Senate when sessions resume on July 28 to move the ARMM elections.

The bill in the House of Representatives will be principally authored by Representatives Pax Mangudadatu (Sultan Kudarat), Nur Jaafar (Tawi-Tawi), and Yusop Jikiri (Sulu). In the Senate, Miguel Zubiri will author the counterpart bill, Dureza added.

"The request of the MILF is to postpone the election but allow the holdover capacity of (ARMM) Gov. (Zaldy) Ampatuan and the (regional) assembly," he said. "The plan is to move it till 2010 and to synchronize it with the national elections.

"President Arroyo consulted with the Ampatuans and they agreed (to the postponement) if it would be for the greater good of Mindanao," he said. "Congress now should act quickly to comply with legislation by Aug. 7 to amply prepare for the postponement."

Dureza said the "Cabinet consensus" to postpone the regional polls was reached after Arroyo met Cabinet members and ARMM officials in Awang, Datu Odin Sinsuat, Shariff Kabunsuan yesterday.

Arroyo visited Datu Odin Sinsuat hospital in the province and presided over a National Anti-Poverty Commission Cabinet level meeting in Camp Siongco in which efforts to rehabilitate areas affected by typhoon Frank and social welfare programs were discussed.

"The reason for the efforts to postpone the elections is to give some space for the peace process to succeed since we reached that strategic threshold of coming out with a settlement on the ancestral domain issue and the decision was arrived at, that a bill will be filed in Congress," Dureza said.

Peace negotiators reached an agreement on the issue of ancestral domain and both sides are discussing talks aimed at putting an end to more than four decades of hostilities in the southern region.

Manila has offered to hold a plebiscite in at least 712 villages covered by the Muslim ancestral domain and a shift to federal system of government before the term of President Arroyo ends in 2010.

Also yesterday, militant groups held a rally in Cotabato City and accused Arroyo of failing to uplift the poor living standards of Muslims in the ARMM.

Amirah Ali Lidasan, national president of Suara Bangsamoro, said Arroyo's visit raises more doubts among Muslims because it was timed after the release of the latest survey by the Social Weather Station showing her all-time low of -38 in her popularity rating.

Lidasan said many Muslims would feel more secure if Arroyo could stop the incessant oil price hikes and rising prices of basic commodities that is adding burden to their already difficult life because of the floods.

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Publication:Arab News (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)
Date:Jul 23, 2008
Words:545
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