DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/13 February) –- Governor Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) paused as he groped for the right words to say in what sounded like his valedictory address on Wednesday morning, Day 2 of the 2nd ARMM LGU Summit on Governance and Development.
“Alam ko last ko na ito” (I know this is my last), a visibly emotional Hataman said as he explained to the President and some Cabinet members, governors, mayors, legislators and other regional officials from the ARMM”s five provinces, 116 towns and two cities who gathered at the Waterfront Insular Hotel’s Agila Room, that this could be the last Summit they would be attending before ARMM is abolished to give way to the Bangsamoro, the new autonomous political entity that would replace the 24-year old ARMM.
Hataman said he hopes the Bangsamoro transition government will also convene a similar summit.
Under the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) signed on October 15, 2012, the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) agreed that the status quo is unacceptable and that they would work for the creation of a new autonomous political entity called the Bangsamoro, that would replace the ARMM by June 30, 2016.
But while the Bangsamoro will be formally installed with its elected officials by June 30, 2016, the ARMM will be deemed abolished most likely next year. According to the FAB, once the Basic Law is ratified, the ARMM is deemed abolished and the Bangsamoro Transition Authority takes over the functions of the ARMM, through a ministerial form of government.
Hataman, Vice Governor Haroun Alrashid Lucman and the 24 members of the Regional Legislative Assembly knew, even before they filed their certificates of candidacy for the May 2013 elections, that based on the FAB, their three-year term from June 30, 2013, would be cut short once the Bangsamoro Basic Law is ratified.
In his State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 22, 2013, President Aquino urged to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law before yearend 2014. The Bangsamoro Transition Commission, the 15-member GPH-MILF body drafting the Basic Law, has promised President Aquino they would submit the draft by March 31 this year.
Hataman praised President Benigno Simeon Aquino III, a friend during their stint at the House of Representatives, for his support to “reform” the ARMM, an institution dubbed by many, including Aquino, as a “failed experiment.”
He paused while narrating how one day, the President called him to Malacanang and passed on to him a book – the Commission on Audit report on the ARMM under Datu Zaldy Uy Ampatuan — and asked him if he could do something about governance in the region.
Hataman was referring to 2011, when the President named him OIC ARMM Governor after Congress passed a law resetting the August 2011 ARMM election by synchronizing it with the May 2013 national elections
Hataman assumed the OIC post on December 22, 2011. He was elected ARMM Governor in May 2013.
Hataman cited as examples of “reform” the P4B given to the regional Department of Public Works and Highways by the national government, to construct concrete roads. A total of 573.16 kilometers were constructed, he said, adding the DPWH also managed to save P190.18 million which it used to buy heavy equipment.
He said the problem in the ARMM has always been that big construction firms fear doing work in the region so the DPWH equipment along with equipment of the local government units are used for the construction work.
Hataman also announced a road project for Al Barka town in Basilan.
He said in the history of the ARMM, rice production grew by 26.2 per cent through the Department of Agriculture’s Agripinoy which gave “over one billion” pesos for 2013-2014.
“I want you to know,” he addressed the President in Pilipino, “that before I step down, at least I did not fail in having the national government regain its trust in the ARMM.”
“Salamat sa kapayapaan na binigay mo” (Thank you for the peace that you are giving), Hataman said, adding it is only the President and his mother, the former President Corazon Aquino, “who had the will to talk to the rebels,” apparently referring to the September 1986 meeting between his mother-President and Nur Misuari of the Moro National Liberation Front in Sulu and the August 2011 meeting between the President and MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim in Japan.
Hataman said the ARMM has passed a resolution in support of the President’s peace initiatives and in support of the Bangsamoro government.
In response, President Aquino praised Hataman for the “tunay at konkretong repormang ginawa mo sa ARMM” (genuine and concrete reforms you did in the ARMM).
Aquino also praised him for being “truly the ghostbuster” for ending the practice of “ghost employees,” “ghost teachers” and “ghost schools,” and dubbed him as his “poster boy for good governance.”
The President repeated his previous criticisms on the ARMM – corruption, cheating in elections, massive poverty, etc. — and noted how the region has been “reformed” since Hataman took over.
He said he is looking forward to the Bangsamoro political entity.
“We look forward to the day the Bangsamoro Basic Law will be passed so that we can fully open a new chapter in the history of Muslim Mindanao,” the President said, in Pilipino, adding that after signing all the four annexes to the FAB, “the complete reform of the system in this region and permanent transformation of the Land of Promise are within reach.”
He concluded his 15-minute speech by again praising Hataman for not hesitating to step down when the Bangsamoro Basic Law is ratified.
He said other officials would likely say “Hindi pa ho handa na mag-Bangsamoro. Kulang pa ho ang oras” (we are not ready to move on to the Bangsamoro. We need more time) “but not Hataman.”
And in what sounded like an endorsement to a future role in the region, the President said: “Ikaw may obligasyon ka pa raw, at sa galing ng mga taga-Mindanao, lalo na sa ARMM, eh palagay ko naman hindi sila magkukulang sa kanilang pag-aaruga ng kanilang kinabukasan dahil kakalimutan ka na—hindi. Palagay ko, lalo kang pipilitin na dapat ipagpatuloy mo ang maganda mong paglilingkod” (You still have an obligation, and with the good qualities of Mindanawons, especially in the ARMM, I think they will not lack in caring for their future and forget you – no. I think, all the more they will force you to continue your good service).
What exactly did the President mean by this endorsement? Reporters could not ask him because the President’s supposed press conference was called off.
MindaNews asked Hataman if the President meant it as an endorsement to the Bangsamoro entity but he replied that service could come in different ways.
He said he has told the President what life awaits him when he steps down as ARMM Governor. “I told him I will go back to NGO work or back to Congress, at the same time support (the Bangsamoro). Hataman was a three-term representative of the party list, Anak Mindanaw.
He said the ARMM is preparing for a smooth transition to the Bangsamoro because he does not want a repeat of the messy transitions in the past. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)