Qualification questions hound Antonino’s appointment as MinDA chair

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/07 September) – “Is she a master’s degree holder or a lawyer? The Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) charter requires that credential,” asked Sebastian “Angie” Angliongto, former chair of the Mindanao Business Council and Mindanao Economic Development Council.

Angliongto, who had said over a month ago that he hopes the next MinDA chair would be “hindi trapo” (not a traditional politician), said the appointment of former three-term South Cotabato representative Luwalhati Ricasa-Antonino as the new MinDA chair is “still political since Antonino supported P-Noy in the last election.”

The MinDA chair under RA 9996, the law creating MinDA, holds a Cabinet rank and will represent Mindanao in the Cabinet. He/sshe will also serve a term of “six years from the date of his/her appointment unless removed for cause.”

But the law also says the MinDA chair should have the following qualifications: “that he/she be a holder of a degree in law or a masteral degree in any of the following fields: economics, business, public administration, law, management, or their equivalent  and have at least ten (10) years relevant experience in said fields: provided, further, that he/she shall be a resident of Mindanao for at least (5) years before the appointment; Provided, finally, that he/she shall also be the Philippine Senior Official for BIMP-EAGA and shall likewise be an ex officio member of the NEDA Board and the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority Board.”

Antonino, who is turning 68 on October 22, served as Representative of the 1st district of South Cotabato from 1992 to 2001. In 1996, she and two other representatives – Daisy Avance-Fuentes (now back to being representative of the second district of South Cotabato after having served three terms as South Cotabato governor) and the late Zamboanga City Rep. Maria Clara Lobregat – rose to national prominence for having led protest actions against what would be the Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development (SPCPD), the transitory mechanism agreed upon by government and the Moro National Liberation Front.

According to the congressional website, www.congress.ph, under the list of members of the 11th Congress, the last Congress where she served as representative, Antonino’s profession was listed as “Engineer” and her membership in House Committees as follows: chair of Foreign Affairs, vice chair of Muslim Affairs, and member of the Committees on Games & Amusement, Good Government, Women, Agriculture and Food.

Surfing Luwalahati Antonino and Luwalhati Ricasa-Antonino through the internet yielded very little information about Antonino’s educational background.

Aside from educational qualifications, however, questions as to Antonino’s other qualifications as the highest ranking official of Mindanao tasked with coordinating peace and development efforts are hounding Antonino even before she could formally assume the post. (Sources at the MinDA office said Antonino will report to the Davao City office in mid-September).

Guiamel Alim, executive director of the Kadtuntaya Foundation, Inc., said, the naming of Antonino as MinDA chair “makes the Boses Mindanaw useless. What are we CSOs (civil society organizations) if our united voices are set aside? Sayang!”

Fr. Eliseo “Jun” Mercado, OMI, former Notre Dame University president and now executive director of the Institute of Autonomy and Governance (IAG) said Antonino “is a three-termer in Congress so she has more connections than Jess (Dureza). She is a continuation of Jess. Politico. Her position reflects the Mindanao except ARMM as shown in the results of the May elections.”

Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar said Antonino is “nobody in terms of engagements with urgent Mindanao issues e.g. peace, ancestral domain of Lumads, environment, inter-faith dialogue, etc. She’s hardly known by civil society groups. She may not have visited most of Mindanao especially critical areas and her family is known to be anti-Moro.”

A disappointed Carlos Manlupig, executive director of the Balay Mindanaw Group of NGOs, said the appointment of Antonino “showed how P-Noy appreciates Mindanao. God save Mindanao!” he said.

Manlupig’s group supported Aquino’s campaign in Northern Mindanao.

South Cotabato Governor Arthur Pingoy said he is “glad that the head of MinDA will come from South Cotabato.”

Compostela Valley Governor said Arturo Uy said “I have yet to know her personally but I’ve heard she’s hardworking.”

Vicente Lao of the Mindanao Business Council who was rooting for the retention of Dureza as MinDA chair, said “Lu (Antonino) will make a good MinDA chair. She is familiar with the problems of Mindanao. MinBC will fully support her.”

MinDA was created under Republic Act 9996 and signed into law on February 17, 2010 by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, to “promote, coordinate and facilitate the active and extensive participation of all sectors to effect the socioeconomic development of Mindanao.”

The chair’s  role is crucial in that the law provides that it is the policy of the State to “accelerate the socioeconomic growth of Mindanao, increasing its trade, tourism and investments, encouraging private enterprise and advancing efforts towards peace and development”  through MinDA.

Rafael Gomez, a senior aide under then Presidential Assistant for Mindanao Paul Dominguez during the Ramos administration and now a communications adviser for public and private sectors, said of Antonino’s appointment: “That she’s a woman and a member of a prominent political family may have their merits but Mindanao is such a complex affair. I hope that after the initial fanfare, Ms Antonino hits the ground running, assesses where we all stand and where we’ve faltered, and ultimately musters the political will to make a solid contribution to our future. “With recurring conflicts, ongoing BIMP-EAGA activities, an in-your-face island-community attitude, and strong civil society voices, the MinDA chair clearly needs to be proactive. It’s not a walk in the park. I sincerely wish Ms Antonino all the best.”

Members of peace advocacy groups are concerned over the effect of Antonino’s appointment on the peace processes particularly with the Bangsamoro. But MindaNews columnist Patricio Diaz said to an e-group of Mindanawons: “What should be of greater concern for Mindanawons is the question: Is she the best Mindanawon for the job — to advance the economic development of Mindanao? And more: The appointment of Lu Antonino, this early, shows what Aquino’s Malacañang mean by Aquino’s promise of  ‘Change’,” he said.

MindaNews made several attempts to contact Antonino but she could not be reached for comment. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)