CONVERSATIONS with Minister Naguib Sinarimbo: “We have the privilege of looking at the challenges from different angles”

(Conversations with lawyer Naguib Sinarimbo, Insider Mediator co-convenor, now Minister for Interior and Local Government of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, on 11 April 2019 in Cotabato City).

Lawyer Naguib Sinarimbo. Minister for Interior and Local Government, Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. MindaNews photo by GREGORIO BUENO

Q. What is the Insider Mediators’ role now that quite a number of you are already inside the BARMM (Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao)?
A. The same pa rin naman. Essentially the role for Insider Mediatiors will always be really building consensus among those who are inside an organization and those who would probably be out of the organization. Essentially I think the composition of the insider mediation group in the Bangsamoro is perfectly suited for doing the work of mediating and building the consensus because it gives us the perspective of those within the organization and our members who are actually outside of the institutions now. We have the privilege of looking at the challenges from different angles.

Q. But have you actually met as a group and determined exactly what your role will in the BARMM and what your priorities will be as Insider Mediators?
A. There was a formal meeting in Davao to look at the evolving roles of the insider mediation group and the different members of the group but there has been a series of discussions in Cotabato City with our colleagues on how best we can help in the Bangsamoro given the roles of different members – some are in the BTA (Bangsamoro Transition Authority), some are in the Cabinet and then others are in middle management but many of us are still outside. So some are in the major education institutions in the region, others are in the NGO.

Q. You’re Minister for Interior and Local Government. Can a Minister, can a Member of a Parliament still be a part of IM?
A. Yes, definitely. I think the advantage is, those who are inside the major institutions of the government like for instance some colleagues who are in the Parliament, in the BTA, not necessarily members of the Cabinet, would have access to the discussions and the consensus-building within the Parliament. Some of us who are in the Cabinet would be there to assist in the consensus-building within the Cabinet and potentially within the bigger Bangsamoro government that includes the Parliament and the Cabinet.

Q. So in the same manner those in Parliament can also interact with you and tell you in the Cabinet what you should look out for or what you have been missing out to do?
A. Yes, exactly. That’s what’s happening. So there are some colleagues in the Parliament who are members of the IM and are therefore very open to us who are in the Cabinet to discuss some concerns, same with some of us. So some of us are also engaging some of our colleagues in the Parliament on priority legislations that we feel should really be pushed by the Bangsamoro Transistion Authority or the Parliament in this case.

Q. Have you actually discussed priorities?
A. In several fora, several venues for instance in the Cabinet, we’ve laid out the priorities of the Chief Minister taken from the discsussions of the different ministries. There are also discussions for instance in (the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s Camp) Darapanan about what needs to be achieved both in terms of legislation and the programs of the government and that’s the government of today, meaning the Cabinet, so I think for legislation, the priorities are those outlined already in the law, so there’s no way we should avoid passing the legislations mandated by the law Like Electoral Code, Local Government Code, Revenue Code. I think five or six major legislations would need to be tackled.

Q. Would the Marawi rehabilitation be part of that and
A. Marawi is part of the major discussions both in the Parliament and in the Cabinet and we’ve discussed Marawi in relation to the development of the Bangsamoro Development Plan or this time around, the development plan of the Bangsamoro Government.

Q. Maybe it’s to soon to comment about this but having been Executive Secretary before and … yesterday Philippine Statistics Authority’s report about the poorest of the poor and the poverty incidence and the bottom line, at the bottom, is still the ARMM (Autononomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) which the BARMM replaced.
A. Which is sad really. I mean if you look at the povery incidence beginning in 1989, we were not far from the poverty incidence of the whole country but over the years, ARMM had been pushed down to the bottom. So from an average I think it was not more than 20 in the beginning in 1989 and then we reached around 45 in 2012 and then it is pushed further to 48.2 or some are saying 50 or even 55. So more than half of your population is below poverty line which is dismal. So we need to look at what’s really driving poverty in the region. We know for instance the structural challenges presented by ARMM and if you look at the budget for instance in 1989 up until 2011, it was less than 1% of the national budget. If you compare it with other regions, the government spending in the region compared to some other region has really been very, very low, so part of that (was) contributing in the increase in the poverty incidence of the region.

But I think more than that, we should also seriously look at what is being measured in determining poverty incidence for the region so that we get to understand what programs need to be there to specifically target the indicators, so that you can move quickly on reducing the poverty incidence.

More than that, I think there are also government programs that are pushing the statistics towards this area and I suspect this one makes further study, 4Ps. So if you are enrolled in the 4Ps, that means you are poor. We know for instance in the region that some teachers were listed as benificiaries of 4Ps. Why is that? Because if you are included in the list of the poor, you gain access to the safety net programs of the government and therefore you get to benefit from what is supposedly intended for the poor. So we need to review that very, very carefully because that may be pushing the statistics not necessarily actual poverty incidence in the region but that’s just my suspicion. We need a better study to look at these things.

Q. Would this also include looking into the statistics
A. Statistics is important.

Q. Because there are problems before about manufactured
A. Yeah, so you bloat some numbers and if you do that, you also distort the statistics for some of the indicators of the region.

Q. So are you going to recommend or is that part of your mandate to ensure that this time we don’t have distorted statistics so that you can actually correspondingly respond to it also?
A. I think statistics is important, meaning you need to get the actual numbers otherwise your planning will be flawed, the programs will really not respond to the actual needs. So we need to get a better sense of the numbers in the region not just for looking at poverty incidence but also looking at appropriate programs given the numbers that are there.

So the statistics should tell you where programs really are needed. So if for instance our statistics tells us that 70% of our population are farmers, then we should focus on farmers. The program should be there and not something else, otherwise it will not match the numbers that are there.

Q, On the memos that you have issued I think at least two where people are reacting. One is transparency
A. In a positive way.

Q. In a positive way?
A. I think we issued several memoranda and the drive really is to create the policy environment for local government units to be able to perform in the best way that they should be performing. So optimizing the performance of local government units its not really punishing the LGUs. It’s not a punitive measure. It’s more creating the environment that allows the LGUs to really perform at the optimum and part of that is looking at how well are we spending the resources.

We should all understand that if the region gets roughly around 32B or 36B, the same amount actually goes to the local government units through the internal revenue allocation. So if we are able to maximize the utilization the both funds — meaning the funds that go into the region and the one that goes into LGUs, we can better accelerate the development phase of the region. So it’s important that we perform well in the region and the LGUs perform also very, very well and we need to converge so that resources really are able to sustain the programs both of LGU and that of region and that’s the drive. So we issued memorandum directing LGUs to be at the forefront of response and preparedness for disasters. We issued a memorandum directing LGUs to hold their meetings, conferences and seminars within the region. The logic for it is that you spend your money within the region, the money circulates in the region, creates economic opportunities and employment, also allows the region to collect more taxes. These taxes will ultimately go down to service delivery. The other one which we think is important is the full transparency and disclosure measure that we’ve issued to LGUs. This is in connection with the drive for achieving transparency at different levels of government. For instance, for our ministry, we’ve disclosed already how much budget we are getting and where it is going, through our portal in the DILG. We want LGUs to do the same. You post your annual appropriations, your income and expenditure statements, what are the programs you are supporting, in at least three conspicuous places. So you can post it in municipal hall, in the terminals, in the public markets. At least three in addition to that you should post it in the portal and we are posting it already in the

Q. Did they not do that before?
A. I’ve not seen it. I’ve been through municipalities and public markets and terminals but I’m not seeing the disclosure. There’s a full disclosure policy from national government but we’ve added several items into what needs to be disclosed which we feel is really important, like for instance, appropriations ordinance. People need to know if this is your Internal Revenue Allocation, where are you putting your money, which is also important for the region. If the region knows where the money of the LGUs is being utilized, then we can match that or we can look at other areas where there is no spending for LGUs.

Q. How can you as Minister for Local Government assure – cause you’re a member of Cabinet – assure that this BARMM will not be a gobierno a sarwang? (alien government). I’m giving that back to you.
A. Even the Chief Minister in his appearance in one of the barangay assemblies delivered that message to the constituents of the barangays in the local government and chief executives. He told them “this government now is our government… We need to treat this as our government and therefore we should take care of this government.” Of course the pronouncements are there. The actual thing that needs to be done to really demonstrate that this is our government is a different thing. So we need to look at programs. Are these programs really serving our constitutents, so that they feel, and indeed this government is our government and not somebody else’s government? We need to cascade that beyond the rhetroics. We should really look at how programs are responding to the actual needs of the constitutents otherwise we will keep on producing programs that are not responding to the needs of our people. So we should not think about 10-lane roads in Sulu where you don’t really have the traffic. We should look at actual problems and how we respond to actual situations on the ground