GMA’s bill to divide ARMM opposed

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/03 August) – The bill filed by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo now Representative of the 2nd district of Pampanga and her son Diosdado, 2nd district representative of Camarine Sur to have the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) divided has been greeted by criticisms from various sectors in Mindanao.

House Bill 173, introduced by Congressmen Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (2nd Dist, Pampanga) & Diosdado Macapagal Arroyo (2nd Dist, Camarines Sur), intends to divide the ARMM into the Autonomous Region in Southwestern Mindanao (ARSwM) and Autonomous Region in Central Mindanao (ARCeM) purportedly to address the issue of contiguity as an integral part of governance in the ARMM.

Graphics by Keith BacongcoThe ARMM at present comprises the provinces of Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-tawi, Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao and the cities of Marawi and Lamitan.

The present set of officials in the ARMM are “opposed to the split of the ARMM” but are moving “to amend the Organic Act to improve provisions that limit powers in autonomy such as in the exploitation and management of strategic minerals in the region,” said Ali Macabalang, ARMM information chief.

Lawyer Randolph Parcasio, ARMM Executive Secretary under the Misuari administration who also headed the MNLF panel in the Tripartite Review,  told MindaNews the bill is “ill advised and is a glaring evidence of treachery in the peace process under GMA watch.”

Guiamel Alim, executive director of the Kadtuntaya Foundation, Inc., and a member of the Council of Elders of the Consortium for Bangsamoro Civil Society said, “abolish ARMM is much better.”

Historian Rudy Rodil, a former government peace negotiator in the talks with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and later the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) told MindaNews that “thoughts like these should be initiated by the Moros themselves in consideration for their right to self-determination. Then she can decide to support it.”

“Divide and Rule bill,” said Mohagher Iqbal, MILF information chief and former peace panel chair in the negotiations with the Philippine government.

The Philippine government’s new peace panel chair in the talks with the MILF, UP College of Law dean Marvic Leonen said the bill “should not be taken seriously by the House of Representatives absent genuine consultations with all sectors and without a clear link with peace processes.”

In their explanatory note, the mother and son representatives said, “Our Muslim brothers and sisters have traversed the long and winding road of political struggle for autonomy and independence. Undeniably, governance has been a great challenge for such a jurisdiction characterized by sporadic conflicts that resulted to lost lives, repressed human potential, socio-economic and cultural displacement, and delayed economic development. Thus, RA 6734 (The Organic Act for the Autonomous Region [in] Muslim Mindanao) was passed in 1989, and subsequently amended by RA 9054 (An Act to Strengthen and Expand the Organic Act for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) in 2001, to respond to the besetting problems in Muslim Mindanao and give the region certain level of autonomy in governing themselves.”

It added that there are still some issues that need to be addressed, among them “the evident issue of geographical constraint that poses an immense challenge in governing the ARMM.”

“At present, the ARMM is composed of the provinces from the Southwestern Mindanao which include Sulu, Basilan, and Tawi-Tawi; and from Central Mindanao which include Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, and Marawi City. The latter provinces are landlocked by areas inhabited by other indigenous and ethnic groups. This concern has made the ARMM harder to govern,” the note said.

In effect, the Arroyos’ proposal is actually to return to the Marcos-created Regional Autonomous Governments (RAG) 9 and 12. The bill even proposes that Cotabato City and Zamboanga City be the provisional seats. Both cities were the seats of  RAGs 9 and 12.

The bill also proposes a plebiscite that will ask voters in “each and every barangay in the provinces and cities of proposed for inclusion” in the ARMM, the question: “Do you vote in favor of the inclusion of your barangay, province, city, municipality in the Autonomous Regions in Mindanao?”

It also proposes that the plebiscite be held in “each and every barangay” in the each and every barangay in the provinces of Sulu, Basilan, Tawi-tawi, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga Sibugay and the cities of Isabela, Pagadian, Dipolog, Dapitan, and Zamboagna in Southwestern Mindanao; and each and every barangay in the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Lanao del Norte, Sultan Kudarat, North Cotabato, South Cotabato, Sarangani and the cities of Cotabato, Marawi, Iligan, Kidapawan, General Santos, Koronadal, and Tacurong, all of which comprising Central Mindanao.”

The plebiscite is proposed to be held “simultaneously with the  barangay election in October 2010, and that the first regional elections fort of the authoo

Residents in these areas have been asked thrice in a plebiscite if they want to be part of the ARMM. This will be the fourth. The first was in 1977 under the Marcos administration and allegedly  pursuant to the 1976 Tripoli Agreement; the second was in 1989 under the  Arroyo administration where four provinces – Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-tawi – voted for inclusion in the ARMM; and the third was in 2001 under the Arroyo administration – when Basilan and Marawi voted for inclusion.

This is not the first time that a proposal to divide the ARMM was made. In 2006, Representatives Gerry Salapuddin of Basilan, Hussin Amin of Sulu, and Herminaldo Mandanas of Batangas, filed a bill to create a new autonomous region that will cover the island provinces of Tawi-Tawi, Sulu, and Basilan which were once under the Sulu Sultanate.

The proponents stated in their bill that “the long history of the people of the Sulu archipelago has left an indelible mark in their culture and tradition. While they share the same religion as the Maranaos and Maguindanaons and other Muslims in Mindanao, they are a people apart with their own tongues, customs and traditions and ways of thinking.”

Then ARMM Governor Datu Zaldy Ampatuan opposed the move, saying it is “divisive to the Bangsamoro people. It violates the letter and spirit of the 1996 peace agreement as well as the Tripoli Agreement. Consistent with the two peace accords, it is better to expand the area of ARMM rather than divide it.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MinaNews)

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