COMMENT: Behind the Eleven Issues (2) By Patricio P. Diaz

(Second of Series)

GENERAL  SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/01 October) –  The eleven issues discussed during the ARMM Summit last September 20- 21 indicate what ails the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. While some of these have ailed the autonomy since Year One of its existence, 1990, this Summit was the first organized occasion they were discussed openly and region-wide.

Except for Issue Nos. 1 (Leadership crisis), 6 (Land conflict) and 9 (Unstable peace and order), the issues are mainly due to the organic relation of the ARMM with Manila. Can the ailing autonomy be fully blamed on the Manila Government since President Corazon C. Aquino? The truth about this could explain why the autonomy has remained ailing.

Leadership Crisis

Four causes of leadership crisis have been identified: (1) existence of two Moro Fronts; (2) two separate negotiation for a common aspiration; (3) ARMM is being treated as a mere Local Government Unit in disregard of its being a Special Autonomous Region; and (4) absentee leaders.

Cause No. 1 infers that the leadership of the ARMM is in the hands of the Moro National Liberation Front and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and that the two are locked in a power struggle. This is false. The MILF has no say in the ARMM; neither has the MNLF for the last five years. How could they have caused a leadership crisis?

In the present ARMM Government, there is only one MNLF among the elective officials – Hatimil Hassan of the MNLF Executive Council of the 15 faction, one of the 27 members of the Regional Legislative Assembly.  The ARMM is in the hands of the Muslim Traditional Leaders – the still dominant category of Moro leaders.

This also infers that the present leaders of the ARMM are washing off their hands the responsibility for the leadership crisis – inevitably of their own making if one really exists –that they have identified. Why? The leadership is their mandate through an election from the electorate loyal to them if not under their absolute control. Have they defaulted on their mandate?

Cause No. 2 sounds weird. The GRP-MILF negotiation yielded the 1996 FPA that amended R.A. 6734 into the present ARMM Organic Act, R.A. 9054. How could that have caused a leadership crisis in the ARMM? The on-going tripartite – GRP-MNLF-OIC – negotiation to “completely implement” the 1996 FPA is seeking to strengthen the present autonomy.  How can that have caused a leadership crisis?

The GRP-MILF peace talk now going into its 13th year has not disturbed in whatever way the governmental affairs of the ARMM and the ARMM leaders have never been involved in the negotiation.  How could that have caused a leadership crisis?

Should the MILF succeed in forging a Comprehensive Compact with the Aquino Government granting the Bangsamoro people their Ancestral Domain on a state-sub-state political relationship with the Central Government, the political settlement will be the fulfillment of the Moro right to self-determination – their common aspiration? How can the prospect cause a leadership crisis in the present ARMM?

What can be foreseen is this: When the MILF signs an agreement with the Government, there will be two existing agreements. That will acidly test the collective political will of the Moro Traditional Leaders, the MNLF and MILF as to which agreement to adopt or how to reconcile the agreements for the common weal of the Bangsamoro people.  The demand for a common option will be contentious. A leadership crisis can arise — but not the leadership crisis meant in the Summit.

For these two causes, the recommended solution is for the MNLF and MILF to have a common stand for the settlement of the Southern Philippine Conflict. Is the “Southern Philippine Conflict” – curiously a new term for Bangsamoro or Mindanao Problem –causing the leadership crisis in the ARMM? If so, the Traditional Leaders ruling the ARMM should be part of the “common stand” as much as – if not more than – the MNLF and the MILF are required to be.

Lest it be understood as an ingenious one – identifying a false cause to evade the burden of responsibility for the true effect – the recommendation needs an explanation.

Cause No. 3 describes the existing autonomy in the ARMM as bogus and accuses the Manila government of having rendered the autonomy into such. This is the inevitable implication of Section 1 of Article V on Inter-Government Relations of R.A. 9054. And this is seen in how the national government’s cabinet secretaries treat the ARMM cabinet secretaries like regional directors of line agencies.

But who are the present ARMM leaders to blame?

First, they belong to the same families or clans of traditional leaders who have long been wielding power in the ARMM. They lost the governorship to the MNLF – Chairman Nur Misuari (1996 – 2001) and Dr. Parouk Hussin (2001 – 2005) – but during those years, they did not lose their political clout. Misuari and Hussin had to play ball with them.

Second, they supported the ratification of R.A. 9054 in 2001 over the objection of Misuari – who questioned, among others, weakened autonomy under the new Organic Act – and the outnumbered MNLF members loyal to Misuari. They ratified that Section 1 of Article V which watered down the two-section Article VI on Inter-Government Relations of R.A. 6734.

Third, by their own testimony, they know the ARMM to be “a Special Autonomous Region”; that is what its Organic Act mean. Why have they allowed the ARMM to be treated “as a mere Local Government Unit”?

As a remedy, the Summit has three recommendations: (1) ARMM be mandated to facilitate the implementation of the 1996 GRP-MNLF Final Peace Agreement (FPA); (2) strong assertion of the character of ARMM as Special Autonomous Region, and not as a Local Government Unit; and, (3) formulation of ARMM Peace and Development Agenda as basis of unity among ARMM political leaders.

The realization is late but better than never.  Yet, the critical question: Who will put the recommendation into form and motion?

A week after the Summit, civil society groups in Cotabato City met in a forum to urge “the leadership of ARMM to assert stronger status of self-determination to help pave the way for a permanent peace accord between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front” (manila times.net, September 29: Groups urge ARMM to assert stronger autonomy).  Will the ARMM leaders respond positively? Or, will they lapse into a leadership crisis especially that they are being challenged to support the MILF?

As regards Recommendation No.1, the ARMM already has that mandate by virtue of R.A. 9054. The provisions of the 1996 FPA to be implemented are all embodied in the amended Organic Act. The ARMM leaders have to demand from the Manila government for the necessary resource; they facilitate the implementation.

Cause No. 4 is a collective confession? Were there sneaky glances and surreptitious finger-pointing? This must be so rampant as to adversely affect governance. Will the recommended “Exercise/observance of the Principles of Good Governance” prevail upon absentee leaders to change and faithfully perform their mandate?

(Next Issue: Issue No. 2)

(“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Mr. Diaz is the recipient of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Titus Brandsma for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You may e-mail your comments to patpdiaz@mindanews.com)