BALINTATAW: A Rare Opportunity in the ARMM?

COTABATO CITY (09 June) — With Congress passing the law cancelling the August 08, 2011 ARMM elections (aka synchronized), the President of the Republic is given a very rare opportunity to appoint all the officialdom of the ARMM.  This is a very rare occurrence in a society that has adopted a democratic process.

In recent memory, we have only two occasions. The first one was the takeover of absolute power by Ferdinand Marcos following the declaration of Martial Law in 1972. And the second one was during the early years under the Freedom Constitution following Cory Aquino’s victory during the EDSA Uprising in 1986.

By September 30, 2011, the President’s ‘elect’ will assume powers in the entire bureaucracy of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.  The President will appoint OICs from Governor, Vice Governor and Members of the Regional Legislative Assembly to all Cabinet Secretaries, Bureau Heads/Chiefs to all senior officials of the ARMM.

The President has articulated ad nauseam the need to reform the ARMM. The President’s men and women have never been lacking in echoing the same thing.  It has almost become a mantra of PNoy’s administration that the ARMM in these past 21 years has been a ‘failed experiment’ in Moro self-governance.

The ARMM (1989) and its predecessor structures (1978) have been in place for nearly three decades.  Sad to note, the Autonomous Structures have not enhanced real autonomy of the people and the region.  On the contrary, the autonomous region has become more impoverished and dependent on the national government.

We can only hope and pray that the President will be rightly guided in his choice of people to undertake his desired reforms in the ARMM. The new mantra is ‘trust the President’!

The time has come when the President of the Republic of the Republic is given the unique privilege to appoint OICs who would manage the ARMM not only for 22 months. With the adoption by the House of the Senate version of the law, the OICs are not barred to run for elections in May 2013.

It is often said that with this rare opportunity is also attached an awesome responsibility. The President has spearheaded the cancellation of the ARMM Elections and he has assumed the power to appoint all officials of the ARMM. No doubt, he is NOW responsible for the rise or the final collapse of the ARMM. From this day forward, there will be no passing the buck for whatever happens in the ARMM. ARMM’s rise and fall is now intimately tied to PNoy’s.

To begin with, there is the urgent need to tell the people that the ARMM offices are NOT entitlements but sacred trust.  This requires a new work ethics based on commitment to certain values and beliefs, specifically the empowerment and well-being of their constituencies.

There are aspects in the ARMM that PNoy’s chosen men and women need to face squarely as they draw the road map for ARMM Reform.  The first one is to address the general malaise that ails the entire ARMM bureaucracy.   Rightly or wrongly, people no longer trust the people and the institutions in the ARMM.  The new stewards need to restore people’s trust and confidence in regional bureaucracy that has become, for three decades, personal entitlements.

The second one is to institute a work ethics based on commitment and devotion to the cause of autonomy and people empowerment.  Reporting to office or going for a trip is not based on moods.  Office hours are instituted to serve the convenience of the constituents who seek the attention and service of the office holders.

The third one is to re-energize and perhaps re-invent the delivery of basic services to the ARMM constituents, specifically in health, in basic education, in agriculture and in other rural infrastructures.

No doubt, these three abovementioned aspects need to be undergirded by actual developments on the ground. But without restoring people’s trust in the officials and ARMM bureaucracy, all attempts at reforms would be vain!

The people in the ARMM have long been living in ‘darkness’.  Will this rare opportunity of complete overhaul of the ARMM bureaucracy, finally, let the people see a light at the end of that long tunnel called ARMM?

(MindaViews is theopinion section of MindaNews. Balintataw is Fr. Eliseo “Jun” Mercado’s column for the weekly Mindanao Cross in Cotabato City)