BALINTATAW: Controlled Region of Muslim Mindanao?

COTABATO CITY (01 June) — The present debates on the cancellation of the August 8th, 2011 ARMM Elections have touched the very core issue at the heart of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao or ARMM.

The PNoy Administration is so quick in its judgment that the whole ARMM is a ‘failed experiment’.  Rightly or wrongly, this ‘appreciation’ of the ARMM has become the basis of the desire to cancel the scheduled ARMM polls under the guise of synchronization and to appoint Malacañan’s favored “anointees” as OICs during the “interim” period.

Sad to note, the present dispensation with their cheering squad develops a sort of “messianic” complex believing that it can reform the ARMM in 22 months!

There is no doubt that the ARMM needs urgent reforms.  But doing reform from the top (Malacañan), both in the short and long terms, is NOT sustainable.

Any “instant reforms” become not only “suspect” but also “whimsical” given the complexity of the ARMM and the cultures involved therein coupled by two Moro liberation fronts (MNLF and MILF),  .  There are no ready “fixes” for the ARMM nor an “instant” solution to what presently ails the ARMM.

To begin with, the real reform in the ARMM must begin with the cessation of the national government’s direct interferences in their local affairs including the manner of choosing their leaders.  In fact, the Organic Act (both RA 6734 and its successor RA 9054) has intentionally set apart the ARMM Elections (NOT synchronized with national elections) to give power to the Regional Assembly to legislate its own ways of choosing leaders according to their customs so long as it will NOT affect the national elections.

I thought that during the debates, Sen. Joker Arroyo’s wisdom in the Senate would have prevailed over the national’s, particularly Malacañan, appreciation of the ARMM by a simple understanding that ‘AUTONOMY means Malacañan keep off.’

In praxis, the ARMM is a real misnomer or better still it is an “oxymoron”. A more appropriate name for the region is CRMM or Controlled Region in Muslim Mindanao.  The region that is given a Constitution-mandated autonomy and its own Basic Law or the Organic Act has turned out to be less autonomous and definitely much under budgeted region than any regions in the Republic except for the Cordillera Administrative Region or the CAR.

The first and paramount reform in the ARMM is for the National Government and Malacañan to stop thinking and believing that the ARMM is its own “attached” agency.  Malacañan continues to tinker with the ARMM, particularly in the electoral processes.

A good start for a real reform is for Malacañan to ORDER free and clean elections in the ARMM and level the playing fields in the forthcoming electoral contest. All agencies of government particularly the COMELEC and the security sectors guarantee a level playing field by way of distancing themselves from candidates and political parties.

The second reform is the budgetary allocation for the ARMM.  While corruption is always the cited reason for lack of development, the truth of the matter is that there is hardly any budget allocation for development and infrastructures in the ARMM. The lion’s share in the ARMM budget goes to PS or personal services (67 %). The second item in the budget is the Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses or MOOE (20 %). The third item is capital outlay  (13 %) that includes among others development, infrastructure, investment funding, and payments and/or counterparts to all foreign assisted projects (WB- ARMM Social Fund, JBIC, IBRD).

The total budget for the ARMM in 2011 is P 11, 179, 638.000 or the equivalent of 0.67% of the national budget.  Granted the argument that there is massive corruption in the ARMM government, we are actually speaking only of 0.67% of the national budget! The corruption in the ARMM would NOT even make a dent in the corruption in the national government.

Definitely, there is no real autonomy when Malacañan remains the “suzerain” that has direct control not only over the ARMM budget but also over the behavior of all its “vassals” in the said areas.

A good start at reform is NOT to cancel the remaining vestige of democracy in the place albeit how flawed it is.  If the PNoy Presidency is true to its avowed “MATUWID NA DAAN”, he can begin by leveling the playing field in the forthcoming elections and for the first time NOT to anoint anyone and allow the people to vote their choices freely and with no fear!

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