SOMEONE ELSE’S WINDOWS: Reforming the reformers

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews / 2 July) – Those ignorant Manila-based politicians may not be aware of it, but reforming the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao is like cleaning the mythical Augean stables, to use an oft-repeated metaphor. Given the intricacies of the region’s political system that are rooted deep in its unique social, cultural and historical characteristics, it is simplistic and illusory on the part of the national government officials to presume – or brag – that they can effect significant changes in less than two years. Even if the appointees who will head the ARMM in the interim are dedicated and honest the length of time will find Hercules asking Eurystheus for an extension.

At the most, the measures that can be undertaken before May 2013 will barely scratch the surface. Give some weeks to pacifying politicians or interest groups that would be sidelined in the scramble for appointive posts and other perks, and one can realize how short the time really is. In short, the formula of canceling this year’s elections in the ARMM is bound to fail. Aside from usurping the right of the people in the region to choose their leaders, the move gives false hopes that it will bring in reforms that the past political exercises had failed to deliver.

So what can possibly be done between now and May 2013? Perhaps they will start by subjecting the ARMM’s finances to a thorough audit inasmuch as the bone of contention points to reports of massive corruption that has been blamed for the region’s chronic poverty and underdevelopment. Yet the real test is not the audit per se, but the actions that should be taken based on the findings. Will the grafters be hailed to court? What if some of them happen to be in good graces with the present administration? These are some of the questions that will test the sincerity of President Benigno S. Aquino III’s anti-corruption battle cry.

Still, the reform agenda for the ARMM remains hazy and too general at the moment. The advocates who lobbied for the synchronization of the regional elections with the 2013 midterm polls can only define their agenda in broad strokes. This poses yet another obstacle, as they themselves may spend more time debating on the concrete steps than on actually carrying them out. And before they know it, it’s already May 2013.

Worse, the national officials don’t seem to know the magnitude of the problems in the ARMM. Or if they do, they exploit it to their own advantage. For instance, all these years, no administration has had given attention to the proliferation of illegal firearms in the region, a problem that has abetted warlordism and the occurrence of rido or clan wars. Former national security adviser Norberto Gonzales, in a forum in Davao City in December 2008, estimated that there are at least 200,000 loose firearms in Mindanao, mostly in the ARMM. Assuming a 1:1 gun to owner ratio, there are more bearers of loose firearms in the South than soldiers.

At times, the government adds to the problem by giving arms to favored politicians and supporting their private armies. Former president Gloria M. Arroyo, for example, practically built an arsenal and a government-funded private army for the Ampatuans of Maguindanao.

If Aquino can squarely deal with the problem of loose firearms and private armies before May 2013, maybe I will have to concede that I have wrongly judged the cancellation of the ARMM elections. On second thought, however, solving this problem does not require depriving the people of their right to vote. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at [email protected])

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