COMMENT: Synchronization That Will Work: Interlocking Issues

GENERAL SANTOS CITY  (MindaNews/07 August) — Inarguably, synchronization of elections in Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao is a vital key in the strengthening of its autonomy – but not that which President Benigno Simeon Aquino III explained in his SONA or that provided in RA No. 10153. Rather, it is the synchronization of regional and local elections in ARMM to be held separately from national elections.

To clarify, both the presidential elections held every six years and the election of local government officials and congressional representatives and senators every three years – one in the presidential elections and the other in the nationally held midterm elections – are national elections. Under RA 10153, ARMM elective officials will be elected every three years in national elections starting 2013.

In our last COMMENT, we cited false assumptions in SONA 2011 in contending that synchronization under RA 10153 will not achieve the imperative reforms in ARMM so conceived by the President and his advisers. Rather, as we shall discuss in this multi-part article, it is synchronization stated above as the alternative that will work.

The Premise

 The reforms called for in ARMM must be total, intensive, extensive and long-term; while they enlighten Moro leadership, they must not denigrate Moro pride and degrade Muslim autonomy. This means that the national government, while implementing the reform program, must be actively involved the Moros in every step of the process – in 22 months or more until it bears permanently the desired results – done within the letter and spirit of autonomy embodied in RA 6734 as amended by RA 9054, the ARMM charter.

What are at the core of this premise?

Manila, in all honesty, should own its part in the evident failure of ARMM – not “failed experiment” as the Aquino people degradingly call it but “failing joint venture” that the national government, as a responsible partner, should humbly admit to its having failed to do fully its share. For the President and his advisers to label ARMM as an experiment is to belittle the bloody history of Muslim autonomy and the thorny road of international diplomacy taken in its creation.

Moro leaders in ARMM must take stock of their leadership, admit their inadequacies that have resulted in poor governance, make amends not in shame but with resolve to harness the vast potentials of the new generation, the bearers of Moro pride and hope. Traditional leaders should recognize the irrelevance of their leadership, gracefully fade out and allow the new generation to take over with their insight and dynamism.

ARMM is now politically unstable, economically undeveloped and socially mired in deprivation. But ARMM has the potentials that under proper political and economic environment with adequate fund and technology support will secure political stability, propel economic development and elevate social life in Moro communities. Can the OIC-centered reforms of Aquino III under RA 10153 create the environment?

Imposed Reforms

 It has already been decided: The President will impose reforms. The bill enacted into RA 10153 originated from Malacañang; the President certified it as urgent; the House of Representatives passed it, but the Senate Committee on Local Governments rejected the measure. However, by arm-twisting, the Palace had the measure revived in the Senate and passed into law. The President’s will be done.

The message: The President’s baby must not be aborted. Question: Born, will the baby mature into corruption-free governed, politically stable, economically progressive and socially contented and happy ARMM?

What is the core principle in the President’s ARMM OIC-centered reforms? Start from a clean slate. Susundin ang tuwid na landas [Follow the straight road].

 Since the ARMM people cannot elect upright, honest and able leaders in elections that have traditionally been controlled by ruling clans, suspend the August 8, 2011 election and appoint officers-in-charge to fill up the elective positions – those of the governor, vice governor and members of the legislative assembly. The OIC plan is perceived to ensure corrupt-free, upright, efficient governance.

With the OICs at the helm, the necessary political reforms in ARMM will be put in place; funds will pour in to develop the economy and uplift the social conditions of the people and their communities.  This is the perceived state of government affairs for 22 months until the May 2013 national election.

The plan looks ideal. But how practicable is it?

Insights can be drawn from President Corazon C. Aquino’s OIC-centered revolutionary government. The slate was cleaned following the fall of Marcos. The cleaning continued until the first election of local government officials on January 11, 1988 – misbehaving or inefficient OICs were not tolerated. That, too, was imposed reform. What happened after that? We will discuss this fully later.

Election and Autonomy

The synchronization of ARMM elections with the national elections is primarily aimed to correct a wrong: the evident corruption and misgovernment that critics, including many in the Aquino government, identify with autonomy. In cancelling the August 8 election, autonomy is sacrificed. It sounds logical. Unless autonomy is ultimately abolished, does it make sense?

Autonomy in Muslim Mindanao is two-faceted: The first is autonomy from the Manila government; the second is autonomy of the Moros from the political, economic and social control of their traditional rulers – in a sense, a break from traditions that have resisted change and lost their relevance to a degree perceived as oppressive. Election is vital to the realization of both facets, hence, the heart of Muslim autonomy.

Bound by culture to traditions, the Moros cannot unbind themselves from the ruling class. Do the Moro masses and emerging leaders from the commoner class as well as those enlightened leaders from the ruling class approve of the reign of misgovernment and corruption? Yet, the election that is rightly the means to elect leaders to unfetter them has become the tool for the ruling clans to tighten the fetters – ironically, with national leaders cavalierly conspiring.

 With due respect to its avowed noble objectives, RA 10153 – unless proven otherwise in the next 22 months – is the latest act of conspiracy.

However, even if the Aquino III government achieves the goal of RA 10153, this will only undermine the concept of Muslim autonomy. This will harden the perception that Moros cannot govern themselves; that Moro leaders only create troubles for their people and only Manila can solve their problems. This will deepen the Moro dependence on Manila for them to eventually prefer patronage to autonomy.

Can Moros really not govern themselves? Do Moro leaders only create troubles for their people? Instead of helping them elect their right leaders, must Manila appoint these for them? These are the questions at the core of RA 10153 the Moros must meekly accept or resolutely challenge.

 Beyond good governance in ARMM and the blessings it will bring, Muslim autonomy is the ultimate issue. The bad governance and the evils it generates are seen as direct effects of the ARMM regional elections which ruling clans are seen to have fully controlled to perpetuate bad governance and its evils. RA 1053 is intended to break this control. But doing away with ARMM election provided in RA 6734 as amended by RA 9054 is in conflict with Muslim autonomy.

Inevitably, issues of governance interlock with those of Muslim autonomy. In turn, these issues also interlock with election as the heart of autonomy. Unless Muslim autonomy is abolished, good governance and autonomy are inseparable – good governance nourishing a strong, progressive autonomy to fulfill the Moro aspiration. As stated at the outset, the vital key in attaining this is synchronized election but not that under RA 10153.

Given the interlocking issues, why will RA 10153 not work? [Tomorrow: RA 10153 vs Realities. (“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.” He was conferred the 1st Agong Awards for Journalism by the Mindanao Media Forum in November 2010. You may e-mail your comments to [email protected])]