COMMENT: Synchronization That Will Work

II. RA No. 10153 vs. Realities

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/12 August) – Republic Act No. 10153, adopting “the policy of the State to synchronize national and local elections” [Section 1], provides that starting with the national elections “on the second (2nd) Monday of May 2013” and “every three (3) years thereafter”, ARMM will hold its “regular elections for the Regional Governor, Regional Vice governor and Members of the Regional Legislative Assembly” on that day [Sec. 2].

This cancels the August 8  ARMM election rendering vacant the elective offices from September 30, 2011 until June 30, 2013 when those elected in the May that year will take office. Hence, “The President shall appoint officers-in-charge for the Office of the Regional Governor, Regional Vice Governor and Members of the Regional Legislative Assembly who shall perform the functions pertaining to the said offices until the officials duly elected in the May 2013 elections shall have qualified and assumed office.” [Sec. 3]

Last July 28, the President issued Executive Order No. 51 creating the “Screening Committee” which will recommend to the President nominees for OIC positions – three for each position — as provided in Sections 4 and 5 of RA No. 10153.

 Special Tool

RA No. 10153, evidently, as what the President and his advisers would want it to be, is a special tool with which to reform ARMM – ridding it of massive corruption, cleansing its system of election and installing efficient governance. The officers-in-charge are tasked to do the dirty work of instituting reforms to bring stability, progress and contentment to ARMM that regional officials elected in 2013 and onward would carry on.

Will the tool and the tool wielders measure up against the challenging realities? Will their success strengthen Muslim autonomy?

 [Candid note: In pointing out false assumptions and challenging realities, we are not belittling the OIC-centered program of President Aquino — not predicting the OICs will fail. Pooh-poohing false assumptions and challenging realities will not drive them away, lessen the difficulty of the task of the OICs and prove President Aquino infallible.

Zeroing on our proposition, the primacy of “synchronization of elections” is premised on the strengthening of Muslim autonomy. While reforming ARMM is imperative, this must be done without undermining autonomy – that is if the Moros truly want autonomy.  Like any other genuine autonomy, ARMM must have election for its central pillar.]

 Vital Flaw

The OIC-centered reform is Aquino’s political gambit. He is expected to make it succeed. However, RA No. 10153 has one vital flaw. It has no fixed appropriation for carrying out the reforms, especially economic development, during the 22-month OIC rule.

To launch ARMM on the road of economic sufficiency – the immediate objective of reforms regardless of autonomy – would demand priming ARMM’s strategic economic potentials that have been untouched. The launching to be meaningful in a 22-month time frame must start on Day One and needs massive fund and technology support.

But without a fixed appropriation in RA No. 10153 how will this be done?

 As revealed by Regional Executive Secretary Naguib G. Sinarimbo [See: “The ARMM Now,” a power point presentation at a round-table discussion facilitated by IAG (Institute of Autonomy and Development) in Makati City last April 29], ARMM has a budget of P1.645 billion for 2011. By the 2001-2010 average, only 11.7 percent of ARMM annual budget was for capital outlay. It is safe to assume the same percentage for capital outlay in 2011.  That would only be P192.465 million.

Even if that measly amount has not been mismanaged or pilfered, how much of it has been left for the OICs to spend for the last three months of 2011? Even this is irrelevant. Capital outlay in the regular budget is not for special economic projects that the OICs are expected to launch. Figuratively, the reforms have no legs to jump-start.

Evidently the OIC-centered economic reforms will depend on presidential funds – not only in 2011 but through 2012, unless an allocation has been included in the 2012 budget. Will Congress pass special appropriations for this special program of the President? EO No. 371 of President Fidel V. Ramos in 1996 is too recent to vanish from memory.

EO No. 371 created SZOPAD consisting of ARMM and nine other provinces and their included cities for MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari — ARMM governor and chairman of SPCPD and CA – to administer. The EO outlined grandiose “development efforts in ZOPAD” to be funded “from the Office of the President and from such other funding sources as may be recommended by the Department of Budget and Management”.

Ironically, the same Moro traditional and MNLF leaders who witnessed or suffered the fiasco with Misuari have sponsored and support RA No. 10153.

This reality cannot be pooh-poohed: Without a fixed appropriation in RA No. 10153 for their fixed 22-month mission, the OICs should not be expected to be comfortable in their dirty work and to do miracles.

 Corollary Question

What is in the master plan for the OICs to go about instituting reforms in ARMM?

DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo noted in his presentation at a forum in Makati City recently that critical to the ARMM reform project in the screening of OIC nominees is “to make sure that whoever we appoint in the regional government can implement the reforms that we want to institutionalize in the region”. [MindaNews: Screening Committee … to convene Friday. August11, 2011]

RA No. 10153 (Sec. 3) and EO No. 51 (second “Whereas”) only state that the OICs “shall perform the functions pertaining to the said offices until the officials duly elected in the May 2013 elections shall have qualified and assumed office”. The critical expectation from the OICs that Robredo stated — while not specifically spelled out in the RA and EO — must be in the master plan.

This means the President and advisers now have a set of reforms to institutionalize. Have they programmed these to include the necessary funding and technological assistance? They ought to have. By this, the OICs can implement the reforms right on Day One.

But no appropriation has been provided in RA No. 10153 even if it and EO No. 51 have elaborate provisions on the appointment of OICs. Will the OICs, like the regularly elected officials, be the ones to identify what reforms to institutionalize, plan them and ask the President for funds and technology assistance? Or, will they be provided with a list of “expected reforms” to program and implement? This will not be reassuring.

ARMM failed to develop economically due to the lack of funds for economic projects. The national government is largely to blame. It has not fully supported the economic development of ARMM as promised. First ARMM Gov. Zacaria A. Candao had tried to raise funds from Arab countries for an industrial zone in Polloc, Parang, Maguindanao. He failed. Other governors had similar plans that died as plans.

The OICs have to implement economy boosting projects to launch ARMM on the road to economic stability. But the absence of a provision in RA 10153 appropriating so much for the OICs to draw from is a discouraging reality.

 (Part II to be continued: Gambit Accepted)