KISSA AND DAWAT: How long before we’re out of the quagmire?

ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews / 25 Nov) — The Autonomous Regional Government, commonly referred to as ARMM,  celebrated its 28th anniversary this month. First, let us extend to the leadership headed by Regional Governor Mujiv Hataman and his team our gratefulness for all their efforts in improving the lot of the ARMM residents.

Leadership is not an easy feat  against the backdrop of protracted conflicts, skepticism over a regional government prejudged as a failed experiment and the emergence of violent extremism. It is true that in the minds of the people we often expect  perfection; but in reality, we just have to salute those giving their best in a challenging situation.

As Muslim, we have an obligation to pray for our leaders. Their success is our success. Their failure is ours, too. May Allah SWT bless them according to their intention and may the fires of reform that began during this administration continue to flare in their heart.

As an education advocate, for me the greatest accomplishment of RG Mujiv Hataman is providing strong leadership for the inclusion of the ARMM in the national K to 12 program – all the kindergartens, all the teacher trainings, all the junior highs, all the senior highs …

When K to 12 implementation started, almost all ARMM leaders I’ve talked to then did not want to be on board, either arguing we are not ready (who is?) or many thought it is something we can easily get away with. The additional two years seems unbearable for those who have kids.

When the going got tough and after our repeated push, he came in and owned it, ‘yes, let us be on board with the K to 12.” And with these words, came the policy direction that continues to be implemented by DepEd ARMM to date.

Yes, the operational challenge will be one that will linger, with or without K to 12, undoubtedly. To build the future, we need to support education. He certainly did. And I am honored to have journeyed with him on this. Alhamdulillah!

Second, let us reflect on our institutional challenge. Yes we have sultanates that predate the birth of this country and hobnobbing with the powers of the day. So while this country just came out of its first centennial, Sulu can boast of more 600 years of governance. But what has happened since then? Where have all the competencies, accomplishments and lessons gone?

The political institution of the sultanate may have gone, today we have these institutions  we can call ours – one regional government comprising five provincs and two cities — the only of its kind in the country. We have at least seven provinces where Moro politicos are at the helm — in the ARMM provinces and the provinces of Sultan Kudarat and Lanao del Norte.

We have hundreds of municipalities and thousands of barangays under dominated by Moros. Yet we are mostly at the bottom of development indices. If Moro leadership does not matter, then tell me what matters to lift us up and out of the bottom ranking?

ARMM is just two years shy of its Pearl jubilee. If ARMM were a person, we expect  this person to be in his/her prime of health; had gone to school, is skilled, employed or owns a business; married  and financially independent. Is this what we can say of the ARMM as a regional institution?

Looking forward, what of the Bangsamoro government to come? How many anniversaries do we have to go through in order to get out of the quagmire of poverty, ill-health, insecurity, poor governance and dependency? This is a challenge to our leaders as much as to ourselves as citizens. We are all together in this enterprise.

Finally, one thing we Moros are good at is fighting to get what we want. We have so far succeeded up to an autonomy and the expanded Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) holds a promise of more powers, more resources and better institutions. No other cultural group can equal our fervor for ethno-nationalism. We fought in battles, and we roar in politics, but not in the delivery of public services and development. Yes, we have improvements here and there. But all of these taken as a whole, where are we? We are still at the bottom.

This is not to downplay the leadership commitment because we do have it here and there who are truly committed to lead the change and reforms need to get us out of the quagmire. But it is this lingering frustration among us over the slow process of development that is forcing us to ask the question, how long  and how much power and resources do we really need to be out of the quagmire and be among the most developed and prosperous communities in the world, where we think and aspire as our right. This is our Waterloo. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Noor Saada is a Tausug of mixed ancestry – born in Jolo, Sulu, grew up in Tawi-tawi, studied in Zamboanga and worked in Davao, Makati and Cotabato. He is a development worker and peace advocate, former Assistant Regional Secretary of the Department of Education in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, currently working as an independent consultant and is a member of an insider-mediation group that aims to promote intra-Moro dialogue).