COMMENT: Behind the Eleven Issues (Fourth of a Series) by Patricio P. Diaz

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (October 5) – As a postscript to the comments concerning the issue “Electoral System [is] not suitable to ARMM situation”, the Summit participants were disturbingly silent on matters pertaining to harsh election realities – the notoriously perennial anomalies and irregularities. Automated voting in Election 2010 might have eliminated midnight voting and clandestine counting of votes and preparation of election returns but not multiple registration, flying voters, open vote-buying and violence.

If they are serious about enacting an Election Code for the ARMM, they must address these election matters that are so normally peculiar to “ARMM situation” — sacrificing practices “accepted” as part – perceived rightly or wrongly — of Moro political culture and tradition. Otherwise, that “Election Code” will be a big joke.

Strategic Resources

Issue No. 3, “Poor access and control in the exploitation and utilization of strategic resources” pertains to “restriction to exploit strategic minerals”. RA 9054 provides that ARMM is authorized to exploit its mineral resources, except strategic minerals.

To resolve the issue, five measures were recommended:

  1. Amendment of Article 12, Section 5 of RA No. 9054 to include the control and supervision over the exploration, utilization, development and protection of strategic minerals.
  2. Devolution of the Bureau of Mines and Minerals of the Department of Energy.
  3. Creation of Ligawasan Marsh Development Authority.
  4. Full control over and management of Lake Lanao watershed by the ARG.
  5. Issuance of a national directive for the joint management of Sulu oil exploration, Tawi-Tawi gas exploration, watershed development and other similar future projects.

The RLA can initiate the amendment measure (No. 1) and submit it to Congress for approval. It’s unfortunate the MNLF did not insist on this during its peace negotiation with the government in Jakarta. Will the present ARMM leaders succeed where the MNLF failed?

Both the RLA and the ARG have to wage a strong lobby in Malacañang to obtain the four other measures. The President can grant the measures through executive order or presidential proclamation.  Will President Aquino grant what past presidents have withheld?

In raising the issue, the Summit participants must have this rationale: Strategic minerals yield high revenue.  Without the restriction, ARMM can derive more income from the mineral resources to boost and secure its economic autonomy. Of course, Manila can confront ARMM with this question: Have you exploited fully the mineral resources you have been allowed to exploit? The question is critical.

Weak Fiscal Autonomy

Issue No.4, “Weak fiscal autonomy”, rehearsed the well known paradox of a regional autonomous government without autonomy. Four reasons were given for this paradox:

  1. Budgeting processes and allocation of resources in ARMM are based on national policy guidelines and procedures.
  2. The ARG is required to present and defend its budget proposal to Congress.
  3. Low revenue generation capacity. This is parenthetically explained as due to the fact that “all forms of taxing measures are already imposed by the national government in ARMM”.
  4. Non-devolution of income generating agencies to ARMM such as attached agencies of DOTC.

In the past three years, 2008 to 2010, the ARMM budget was less than one percent of the national budget.  As shown in the accompanying table, the P8.787 billion budget of ARMM in 2008 was 0.067 percent of the P1.314613 trillion national budget; in 2009, the P9.974 billion was 0.070 percent of P1.426001 trillion; in 2010, the P9.827 billion was 0.064 percent of P1.541 trillion.

In the same period, ARMM had an average annual infrastructure assistance of P833.33 million from the national government compared to the P2.9 average of other regions. [It is significant to clarify: Does “other regions” mean “all other regions” including Metro Manila? Does it also mean that no other region has a three-year average assistance of less than P833.33 million? Of the “other regions”, which has and what is the lowest average?]

From 2001 to 2010, the budget distribution has been: Personal ([personnel] salaries of employees) services, 68.9%; MOOE (maintenance and other operating expenses), 19.4%; Capital Outlay (for infrastructure development, acquisition of assets), 11.7%.

“Weak Fiscal Autonomy” does not properly describe the fiscal condition of ARMM. “No” is the proper descriptive word. To remedy this fiscal condition, the Summit recommended:

  1. The national government shall provide ARMM a proportionate and equitable SHARE in the annual budget and foreign-assisted projects … to accelerate its development (Article III, Sec. 13, RA 9034).
  2. The national government shall continue to provide such level of expenditures to enable the ARG to carry out the functions devolved under the Organic Act (Art. XVIII, Sec. 4, par. 3, RA 9054).

At a glance, the Summit’s recommendations will perpetuate ARMM’s fiscal dependence on the national government.  How can ARMM attain “Strong Fiscal Autonomy”?

Vicious Cycle

There is no question that if ARMM has the full control to exploit and develop its mineral resources including strategic minerals – and can really exploit and develop them – it can raise more than enough revenue to be economically autonomous. With revenue that it can autonomously appropriate, it can harness all other natural resources of the region.

However, even if the national government now agrees to give ARMM the full control it is demanding, of what immediate use will it be? ARMM has NO fiscal autonomy from the national government but, instead full fiscal dependence.  In the last 20 years, it has had no fiscal capacity to develop the limited mineral resources allowed to it; neither has it the funds to develop its human and other natural resources.

ARMM, from its birth, has been mired in the proverbial losing of the war because of the horse having lost its shoe. For the lack of fiscal capacity, ARMM cannot develop its natural and human resources to attain economic autonomy; for the lack of economic autonomy, it cannot attain fiscal autonomy.  The vicious cycle will go on and on – ARMM remaining the autonomy in name, not in fact.

Political Will

To use the oft-repeated exhortation, the leaders of ARMM must assert their political will to break ARMM away from the vicious cycle. Start with the limited mineral resources allowed and other natural resources. Use wisely all available means including the Moro people.  Hinay-hinay basta kanunay (Slow but constant [sure]), the Bisaya likes to say.

It’s a fact: ARMM has a low revenue generating capacity. But, how much of this can be blamed on the national government for imposing “all forms of taxing measures … to [in] ARMM”? From the collection of taxes and fees imposed by the national government, the provinces or cities in the Region get a share of 35%; the Regional Government, 35% (Section 9[a-c], Article IX, RA 9054 on Fiscal Autonomy). Much of the collections remain in the Region.

The regional and local government leaders should ask themselves: Have we increased our taxable resources? Are we investing our shares to develop more taxable resources? Have we instilled the proper tax consciousness among our people so that they will pay their taxes properly and promptly? If they do, the regional and local governments will have bigger and bigger shares in tax and fee collections.

Most of the recommended remedies would entail amendments in the Organic Act. Why does the RLA not initiate the amendments? (See: Section 2 or Article XVII of RA 9054 on Amendments or Revisions). Most, if not all, the demands of the MNLF for the full implementation of the 1996 FPA would also entail the amendment of RA 9054 and could have been initiated at the RLA; four years since the start of the tripartite meetings to address the MNLF demands could have been long enough for the RLA to finish the job.

Beyond constitutional and legal constraints, Articles IX and XII of RA 9054 provide the mandate for ARMM to develop its economic and fiscal autonomy.  Article XVII has given the RLA the mandate to initiate amendments to RA 9054 deemed necessary. To what extent have the leaders of ARMM exploited these mandates?

Some cynics put it this way: By the constitutional and legal strings attached, Manila granted the Muslims the autonomy it was unwilling to give. By asking for the strings to be loosened, lessened or detached, the Muslims are demanding strong autonomy they are reluctant to have.

Let not the cynics prevail. (Next: Issue No. 5 ff.)

(“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.” You may e-mail your comments to patpdiaz@mindanews.com)