Minda Da News: Is ARMM Still Autonomous? By Patricio P. Diaz

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 9 Feb) – So President Benigno S. Aquino III wants the August 8 election of Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao postponed (philSTAR.com, February 8, 2011) to be synchronized with the 2013 elections. The rationale may be good but it should be asked: Is ARMM still autonomous? And: Will the good rationale turn out as predicted?

The twin objectives: Remove the current ARMM officials to (1) promote clean elections and (2) allow the government [meaning, Malacañang] to institute reforms in the area faster. To achieve the twins: Appoint professional and competent people as officers-in-charge to effect reforms in the area.

This means Malacañang running ARMM with men and women selected by the President.

What happens to the autonomy? According to the Organic Act – RA 9054 amending RA 6734 – ARMM voters elect their own officials. The Organic Act authorizes the President to supervise the officials through the Regional Governor, not to change the incompetent ones with his or her own selection.

If the Aquino proposal pushes through, it will be the fifth or the sixth time the ARMM election is postponed by Congress to allow the sitting President to put in his or her own man for governor – in the past by hand-picking candidates; at present, by appointing all officials. Is such interference, even at the behest of the President, autonomy?

What Malacañang now is telling the ARMM people is this: You do not know how to select officials who can best govern you. Let the President do it.

But past Presidents had done this already: Gov. Zacaria A. Candao was President Corazon C. Aquino’s man; Gov. Liningding P. Pangandaman was President Fidel V. Ramos’ man; so was Gov. Nur Misuari; Gov. Parouk Hussin was President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s man; so was the only twice elected Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan.

The present deplored moral, political, social and economic conditions in the ARMM were what happened to ARMM under those Malacañang hand-picked governors.

What were the voters told in those past elections? Vote for the President’s candidates and Manila will pour in assistance. The past Presidents undermined autonomy – first, the autonomy of election by letting the voters surrender their mandate; second, the autonomy of governance by making the leaders beholden to and dependent on the President and Congress.

Now the second President Aquino will not let ARMM voters elect their officials; he will instead appoint officers-in-charge for two years who will be tasked: (1) to ensure clean elections; and (2) to correct the defects in the current system of governance. The Aquino bright boys are optimistic that under this scheme an “efficient government system will be put in place” and in the 2013 elections there will be no more “command votes”.

Bright ideas, short of memory! The first President Aquino, the second’s mother, replaced all Marcos local government officials with OICs and abolished the Batasang Pambansa until after the congressional election on the second Monday of May 1987 and the local elections on November 9, 1987. Did that do away with the culture of corruption and the culture of political dynasty and cronyism in governance? Just look around and see!

Will the failed scheme of the Mother succeed under the Son?

From its first day, ARMM thrived on patronage. The elected officials did not learn nor bother to fish; their patron did not give them enough fish and what was given, they kept most in their kitchens. The unhappy conditions in ARMM are the logical consequence.

Do President Aquino and his bright boys not see that the “unhappy conditions” existing are fruits of patronage and that they are trying to correct these conditions with another form of patronage?

Can the OICs stop “command votes”? No! “Command votes” will stop only if powerful candidates for national positions including those for President will stop bidding for these votes in exchange for millions of pesos or for electoral endorsement. The Ampatuans rigged all Maguindanao votes for President Arroyo and her party’s senatorial candidates in exchange for both: billions of pesos and her “anointment” for perpetuation in power.

Can the OICs put in place an efficient government system? Most probably — only for two years. But they cannot run for election in 2013. What will happen after? The experiment on OICs by the first President Aquino provides the answer. Even if the OICs can run for election, they will need the support of Malacañang to ensure victory. That will perpetuate patronage at the expense of autonomy.

If ARMM is still autonomous, we suggest this to President Aquino and his bright boys: Let the autonomy alone by allowing ARMM leaders to select their candidates without interference from Manila. Let the ARMM voters elect their leaders according to RA 9054. Once elected, let the officials correct the “unhappy” conditions. Let the national government give assistance and supervise this assistance according to RA 9054. – (Patricio P. Diaz, General Santos City)