From RAG to ARMM to NAPE: A backgrounder (1)

(1st of three parts)

KUALA LUMPUR (MindaNews/28 April) –  From the Regional Autonomous Government under President Ferdinand Marcos in 1979 to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) under President Corazon Aquino in 1990, will  the “new autonomous political entity” (NAPE) that may be set up within the administration of President Benigno Simeon Aquino finally be the fulfillment of that elusive Bangsamoro dream for self-determination?

Declaring that the “status quo is unacceptable,” the Philippine government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panels agreed last Tuesday to work for the creation of a “new autonomous political entity in place of the ARMM.”
The ARMM is 22 years old but the “autonomous region” set-up or  “experiment” as it has been referred to by many, has been existing the last 33 years, spanning six administrations – from Marcos to Aquino the mother to Ramos to Estrada to Arroyo and to Aquino the son.

Before the ARMM’s inauguration in 1990, there were two regional autonomous regions (RAGs)  – in Region 9 based in Zamboanga City and in Region 12 based in Cotabato City – purportedly to  implement the Tripoli Agreement of 1976  that the Philippine government signed with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

Exercising his martial law powers (he declared martial law in 1972), Marcos issued Proclamation 1628 on March 25, 1977 creating the RAGs and setting the plebiscite on April 17 that year in the 13 provinces and nine cities of Mindanao and Palawan that the Tripoli Agreement identified as “areas of the autonomy.”

Marcos’ 1628 also created a provisional government covering the 13 provinces, and tasked it to prepare for the referendum on the RAGs  and election of  their legislative assembly and to administer the provinces. The MNLF had negotiated for a provisional government in the Tripoli Agreement of 1976, but not this version of Marcos who named his crony, the warlord Ali Dimaporo, as head. The two RAGs were inaugurated in 1979.

The MNLF also protested the Marcos administration’s unilateral decision to declare two regional autonomous governments instead of one. Under the 1976 Tripoli Agreement, the “areas of the autonomy,” were to comprise the following:  Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-tawi, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga del Norte, North Cotabato, Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, Davao Del Sur, South Cotabato and Palawan and “all the cities and villages” therein.

At that time in 1979, there were nine cities situated within the autonomy areas: Zamboanga, Dipolog, Dapitan, Pagadian, Cotabato, Iligan, Marawi, General Santos in Mindanao and Puerto Princesa in Palawan.

In the 1977 plebiscite, the cities of General Santos and Puerto Princesa and the provinces of Palawan, South Cotabato and Davao del Sur rejected inclusion in the RAGs.

Batas Pambansa Blg. 20 was enacted by the Interim Batasang Pambansa, then known as Marcos’ rubber-stamp legislature, on March 23, 1979, providing for the organization of the Legislative Assembly and the Executive Council of  the RAGs and the manner of election.  Elections were held on May 7, 1979 but  Presidential Decree 1618, issued by Marcos only on July 25, 1979, defined the functions, powers and responsibilities of the Lupong Tagapagpaganap ng Pook (Executive Council) and the Batasang Pampook (Legislative Assembly) as the executive and legislative arms, respectively, of each of the RAGs.

That it was a unilateral move by the national government was evident not only in the choice of two RAGs instead of one as agreed upon with MNLF, but also by the choice of its name: Lupong Tagapagpaganap ng Pook (LTP) and Batasang Pampook,  strange words for non-Pilipino speaking regions in the proposed autonomy areas, even more strange for the Moro-speaking populace.

Even the initials for the English translation – RAG — did not help the situation any.

12-year cycle?

Residents in the provinces and cities listed under “areas of autonomy” in the Tripoli Agreement have had to vote thrice, for or against inclusion in the autonomous region, in what has become a 12-year cycle of plebiscites: 1977, 1989, 2001 and if  the GPH and MILF peace panels forge an agreement on the “new autonomous political entity” this year, in 2013.

Twelve years after the plebiscite in 1977, another plebiscite over the same “areas of the autonomy” was held in 1989, this time under RA 6734.

RA 6734 was passed as mandated by the 1987 provision on autonomous regions. In the post-Marcos restoration of democracy, the Constitutional Commission included a provision on autonomous regions in the new Constitution, for “Muslim Mindanao” and for the Cordilleras.

The institutionalization of the autonomous region through the 1987 Constitution was viewed differently by the MNLF which campaigned against its ratification. The MNLF at that time maintained that the 1976 Tripoli Agreement must be implemented “in letter and spirit.”

The MILF did not participate in the electoral exercise.

The first Aquino administration created the Regional Consultative Commission (RCC) composed of representatives from the “areas of the autonomy” to draft the Organic Act for the autonomous region.  The 52-member RCC was composed of Moro, Lumad (indigenous peoples) and settlers from Luzon and the Visayas who had made Mindanao their home.

Zacaria Candao, the ARMM’s first governor, recalled in a 2006 interview that the draft the RCC produced was better than the RA 6734 that Congress passed. He said the recommendations of the RCC were not followed by Congress.

“Hindi nasunod. Nung dumating kina (Speaker Ramon Mitra) lahat-lahat hindi nasunod.  (It wasn’t followed. When it reached (Congress under Speaker Mitra),  everything was not followed). In fairness to the Regional Commission, what they envisioned there was a strong autonomy.  But Congress was looking at a different thing. (They were saying) “hindi pwedeng at the start bigyan na ng pera yan. Hindi pa natin malalaman kung saan yun pupunta” (it cannot be that they would be given money at the start. We still do not know where that will go,” Candao said.

Only four provinces – Sulu, Tawi-tawi, Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao and none of the nine cities voted for inclusion in the ARMM  — in the 1989 plebiscite.

The first ARMM officials were elected in 1990. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

[Tomorrow: Creating, Expanding, Changing the ARMM]