COTABATO CITY (MindaNews / 31 March) – Get involved.
The interim Chief Minister of the Bangsamoro Autononomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) wants residents to participate in the attainment of “moral governance” by “reporting the performance, or the lack thereof, of our regional and local officials.”
Ahod “Al Haj Murad” Ebrahim made the call in his inaugural address last Friday at the Shariff Kabunsuan Cultural Complex, as he noted how the Bangsamoro region is still mostly at the bottom of the human development indices.
“There is a need to be more rational in the planning, allocation and distribution of resources and more importantly in the implementation of programs, project and activities,” he said.
He spoke of many “wonderful plans” that were often unfinished. “In the evaluation and monitoring, we shall now involve our people in reporting the performance, or the lack thereof, of our regional and local officials,” he vowed.
But he did not say what mechanisms would be employed to involve the people in monitoring and reporting and to whom should they report.
Ebrahim said the government they were inaugurating was “founded on the sacrifices of the Bangsamoro” and “must be driven by our collective aspirations for the affirmation of our distinct historical identity, and the right to chart our political future through democratic process.”
He noted that “autonomy at its varying degrees” was tested and the BARMM is the third attempt. Cynics refer to is as “the third experiment.”
Indeed, from Presidents Ferdinand Marcos to Rodrigo Duterte, three attempts at establishing an autonomous government for the Moro people have been made – the Regional Autonomous Governments under the Marcos administration, the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) under the administrations of Corazon Aquino, Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Benigno Aquino and now the BARMM under the Duterte administration.
“Jihad against poverty, want, neglect”
He spoke of “five pillars” of the BARMM’s governance: education, health, economic development, strategic infrastructure and moral leadership.
In his welcome remarks at the evening ceremony attended by President Duterte, Ebrahim asked his fellow BTA members to join him in swearing before the Qur’an as they start, he said, a “new kind of jihad – a jihad against poverty, against want, and against neglect.”
He said swearing before the Qur’an signifies “our collective resolve to institute good governance in the Bangsamoro region” as he vowed to make “moral governance as the foundation of this leadership.”
Earlier that morning, in his inaugural address, Ebrahim noted that in almost all human development indices, the Bangsamoro is still at the bottom.
He said the BARMM and BTA leadership is an “amanah, a trust given to us and a responsibility for which we have to account for” and reminded officials to “always be conscious” of the day when they shall be asked to account for what they have done and what they have failed to do.
Ebrahim said they would prioritize the approval of the Transition Plan that will define the organizational structure of the BARMM and the gradual phasing out of offices.
Republic Act 11054 or the Organic Law for the BARMM gives the BTA 60 days to complete the plan.
Also among the priorities are the passage of the Bangsamoro Development Plan “to commence the rehabilitation and development of conflict-affected communities.” The use of the Special Development Fund – pegged at 5 billion pesos a year for 10 years – will have to be in accordance with the BDP.
For 2019, though, there is no budget allocation for the SDF.
He cited other priority legislations that RA 11054 mandates the BTA to do.
He said he has a “strong Cabinet” that can respond positively to the clamor of the people for transparent, accountable and responsive governance.
“Bury the ghosts”
He urged those barangay chairs, city and town mayor sand governors in the Bangsamoro to “raise the bar in the delivery of effective and efficient services” because they are at the forefront of governance. “You are the real faces of authority and responsibility that the Bangsamoro can easily identify with.”
He vowed to work closely with them through the Council of Leaders and other councils that RA 11054 also mandates them to establish.
He promised the Bangsamoro constituents “access to, quality, relevance and integration of our educational system” and to sustain efforts to strengthen the Madaris education in the region.
He ordered Mohagher Iqbal, Minister of Basic, Higher and Technical Education, to “finally ‘bury the ghosts’ of the then Department of Education, if there are still ‘wandering spirits’ in the payroll system.”
He promised to support the construction of basic social facilities such as school buildings, hospitals, health centers, day care centers and other vital infrastructure, “but the contractors who didn’t finish their projects should be made answerable for their shortcomings, at the very least to be black-listed in future projects” of the BARMM. The audience applauded.
Ebrahim spoke of programs to address the demand for medical services in the far-flung areas, and to design programs on “livelihood, micro-finance, skills and technology transfer, self-employment assistance, food and cash subsidy for poor and disadvantaged families, low-cost housing, electrification and water projects.”
Export crops, mining
Noting that the 60% of the BARMM population depends on agriculture and fisheries as their means of livelihood, Ebrahim vowed to “increase investments in agriculture and agrarian reform to support critical areas essential to food production, enhance agricultural productivity, and provide access to capital market.”
He did not say what the policy would be on opening up vast lands previously unreached by the business sector in and out of Mindanao due to the armed conflict. Most of the interests signified recently have been on establishing plantations for export crops, or mining – two areas that have, in the history of Mindanao, sparked conflicts.
But Ebrahim gave assurance that as they harness the region’s economic potentials and comparative advantages, “we will also enhance the protection and conservation of the environment with priority to the watersheds of Lake Lanao, Kabulnan and Malitubog-Maridagao, and Ligawasan Marsh” as he asserted that “our jurisdiction over the Bangsamoro Waters in the Sulu Sea and Moro Gulf must be enforced.”
Ebrahim explained his policy that the plans, programs and projects of the BARMM, as well as the assistance of local and international partners, “must always establish a link towards the normalization process that is also on-going for former combatants and their communities.”
As he urged the people to monitor and report the performance or non-performance of their officials, Ebrahim also challenged the BTA members to “exercise your role as fiscalizers” under a parliamentary system, to “demand for transparency and accountability of the implementers.”
He cited other priority concerns such as the rehabilitation of Marawi and other conflict-affected areas, the security problem.
The success of the BARMM, Ebrahim said, “is the best antithesis to violent radicalism being espoused by some Bangsamoro groups.”
“Let us prove them wrong by demonstrating that there is real hope in negotiated political settlement which, in the words of the late MILF Founder and Ameerul Mujahideen Ustadz Salamat Hashim, is the most civilized way of resolving conflict,” he said.
Ebrahim, the MILF’s Vice Chair for Military Affairs and Chief of Staff of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces succeeded Hashim as MILF chair after the latter died on July 13, 2003.(Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)